Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Great Need of Our Generation - "Men With Chests"

Joshua 1:6-7 (New Living Translation)

6 “Be strong and courageous, for you will lead my people to possess all the land I swore to give their ancestors. 7Be strong and very courageous. Obey all the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them, and you will be successful in everything you do.”

This seems an appropriate time to sandwich some thoughts between what I’ve written about for the past couple of days and what I’m going tow rite about tomorrow. To do this I’m going to use a couple of passages from C.S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man.”

Like most of Lewis’s work this one was short and sweet. There are few thinkers I’ve read and wrestled with who can pack more into a small space than “Jack.” The book, written in 1943, actually started as a series of lectures. His purpose in putting the lectures into writing was to give wider dissemination to his thoughts on universals, courage, honor, self-sacrifice, and so forth that had been passed down from generation to generation. It was also his response to the educational stream and philosophy of the day that concluded that the emotionalism that values like courage, patriotism, and self-sacrifice brought to bear in men needed to be replaced by a cool rationalism. In today’s terms this rationalism would mean that there really isn’t anything worth giving one’s life for, and that thinking rationally would preclude these outdated and useless notions. This stream, Lewis argued, stripped men of their souls and left them as “men without chests.”

Things, unfortunately, have only gotten worse over time. For sixty years now our educational systems have stripped soul after soul of its virtue. What Lewis saw prophetically is now a twenty first century reality. Knowing that, I believe that his work is sorely needed now, some three generations after he penned them.

His thoughts, with mine interspersed to add continuity, follow.

First and foremost, Lewis declared that these values could, and should be taught. They were, in this great man’s mind, the glue that held civilization together:

“I think that Gaius and Titius may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda – they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental – and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”

Then, in one grand section, Lewis attacks the modern idea of “intellectualism:”

“the operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion truth, a nice sense of intellectual honor, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them so.”

Lewis closes this lecture with a wry lament, asking, in a sense, why we’re so shocked that the very things we need (courage, honor, self-sacrifice, etc.) are in such short supply:

“And all the time – such is the tragic-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

The lament of Lewis’s 1940’s is now the sad reality of 2005. The tragedy of education without virtue has indeed produced “men without chests.” Of all the great tasks facing civilization now the need to rebuild is the most pressing. We’re now three generations behind in making honorable citizens and time is getting away from us. We must do something!


Gone Away said...

Lewis always saw himself as a man of the 19th Century somehow alive in the 20th and trying to point out the self destruction implicit in many of its directions. One reason he felt so out of place in his time was that he lived his life in the educational establishment, an area of life that, because it has so much influence over the thinking of the young, points the way to tomorrow. Much of what he wrote is prophetic therefore, far more so than the work of most 20th Century writers and thinkers. In That Hideous Strength he gives a clear picture of the way he saw the world heading, a world that we experience today. To read him is to read the voice of one who saw clearly in an age when all around him were blinded with the desire to get rid of all that had gone before.

Like Lewis, I too feel like a dinosaur in the modern age. Thank you for expressing just a little of how I feel.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

As to the ism of the self-proclaimed 'intellectual,' they, and we, are needful of reminder: the mind can rise no higher than its criteria. Lacking criteria, the mind is a jumble of unruled emotions, feelings, appetites, and desires - ruled by the flesh.

Additionally, man cannot invent criteria greater than himself - worthy of loyalty and/or reverence. Thus, the Bible asserts the Creator-God's truths as Transcendent and worthy of faithfulness; the father of courage, creative progression, and stability.

The missing element? C.S. Lewis? No, the One to whom he pointed. Know who you are in The Lord. Psalm 25:12


Bonnie said...

I appreciate this post, Phil.

I've written an 8-part review of TAOM at my blog, links to which can be found in the sidebar. I would welcome your comments.