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Archive for July, 2012

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.

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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  At first the idea was billed (and often still is) as freedom from the outdated mores of a dying religion that held back human development.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.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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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.

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Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

God in the Dock

A frightening truth about evil that most of us tend to forget is how difficult it is to recognize it for what it is without the benefit of hindsight.  Very few people, not even Adolf Hitler, have committed evil for its own sake.*  At the time an act is committed, there is something about it that seems somehow “good,” and, as Lewis observes above, the worst evil is often perpetrated specifically because someone believe he or she is doing it all for the sake of someone else.

Here, as much as I love Lewis and Tolkien, I think that when our literary education stops with Narnia and the Lord of the Rings we contribute to the problem.  Both show real evil, but the lines of demarcation between right and wrong are very clearly set.  For instance, I haven’t heard anyone seriously argue that Sauron was simply misunderstood and should have been given a fairer shake.  When we read those books, we all know who the bad guys are, and we are all happy when, as Lewis put it, “they are soundly killed.”  From this and other similar depictions (in movies, for example) we often get the idea that evil is something that should be clearly identifiable as evil.  Worse, we come to think that we must somehow recognize something as evil before it really could be evil.  After all, I could never be duped into supporting something like that!

For what Lewis and Tolkien were trying to create (particularly for Lewis, writing as he was for children) I don’t see this as a criticism of either author.  Narnia is precisely the depiction of evil that I want my daughter (at the ripe old age of 8) to cut her teeth on when she reads a book.  The first step is to understand that evil is very real, and that we must show bravery in the face of it.

I do think that I am making a very explicit criticism of what we are as a subculture if we go no farther.  In real life, evil is very convincing and we have to be intelligent, critical, and discerning if we don’t want to be taken in by it.  Lewis and Tolkien both depicted this sort of evil in their less familiar works.  Tolkien did so regularly in The Silmarillion, and Lewis was even more detailed and explicit about it in The Space Trilogy (particularly Perelandra).  There is an art to it, and it is a difficult one to master. It is all too easy for an author to simply depict evil as good, and then declare himself/herself profound.** Those who get it right, though, let us see evil as it would like us to see it, but then also help us see beyond the facade to the true monster that lurks behind.  We understand how someone could think it “good” but we see it well enough to reject it anyway.

Literature is one of the best places for developing our ability to analyze and think well about these sorts of of situations before we encounter them in real life.  So, if you haven’t stepped beyond Narnia with Lewis, now is a good time to start.

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*Hitler literally believed he was aiding human evolution by purging it of those who were polluting it.  Viewed from that perspective, not only was it justified but, if he had been right, it would have been the “moral” thing to do.

**I find that many adults who read books with “real” depictions of evil are really reading this sort of moral escapist drivel.  In the end, this does far more harm than good by simply blurring the lines between right and wrong without equipping us with the tools we need to see through the haze.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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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.

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“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

The Abolition of Man

Or not.

Alright, so the above is actually one of the false Lewis quotes that is circulating the internet.  Yes, I got caught by it.  I pulled it from a list of Lewis quotes when I was trying to get ahead of the curve on these posts.  I do think it more or less sums up Lewis’s sentiments, though, so please take the below for what its worth.  If the quote is false, perhaps there is some truth in what I have to say about it….

To follow up on last week’s meditation on the more famous passage from The Abolition of Man, this week we have a point of explanation.   As a result of the world’s “values-free” philosophy, education often does more harm than it does good.*  It makes us more intelligent sinners, and while it might delay the price for our sins, it virtually insures that we will one day pay dearly for them.

 As I have mentioned before, anyone with an ounce of real historical knowledge should have no illusions about humanity’s ultimate tendencies.  History is littered with the bodies of millions–perhaps billions–of victims who fell prey to our bent towards evil and selfishness.  Millions more have suffered to the point that one of the most common charges against God’s existence** is the reality of evil, much of which has it’s origins in the human mind.

Even if you haven’t given the grand sweep of history much thought, you can probably just think back across your own life to points where you have felt the temptation to do something you know was wrong.  While I certainly doubt/hope you weren’t thinking about mass murder, the fact is that lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and other “common” sins are still evil and they do harm others, though on a lesser scale.  Most of us give in to temptation often enough to have some real sense of our own natures.  It gives the wiser of us the perspective to look at someone farther down the path of evil than we are and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Hence, the education of children has always needed to be two pronged:  internal and external.  In the former, the child is taught how to defend against his or her own nature.  They develop the ability to resist the temptation to selfishness, laziness, and downright evil.  In the latter they are given the skills they need to interact with the outside world–with colleagues, employers, and jobs.

