Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Writer Looks at C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man


by Emme Gannon @GannonEmme

While recently retreating from manufactured noise, I picked up my copy of C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man. Aside from the Bible, Lewis is my go to when I need grounding from the often insane whirl of modern thinking. 

Chapter One begins with a quote from a traditional carol, “So he sent the word to slay and slew the little children.” In that brief sentence, Lewis announced that the power of the word diverted of truth will kill the minds and hearts of the innocent. He then goes on to critique certain authors of a text book used for teaching the young. 

Lewis titles Chapter One, The Chest, which he pictures as the indispensable liaison between cerebral man and man who is guided by emotion. Without “chests” we are unable to grasp objective reality and objective truth. We thus become susceptible to the propaganda of opinions rather than facts. He contends that education emphasizing the head, or rational part of man, at the expense of the heart, or emotions, results in “men without chests.”

The particular writers of whom Lewis is critiquing are leaving out the facts, Lewis claims, and only expressing their own feelings on the subject. They are disguising emotion as truth, thus causing the reader to be susceptible to the propaganda of opinions rather than fact. Lewis concludes that education must make moral values central to teaching, and science must develop a humble attitude, putting nature at the service of man rather than seek to dominate them both.

It’s interesting to note that in this piece Lewis shoves aside theology and address the subject philosophically. He tackles the thorny question of whether moral value is objective or not. Is our claim that something is right or wrong based on truth or are we merely reporting a subjective sentiment—the opinion of the masses. He rejects subjectivism and goes so far as to label the authors of his critiqued text book dangerous because their writing denies the capacity of the reader to make moral judgments.

Even though Lewis refrained from mentioning God, his lectures always spring from his knowledge that we live in a world created by the one true God for the men and women He created for Himself.

Lewis ends his lecture on The Chest with the following thoughts:

“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.”

It’s easy to see why this lecture series was the personal favorite of C.S. Lewis. While my comments are those of a humble student of Lewis, whose depth of understanding far surpass my own, one can easily see the essential ingredient to good writing is to be grounded in truth and not to be afraid to write from that belief, detaching ourselves from thinking that diverts from that to which we have been called. 

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Emme Gannon is a wife, mother, and grandmother who loves to write stories that stir the heart. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Focus on the Family magazine, several anthologies, and numerous newsletters. She just completed her first novel.

9 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Oh yes, his writing goes deep, but rings with God's truth.

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  2. Amazing how times ago often parallel today. What have we truly learned when we remain the same? Enjoyed as always Ms. Emme.

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    1. Wise and true words, J.D. Blessings to you and your dear family.

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  3. I love to read Lewis's nonfiction. He gives me so much to think about. His similes are always clear and brilliant, making complex ideas accessible.

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  4. Thanks for your comments, JPC. Yes, C.S. Lewis's writing always bring clarity. Blessings to you.

    A note to any who mentioned this article on Twitter. I'm sad to say my Twitter account has been hacked and I have been unsuccessful in retrieving it. Those of you who were kind enough to share my article will not be getting a response from me thanking you for your kindness. For that I am sincerely sorry as reader's kind words are part of the fuel that keeps our words on the page. Thank you to all who took time to respond and share.

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  5. How interesting, Emme, that you posted this today. I happened to be looking for a book on one of our overflowing bookcases this morning, and I pulled several small paperbacks out. One of them was "The Abolition of Man." I laid it aside since I had never read it. Now I will.

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