Tag Archive: God


Review: The Abolition of Man

I read The Abolition of Man for the first time about 30 years ago and consider it amongst the most important books I have ever read. It’s a tough little book, but worth the time.

It was a tremendous relief for me as a young Christian to discover that Christianity not only made sense, but could be approached critically throughout. Lewis’ particular gift was to expose the facile nature of much of what passes for modern intellectualism, and demonstrated for me that informed Christian belief is intellectually rigorous. If we take into account all we experience in life, it gives a sounder explanation of our world than anything else on the market.

The Abolition of Man begins by examining a book on English grammar in which Lewis notes a disturbing trend; not in how grammar is taught, but in the philosophy of its authors.

Morality is based on the idea that creation is inherently good; that it possesses real value. It is only by dismissing half of what we experience as mere sentiment that modern thinkers can pass a materialistic reductionism off as the whole truth. This is the view Lewis warns us against in Lecture One; the authors of the Green Book would inculcate not better grammar in young minds, but a skeptical outlook that brushes off value statements as emotional, subjective fluff. In debunking experiences that better men considered profitable, humane and generous, they undercut even concepts of justice and truth, cutting out the heart of all it means to be human. They would make us “men without chests”.

And where does that lead? In Lecture Three the author takes this worldview to its logical conclusion, examining its inconsistencies and the danger it poses.

Lewis sensibly points out that we cannot go on seeing through everything; there has to be some sort of objective truth at the bottom of things for anything to make sense. Yet the true skeptic must (if he is to be consistent) discredit all value statements; they are to be viewed only as natural phenomena to be managed with no overarching morality – the “Tao”, as Lewis calls it – to inform them. Such a world would be incapable of any sensible or actually moral action. The debunker has become the blindest of all, for he sees through everything – and gazes into a void.

And should a group of skeptical Conditioners arise with the power to determine the course of subsequent generations, what motives could they have? Having denied value – and hence moral thought – as objective, all that is left is raw utilitarianism and their own fallible desires: both dangerous grounds for any program of conditioning. We may (for instance) consider how the discredited science of eugenics worked in the value-free world of the Third Reich. Having decided that certain races and types of people were a drag on humanity, Hitler’s government set about – albeit in very modern, scientific ways – to eliminate them. By deeming justice a mere sentiment, they became in practical fact the embodiment of evil.

It is not Lewis’ purpose to defend Christian belief in particular with this book, but to rather demonstrate the nature of moral thought, its reality in our lives, and the terrible danger of trying to get around it. Morality is necessarily transcendent, and Lewis cites a number of sources to demonstrate that most religions and cultures share, and always have had this understanding. Morality must, if it is objective fact, be something that originates outside ourselves if it is to make any genuine claims on our lives; and in this we may allow that no religion is entirely wrong – though some are closer to the truth than others.

But it is the modern materialist who strays the furthest, with his truncated, wilfully ignorant worldview denying at least half of the reality he encounters. This is the position Lewis shows untenable: by trying to interpret reality on his own terms, the skeptic winds up with exactly nothing – at least nothing of value. In their quest to be their own masters, they would emasculate humanity. To borrow from the book’s title, they seek nothing less than the abolition of man.

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Organized Religion

Many people these days harbour a deep suspicion or even a dislike of what they call “organized religion”. They consider themselves spiritual, but want to craft a belief system more agreeable to their own felt wants.

But is this wise, or even honest? Those who would go their own way expose themselves to great danger, for all humans are fallible and prone to error. They separate themselves from the believing community and the correctives it contains, from the wisdom of the crowd.

Ironically, they will often cite the judgementalism or hypocrisy of organized religion as the big turn-off, not realizing that in so doing they are themselves judging. They display little grace in their own attitude towards the church.

The community of believers is certainly flawed, because it contains redeemed sinners who are all works in process. What did we expect? We must never forget it is a hospital for souls that are being healed. And I suspect that most of the New Testament would not have been written if the Church were perfect, since most of the letters in it are addressing problems or clarifying points of belief.

The solution is to go deep, and to trust in Christ Himself, not our own dreams about what we think God should be like. If God is real, we are hardly in a position to make Him in our image. He can’t be a matter of interpretation or opinion. The truth about Him, like all truth, is discovered, not made up; in our search for Him we must always beware of inserting our own ideas and preferences onto our conception. We need to be honest with ourselves.

We need the Bible. We need the structure and community the Church offers, but even then we must put our trust primarily not in it (being composed of imperfect people), but in Christ Himself. Read the Bible deeply, let it shape your life, and benefit from the fellowship and counsel of those who are also doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus.

We need our fellow Christians, and as we understand the Bible and God’s wonderful grace we can help build up our fellow believers without being shaken by their inconsistencies – or our own. For we need grace and forgiveness as much as they do.

I recently blogged about the dangers of what has been called the “Prosperity Gospel”. In it I took exception to the idea that we should assume material blessings are automatically mandated for those who have enough faith to claim them from God. I think idea this both unscriptural and unwise, since it promotes what I’d consider a shallow, materialistic theology.

But does that mean God wants us to be poor?

NO.

Christians are to be diligent in business, working with all their hearts (“for you serve the Lord Christ”) and that we are to strive for justice in the world; and that this, more often than not, means economic justice.

Our modern society has produced more safety, more comfort and security, better access to education and health services, than any society the world has ever seen, and is founded largely on Christian principals. But we are seeing a shrinking of the middle class, as increasing amounts of society’s wealth is held by fewer people, at the expense of the rest of us. This is a bad thing, from both a practical and moral viewpoint. Something’s got to change.

God cares for the poor, and wants those who have enjoyed material blessings to share what they have; we are to work for a society that is fair and offers the most opportunities for a decent living to as many people as possible. The Bible tells us that God hates oppression and injustice, and that especially includes unjust economic structures. The balance, I think, is wrapped up in the scripture, “and having food and clothing, we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8)

In a fascinating talk given on TED talks, gazillionaire Nick Hanauer talks about the importance of a thriving middle class to our society. He’s talking mainly from the viewpoint of enlightened self-interest, but I think he’s spot on anyways. Check it out at http://bit.ly/1taBBpm

Abandon

All we really want is in Christ: grace, love, acceptance, significance, safety, security, fulfillment, purpose, my eyes finally off myself and on to Him. Melt my heart with a clear Vision of Him, and everything else will take care of itself.

I don’t always hear his voice, but when I do I recognize it immediately. It pushes me past the edges of my precious detached objectivity: in with both feet, completely partisan, giving up my sense of control. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

We need to give ourselves completely to God, simply trusting He’s there for us. The quality of our relationship to God is proportional to the degree of abandon.

Sometimes this abandon shows itself in just the determination to praise and trust when it feels like He’s not there. It’s demonstrated in our ordering our lives around Him as the supreme good, the non-negotiable.

Pursuing God

I think the way to approach God isn’t so much by consciously denying ourselves, but by actively pursuing Him.  It’s an important distinction.
A purely negative action leaves a void, and keeps us focused on what we are depriving ourselves of. It’s easy to get a martyr complex and think about how “spiritual” we are being while our pride and self-centred ness remain intact.
But how if we make Christ our goal, we pursue Him and place the knowledge of Him as our supreme good?  That which is solid, eternal, and unchanging becomes the centre; lesser, temporal  things, good in themselves, remain as blessings, and the bad things are simply pushed out of our lives as hindrances.
This is the difference , by the way, between discipline and legalism. The former focuses on the goal, the latter on self and what it’s missing. Discipline leads to increased joy and satisfaction, legalism to pride and joyless religion.
I’ll take the joy.