“If God does not exist… everything is permitted.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims.” – Sir Roger Scruton
In 1943 C.S. Lewis delivered an address that could reasonably be described as prophetic, an address that was later published as the provocatively titled book The Abolition of Man. Herein Lewis makes a well reasoned defense for objective value and natural law while making the case that if left unchecked, the relativism that even in his day was rampant among the academic rank and file would lead to the decay of not just morality and virtue in society, but indeed even the very essence of being human. Early in his lecture, he says quite famously,
“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.”
“Men without chests.” Men without the organ of magnanimity or goodness or decency. Think of what a man without a chest might look like. Would you describe this torso-less creature as human? Or consider what a man without the internal contents of his chest might be. He would be empty, lacking nearly all the most vital organs of human life. A man without a chest is an empty husk of his former, intended self. This, Lewis suggests, is the intent of progressivism – to empty the man of his humanity, and thus to make a man who may be controlled and manipulated with ease.
It starts with the word “sublime.” Two British school teachers, Gaius and Titius, wrote a textbook pertaining to the use of language, intended to instruct England’s children, wherein they use the example of a waterfall being described as sublime. But, they suggest, to call a waterfall sublime would mean that there must be something transcendently good about the waterfall. But of course there is not; these are just feelings inspired by the waterfall, and are not the rumors of news from a land we have never yet visited.
Gaius and Titius were engaged the ignoble progressive work of attempting to abolish man’s belief in what some have called the Natural Law, or Traditional Morality. I will refer to this, as Lewis referred to in Abolition, as the Tao. First, let us give this notion of the Tao meaning. Lewis referred to the Tao thusly:
“It is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and to raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.”
The Tao is not a value system, but it is every value system held in common in one form or another across the whole of human flourishing. Its universality implies that is was not arrived at by callous committee deliberation, but rather existed before the first man, as if it were somehow written into his being. Being the first man was surely a difficult task. Not having to worry about the matter of right and wrong surely must have been a great help.
It is on this point that the present issue turns. The Tao has informed all of human civilization from time in memoriam. It is not like a democratic law, which may be amended or abolished according to the whims of society. The Tao is unresponsive, immovable. It is the rock upon which breaks the wave. Yet, we live now in a time where the very existence or purpose of such a value system is not been called into question – we seem to have skipped that phase of the discussion – but rather has been violently stricken from public awareness and belief. Certainly it didn’t start with Gaius and Titius, but there have been a hellish host of men and women just like them, who have sought to remove permanence from the collective conscious. Truth, meaning, purpose – these are all “social constructs,” they call them, and being simple constructions they may just as easily be deconstructed.
Why this downhill rush of moral ignorance? The answer, in a word, is freedom, but only in the very general way that one may call the ocean, “Another body of water”: it is paradoxically both correct and grievously inaccurate. The word “freedom” has come to mean many awful things it was never intended to represent. Thus, the more accurate answer to the question previously asked must not be freedom, but rather individuality. With this, we get much closer to the heart of the present age in the West. Around individuality is wrapped all the hope and aspiration of the modern Westerner’s mind; and found at the core of individuality is the cancerous belief that to be an individual one must be separated – understood as being “free” – from all manner of binding and restriction, including from the very essence of the Tao itself.
In the second of the three chapters of Abolition, Lewis writes,
“It [the Tao] is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, all is retained. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess…. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against a tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves.”
And so we have come to it, the scourge of our time – ideology. As Lewis points out, the values that make up the Tao make up all humane value, owing to their universality. There can be no addition to, or subtraction from, the system, because there is something eternal is inherently permanent about them. They are not the rules and beliefs of men, but rather are the rules and beliefs for men. Just as a criminal is not afforded the chance to re-write the laws to allow for his crime, neither is man afforded the chance to re-write the values by which he must oblige. Any attempt to re-write such laws is to becomes a mere outlaw, a criminal before the cosmic court.
Underlying this matter is the belief in relativism – that no objective truth exists, and that all matters are left to individual interpretation; there is your truth and there is my truth, and nary the twain shall be forced to converge. Of course, to suggest that there is no objective truth is to admit to objective truth, for if there is no objective truth then there must be at least one objective truth, namely that there is none. If, then, there is one objective truth, then we must now consider that there may be others. By acknowledging that we live within a created order, and are not creators ourselves, we acknowledge that there are limits, restrictions, and bounds. When Lewis writes, “If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value us retained, all is retained,” he suggests that this value system is accepted absolutely or not at all. There can be no cherry picking of this value but not that. One may not choose that this human life has value but that has not, or that this aspect of nature is worthy of conservation but that is not. Being all members and participants in the natural order, all either contribute to the good, or none at all. One may hate snakes or spiders, but the feelings of contempt felt towards these creatures do not take away from their ecological importance. So it is with all created things.
All things in the created order are created for a purpose. One may reasonably presume, then, that man is also created with some intended purpose as he is certainly a part of the created order. Even if one chooses the evolutionary view of the natural world, we still see that all evolved things have evolved from a previous state to a present state that serves their purpose for effectively. Why might man be able to summon such cognitive powers where the rest of the animal kingdom cannot? Why might he be able to love and hate, to build and destroy? In all the chaos of the cosmos, nothing is truly random; everything is ordered, and order suggests purpose. So it is with man.
Is man, then, still human? Modern society celebrates as freedom and individual liberty this return to a more animalistic, hedonistic lifestyle, ignoring that it is our ability to make choices and exercise self-control, our ability to calculate risk and reward, that separates us from our four legged and winged friends. There seems to be no purpose or reason to human life beyond the purely physical and immediate. Popular sayings such as, “You only live once,” dominate the landscape, as do the philosophies behind them. Thought is scarcely given by the individual, much less by the masses, as to why he exists, from whence he comes and to whence he goes. In the most troubling sense, ours is very much the Brave New World of Adulous Huxley. Man lives only to experience, but not to learn.
As man continues his diligent work in re-writing his own nature, he continues further into dark, unknown territory. Already he has made it clear that he despises the natural world itself, as he no longer depends on it for any other reason than to mine the raw natural resources necessary to develop and enable his unnatural desires – steel for cars, precious metals for the microchips in his personal devices, and food that only goes half eaten. More troubling by no small measure are the wholly unnatural things man is doing to himself and to those around him – abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, embryonic manipulation, unnecessary biogenetic enhancement. Man has shown his utter contempt for the natural world, and by extension his contempt for himself. Hating the natural order of which he is apart, he has also shown his total contempt for the God of nature, Who decided that all of the things that now are so hated, are in fact good.
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