Monday, January 19, 2009

The Abolition of Man

I found chapters 1 and 2 of this book to be good background to properly understanding the 3rd (The Abolition of Man). In chapter 1, Lewis discussed negative aspects of a certain grammar book written by "Gaius and Titius" (obviously fictional names). Lewis did not have very nice things to say about this textbook, to say it lightly, such as the fact that these authors don't reference literature, wrongly overemphasize the emotional state of the characters, and dismiss all traditional values. Yet, Lewis believed that this type of education had far-reaching consequences. Lewis designated the term "the Tao" to represent the similar forms of morality that each culture and religion has generally adopted. Critical to the Tao is the necessity of objective value, that certain beliefs are true, and others are false.

Recent education has tried to scrap morality, and Lewis had a major problem with that. He wrote, "The operation of The Green Book (Gaius and Titius' book) is to produce what may be called Men without Chests," men whose chests are atrophied on the inside, lacking "fertile and generous emotion." In another way, he said, "We remove the organ and demand the function."

Chapter 2 is all about the moral/ natural law, which is described in the passage we read from Mere Christianity. I also noticed a lot of overlap from "The Poison of Subjectivism" essay. Thus, there is no use belaboring the point, but in essence: without any objective set of values, there is no point of debunking traditional morals without having objective values with which it is possible to compare.

In the first two chapters, it is all about the harm of taking morals out of education. I can appreciate Lewis' point here. Coming from U of M, I can totally see the harm of divorcing ethics from academics. Indeed, textbooks can contribute to the problem. I read a book once called When Jesus Came To Harvard by Harvey Cox, a Harvard prof, and it was very interesting. Harvard apparently was having problems with students' "ethics" and they required all students to take one ethics class. I've heard the same thing happening to all of the Ivy League schools. It is concerning. The quote we discussed in class today comes to mind, "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil."

Then there is chapter 3, The Abolition of Man. This amplifies chapters 1 and 2 into a serious caution about the implications of "valueless education." Lewis first brought up the term "Man's conquest of nature." He came to the conclusion that, "The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself."

Education used to incorporate teachings of Tao (or the moral law), but now, "Values are now mere natural phenomenon." Now the "Conditioners" control what values to obey, and whatever Tao there is is a product, not the motive, of education. Without Tao at the center of teaching, "no conception of good can help them to decide," because there is no standard of comparison. Lewis boldly stated, "Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man." Worse yet, "Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of consummation, to be Nature's conquest of man."

Right now we are trying to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and at the same time retain it. The choice is this, "Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." This loss of natural law into education could lead to horrible consequences, since all moral values might be subjective.

Lewis even admitted, "I hardly know what I am asking for." Then later, he wrote, "Perhaps, I am asking impossibilities." He left the audience with the comment that, "To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see."

I think Lewis brought up a lot of good points, as usual, and I notice a similar logical style with which he wrote Mere Christianity and "The Poison of Subjectivism." I see Lewis' concerns, and certainly, in my time at U of M, I saw major concerns of valueless education. At the same time, I think Lewis brought a lot of abstract concepts into the 3rd chapter without really substantiating them or at least addressing that these were merely speculations. Also, chapter 2 to 3 seemed like a BIG leap, skipping too many important issues in between. You can't just logically jump from natural law to "the abolition of man." Lewis didn't have many constructive solutions to this problem.

I have grown up with secular humanism all around me, and I believe that Lewis was generalizing too much here. I know so many ethical, secular people who want to do the "right thing." In fact, these people are often more ethical than most Christians I know. Take my dad, for example, who is the most ethical person I've ever met in my life-- I've never heard him lie, swear, cheat anyone, steal, or gossip... and he's a self-professed humanistic agnostic! Many people don't believe in God, but they believe in an essential Tao. At U of M, the Christians on campus are a small minority, but the campus is HUGE into social justice and various social issues. People have a tendency to cling to a sense of right and wrong, with or without formal religion. I see Lewis' logic: that there are no value judgments, so people will do what they want and man will make itself instinct. But I think his speculations are misguided. There are many Christians who believe in Tao and read about Tao but don't do anything about it. Faith without deeds is dead, so I think Lewis needed to take into account the people who believe in Tao and don't practice it. Then, there are many non-Christians who are extremely ethical. I see so many non-Christians borrow from God's principles, who desire to see shalom penetrate the Earth, but they don't believe in God. Not everybody sees a lack of moral law and decided to do whatever they want because it's all subjective.

I don't think it's an education issue to try to make students more moral with different textbooks and educational curriculum. I think it's a heart issue. It's an issue that must be dealt with on a spiritual and emotional level. True, lasting, inward-motivated ethics cannot be shoved down students' throats. They must come with devotion and discipleship, a serious focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and a desire to imitate Him.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Im using the Abolition of Man to make a point in the vision on education that Im writing. I can follow you if you believe that it's a heart issue, but that doesn't mean that educators (not just education) can play a role in reaching the heart by pointing to Him.

    I agree with you that students will not become more moral with different textbooks, but if you teach them there are no moral laws and everything is subjective or relative then the opposite (becoming less moral) might just happen. Especially as a teacher it is possible to become an inspiration to your students.