Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Debunk Yourself and then Talk to Us
C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) sentimental values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.
—The Abolition of Man
Debunking values in general is a dangerous game, and it is one that most philosophers and educators undertake without giving proper thought to the possible outcomes. They always seem to presume that when they are done there will some solid moral ground on which they will be left standing. Unfortunately, as Lewis notes here, they always seem to cut their own feet from under them, and society as a whole is left to clean up the mess.
This is evident in the continuing spread of Lewis’s old enemy, naturalism, throughout western culture. The idea that there are no moral absolutes but those which nature can provide has spread like an intellectual oil spill. At first the idea was billed (and often still is) as freedom from the outdated mores of a dying religion that held back human development. Over time, though, it became clear that what its adherents really meant was that we should believe in “only the morals we agree are pretty good.” It hasn’t taken long for people to ask the next logical question, “Why stop there?”
Some fell into the belief that nature itself authors our moral code by imposing its own absolutes through evolution. The highest and most important of these absolutes is often the struggle for improvement through natural selection. As they began to re-evaluate human activity based on these standards, they took steps to act on their beliefs, leading to the eugenics movements of the first half of the twentieth century, and culminating with Adolf Hitler’s attempt to purge entire “unfit” races from the human gene pool. Others, while not so drastic, still took the logical step of treating humans like the animals they believe we are.
A later group fell into what eventually became post modern relativism–the idea that since there is no truth imposed upon us, we define right and wrong entirely on our own. That sounds attractive, until someone defines it as “moral” to lie to you, cheat you, steal from you, hurt you, murder you, etc.
In most cases, the moral debunkers do a far more effective job tearing down than they do building up. Humans dethrone God and religion in morality, and they place themselves in the empty seat. In the former example above, humanity takes control of its own evolution in the pursuit of natural moral law. In the latter, they literally become god-like themselves; they are the final arbiters of their own reality. In either case, can anyone give one convincing reason we should not commit any “crime” we like, as long as we can get away with it? Their replacement morality cannot seem to survive even the most basic scrutiny, but they never seem to figure it out until after the fact.
It is therefore usually only a matter of time before someone calls the debunker’s moral bluff. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High murderers, exhibited traits of both of the above approaches. Both specifically called themselves gods in their private journals. Harris even wore a shirt that read “NATURAL SELECTION” on the day of the massacre, and saw himself acting on behalf of evolution. Defenders of the above positions often try to hide behind the pair’s obvious madness, but that falls far short of providing a full explanation of how and why it happened.
The possibilities are terrifying, but these are completely “reasonable” conclusions to reach when we begin an assault on traditional values assuming that we will stop somewhere “moral” by default, as Lewis noted. In the end, if a moral system has no sufficient answer to two little words (“Why not?”) then perhaps we would all be better off if it kept its debunking ways to itself.
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.
Posted on July 29, 2012, in Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Meditations, Philosophy and tagged C. S. Lewis, CS Lewis, Evil, evolution, Harris, Klebold, morality, postmodernism, truth. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.