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Posts Tagged ‘Evil’

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  At first the idea was billed (and often still is) as freedom from the outdated mores of a dying religion that held back human development.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