Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Alchemy in the Academy

JosephWright-Alchemist-CroppedSomething dangerous and scary is probably occurring right now at a university or college near you.  It may be disguised as a seminar on wellness, a class on well-being, or a conference on integrative health.  You might find it listed in the college catalog in courses labeled “Mindfulness Training” or “Contemplative Learning.”  It could more blatantly be offered as a program for student/faculty that utilizes yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation as an aid to mental and physical health.  And usually somewhere in the literature for this seminar, class or program you will find references to the “wealth” of scientific evidence that proves that mindfulness (or yoga, or contemplation, or whatever) is proven to be the panacea for all ills in body and soul. Continue reading

Have We Lost Our Souls?

Years ago I remember reading a science fiction short story about the depletion of the stock of human souls.  I can’t remember the author or the title… wish I could.  But I do remember that the gist of the story was that God (or fate or nature or whatever) had only created a certain number of souls.  As the population of the earth grew to the abundance we see today, the quantity of available souls was completely reached.  Doctors and midwives, parents and childcare workers, all began to notice that they were seeing children who were alive, but had only a vacant stare and no intellectual response.  They seemed happy, in a sort of mindless bliss, but were missing the vital component that would make them fully human.   What was missing?  They had no souls.  The reservoir of souls had all been used up.  According to the story, the world had reached a stage where all beings genetically identifiable as Homo sapiens were only soulless human-appearing creatures.  We had come to the end of humanity as true human beings.

This story came to mind today because I have been pondering C. S. Lewis’s critically important book The Abolition of Man.  At Advancing Native Missions we currently have four interns working in the office.  As part of their program, they are reading this Lewis work.  George Ainsworth, an ANM staff member, is leading them in their study.  Knowing my devotion to Lewis, George asked if I wanted to join their discussion.  I jumped at the chance.  Thus prompted by this opportunity, I have reread The Abolition of Man for the first time in many years.  What a book!  Some believe that this may be Lewis’s most important work.  It certainly deserves attention as an amazingly prescient writing.

In this book Lewis takes to task a grammar book which he calls The Green Book.  Beyond just discussing grammar, the authors of The Green Book were attempting to change students themselves.  As Lewis observed, the authors were clearly redefining not only the use of language but values and fundamental beliefs.  Basically they rejected the objective nature of truth and the idea of universal absolutes and mores.  Lewis rightly asserts that these matters (call them first principles, natural law, human conscience, or just plain ol’ right and wrong) are foundational in all of Western philosophy and civilization.  We built our culture upon them.  To abandon these building blocks of our society has tremendous consequences not only for the individual students who read this work, but for society as a whole.

In the 1940’s, when Lewis wrote his book, he was seeing the beginnings of this move to jettison such fundamentals.  The idea of a postmodern culture was still decades in the future.  Now, what Lewis saw in a nascent form, we see full grown and endemic in our society.  We are daily witnessing what Lewis “prophetically” saw in 1943.

One of the main points of The Abolition of Man is that by rejecting natural law, what Lewis calls the Tao, the natural way of things, we are rejecting what makes us truly human.  When we remove first principles, absolute truth, we reduce man to something less than human.  We create what Lewis calls “men without chests.”  By this he means there is a disconnect between our intellect and our passions.  And without the mediating human factor, we become either thinking mechanisms or brute beasts.

For example, we may have intellects, thinking minds, but without a proper spiritual basis as a responsible beings created in God’s image, we are simply organic machines.  Thinking is reduced to electrical pulses between synapses in our brains—nothing more.  We are only fleshly computers.  This is the position asserted by Francis Crick in his final major work, The Astounding Hypothesis.  Crick was co-discoverer with James Watson of the structure of the DNA.  For this he was awarded a Nobel Prize.  However, with all his intelligence, Crick rejected the idea that we possess souls, something external to our material physiology.  For him, our minds are only physical realities.  The mind consists of nothing beyond electrical and chemical processes.  We are organic super-computers, if you will.  This is the same position held by many in our culture today.

At the other end of the spectrum we may be “men without chests” who are ruled by our physical urges.  We are slaves to our passions, those barking dogs in the lower recesses of our psyches that Dostoyevsky wrote about.  What is a human being?  According to this perspective, we are only animals dominated by instinct, feelings and hormonal desires.  There are no moral absolutes, no certainty in ethical matters.  What is right is what I want to be right.  Generally, the attitude is more like this:  What is right is what I enjoy, what gives me pleasure.  Humans are nothing but evolved, reasoning primates.  We are not made a “little lower than the angels.”  Instead, we are only one step above gorillas.

The point is this:  It is not our intelligence that makes us human.  Nor is it our physical form.  It is what is found in our chests—our values, our beliefs, our spiritual nature.  What makes us human is our soul.  And the evidence of our soulish nature is seen in the reality of natural law (absolutes, first principles, conscience).  If we deny the existence of natural law, we deny what it is that makes us human.  To deny what fills our “chests,” to dismiss the existence of the soul, is to reject the very essence of what it means to be a human being.  We abolish mankind en masse.

Think this too far-fetched?  Then consider the modern world.  How do you explain gross immorality being promoted as simply “alternative life-styles”?  How do you understand all the crime, violence, war, hatred, and terror of contemporary life?  How do you deal with the slaughter of untold millions of unborn babies?  Every year over 800,000 teens become pregnant out of wedlock in this country.  Why is this happening?  We kill each other over drugs, the very drugs that we use as an escape from the tedium and pain of life itself.  Religious faith has become either something to be mocked or an excuse to justify our immoral behavior.  God is ignored, or blamed for the mess we have created.  In other words, the world is totally fouled up.  And we have made it so.  What we are experiencing is a society of “men without chests.”