When you teach only the latter–as we tend to do today–you often by default simply teach a person how to justify and gratify their selfish tendencies and to prolong them as long as possible.  They are given no defenses against themselves.  Human nature then runs amok and is in fact further enabled to do, ultimately, more damage to the individual and the society as a whole.

Let me offer a quick example:  Student cheating.  As a college professor, I have seen the numbers of students cheating rise dramatically in the past ten years.  Of course, there has always been cheating in school, but (at least when I was coming through high school and college in the 1990s) almost everyone admitted that it was wrong.  Not so today.  With the increase of “values-free” education, we have seen a corresponding rise in the number of proud cheaters who believe in a “might makes right” (It’s not wrong if I’m “smart” enough not to get caught), “end justifies the means” (I have to cheat to get into a good college) philosophy.  In one CNN article, 75% of students in a survey admitted to “serious cheating” and 50% said there was nothing wrong with it.  I catch them on a regular basis–stealing or even buying work from the internet–even at Christian institutions.  I’m sure I would be frightened to know how many slip through.   In the words of Rutgers Professor Donald McCabe in the article above, “Students today find it so much easier to rationalize their cheating.”

Of course they do, when our “values-free” educational system has taught them the very justifications they are using!  We are getting what we paid for:  “more clever devils.”

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*This observation is neither an argument for avoid school nor a justification for anti-intellectualism.  It is an imperative to do education right.

**I do find it ironic how many atheists will toss this argument up against a good God’s existence with complete abandon, and then immediately offer up humanity–the most observable of the sources of evil–for worship in His place.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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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.

__________

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor, and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

The Abolition of Man

It is hard to believe how prophetic Lewis could be at times.  In his little book, The Abolition of Man, he looked down the stream of logical conclusions that started with the educational trends he saw around him in his own time and, with his usual incisive clarity, he made comments that apply directly to the broken system we see in contemporary society.

The essential question for Lewis on this point was this: Can we really divorce truth and values from education?  Many of the “experts” of Lewis’s own day thought so.  Since that time, the idea of “values neutral” education has been all the rage.  It began with a simple relativistic assumption that there is really no such thing as transcendent “right” and “wrong.”  This is, of course, the ultimate conclusion we are forced to draw when we adopt some form of naturalism and place humanity the ultimate arbiter of reality.  As we proceeded into the Post Modern era, that assumption spread like a cancer through academia.  From there, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation [became] the philosophy of government in the next.”  Today, there is hardly a part of western culture–including the church–that isn’t infected with the idea.

At the time, it did seem ideal:  If there were no absolute values to impart, then teachers need not waste their efforts on them.  Let the students’ families take care of that!  If they did, that would leave more time for schools to focus on the sciences that “really mattered.”

This has become an unmitigated disaster.  First, when the schools stopped teaching moral truth, the family did not pick up that burden.  How could it?  That same period of time saw the beginning of the almost complete dissolution of the family as an institution.  The schools assumed that the teaching of morals would be handled by the parents and the parents delegated that responsibility to the schools.  Several generations of students have thus far fallen in the massive crevice between the two sides.

As time passed, the educational theorists realized that they must teach some form of truth and morality, if for no reason than crowd control.*  In keeping with their attempt to be value-neutral, they settled on a hollow secular-humanism that simply compounds the problem by demanding that children act morally while giving them no compelling reason to do so.**  With the advent of power-theory and Post Modernism (where students are taught that right and wrong are determined by who happens to hold power), students were essentially led to believe that it only pays to be moral when you think that someone will catch you.

This was, of course, precisely what Lewis predicted.  As a culture, we produce men and women “without chests [hearts]” and we expect them to do the right thing anyway.  Hollywood, famous authors, political pundits, teachers, and Ivy-League professors mock and demean ideas like honesty, honor, and faith, and we are “shocked to find traitors [or even murderers] in our midst.”

There are no easy, quick fixes.  A full repair might take generations to effect, if it happens at all.  It begins when we, as parents, as students, and as a society decide to dethrone the departments of “education” and take responsibility for our own learning and that of our children.  Here are a couple of places to start.  They are especially good if you have children, but also have links for adults too:

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*In the end, the effort was and is self-defeating.  Many public school teachers spend more time teaching students to act responsibly than they do on actual content.  That fact is evident in most schools of “education,” where most emphasis is placed on “education” classes and relatively little on the subjects teachers are supposed to pass along.  You often end up with graduates who are well trained in group counseling and don’t even have a bachelor’s level knowledge of the content they are supposed to teach.

**Secular humanism is, after all, is assumed to be neutral when it comes to religious truth. In reality, secular humanism is itself a religion that worships humanity as a form of practical deity.  It is “fair” to other competing religions only in the sense that it maintains that they are all equally worthless. As a result, the schools simply teach a collection of alternative values in an attempt to be “value neutral.”

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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