Tag Archive: religion


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.

The Opposite of Religion

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

What is humility? It’s not, the saying goes, so much as thinking less of yourself but of thinking of yourself less. The humble look outside themselves, past their own abilities and agendas in concern for others and to seek grace to live lives that please God.

Religion seeks God on its own terms; I put God in my debt by my good works. Then I get bragging rights and can feel superior to others. But Christianity says there’s nothing I can bring to the negotiating table: I am accepted only by God’s raw grace.

The defining mark of God’s people is a conscious dependence on their Saviour. It’s not so much a prerequisite as it is a structural necessity: we have to be humble to look for help beyond ourselves.

Does God Require Sacrifice?

“If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭50:12‬ ‭NIV

God doesn’t need our sacrifices; He doesn’t need to be appeased. It is the reality of justice and the goodness of His creation that we offend against when we sin that makes atonement necessary.

It is because He is just that there must be payment for sin; to do less is to devalue the victim of the offence.

Why are we are so outraged when a murderer or pedophile gets a light sentence? Because it treats the value of the victim as less significant than the rights of the perpetrator. We instinctively feel the punishment should fit the crime.

It was sheer grace that even the Old Testament sacrifices were even allowed to atone for Israel’s sin, and it is a far greater grace that the death of Christ is sufficient for ours.

Christianity has never been about appeasing an angry God; our penalty was taken by Christ. We just have to put down our pride long enough to realize we could never earn our way back anyways. It’s a gift of grace, and it humbles us to accept it.

Two Kinds of Legalists

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Legalists come in all sorts of flavours, but the common thread is that they look at the Bible as primarily a set of rules.

There are two kinds of legalists. Some try to justify themselves by obedience to the rules (religious legalists). There’s a lot of these in churches.

Others seek to justify themselves by rejecting the rules as too hard or modifying/interpreting to a more comfortable fit (liberal legalists). But both display a misunderstanding of grace, because both are still trying to justify themselves.

You can tell either type by the way they view those who don’t measure up. Religious legalists will be judgemental towards those who don’t follow the rules closely enough.

Liberal legalists, on the other hand, will be judgemental towards those they think are bigoted and intolerant.

Both consider themselves better than the people they judge, and they justify themselves by their own actions and enlightened attitudes.

The person who understands grace does not deny or change the rules. They acknowledge the claim the rules make on their lives; they don’t try to change the them to fit, but embrace their failure and trust in Jesus as their justifier. Remember the tax collector? “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. And he went home justified.

Religion and Grace

“Gospel” means good news. Before it’s anything else in our lives, it’s an announcement, a proclamation of a wonderful event that has taken place.

It changes forever our “search for God”. It’s no longer what we do for Him, but what He’s done for us.

We often forget that Jesus didn’t come just to teach; His primary purpose was to accomplish the mission of sin-bearing and redemption on our behalves.

Religion says “I obey and therefore I am accepted”.
The Gospel says, “I am accepted, and therefore I obey”. It’s still a path of moral effort, but the motivation is exactly opposite and comes from a place of rest. We work to please the One who has already saved us.

The only real optimists are those who can rest in this grace, because their hope is based on something eternal and outside of their own attempts to justify themselves. We’re certainly to do our best – but we now do it out of grateful obedience, rejoicing in what has already been done for us. We don’t need to prove ourselves anymore.

Don’t beat yourself up when you fail; in fact, to do so is an act of disobedience to the Spirit of Grace. Return to the place of rest, dust yourself off, and move forward.

Trying or Trusting

Ps. 119:32 “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free”

We can’t be free, we can’t rest until we are thinking more of Him than we are of ourselves. I think this is what the Bible means when it says to take up your cross or to mortify your flesh. It’s a radical re-ordering of your relationship to God.

We are not trying to “turn over a new leaf”, to pull ourselves up by moral effort – it’s telling us we died and have entered new life. It’s telling us to live not in the old way, but in the new, wonderful fact of our life in Him. In that life, we are thinking more of Jesus than we are about ourselves. It’s a life of worship.

We can’t obey or please God, really, without this work in our hearts – obedience out of a heart that is changed, that rests in a work already done.

“Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace” Romans 4:16

A lot of people can’t shake off the idea that we need to perform to some sort of standard to be accepted by God, but this is exactly opposite of what the Bible teaches.

God’s standard is impossible for us to reach, and a moment’s honest thought will tell you this is so. Are any of us without sin?

What God desires is a heart turned toward Him just hoping for grace and mercy, coming with no credentials or record of performance. Jesus took care of our debt to God. All we have to do is receive it: but this is a heart issue, and represents a fundamental new understanding of how we relate to God.

We decide to trust (to believe, to have faith) in what He’s done rather than our own track record; we stop trying to justify ourselves. The first time we decide to do this we become Christians; but it is the ongoing rule of life for living in Him. As we go through life’s situations we will consciously do it again and again as we continue our lives in Him. It becomes a new lens through which we view all of life.

But grace is a gift, and to receive a gift we have to trust the intent of the giver. Grace and faith always work together.

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.