“Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abilition of man… When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” ~ C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man
C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite historical figures. He’s iconic to me and to many people because of his intentional questioning and pursuit of faith and for his intellectual ascent to the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus. As a scholar in the field of literature, Lewis became one of the leading apologists for Christianity. More importantly Lewis is a faithful voice within the Church encouraging believers to be intellectually engaged in their culture and to actively participate in its transformation.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis continues his challenging approach as he makes a case for a value system for humanity that transcends culture and time. Lewis argues that there are inherent truths ingrained in who we are as humans and that these truths have been reflected in all cultures. But the warning that Lewis gives is that in our current age of enlightenment some people are ignoring these truths in their quest to conquer nature and, by natural extension, humanity.
Any further attempt I could make to describe the thoughts of Lewis would be feeble. I encourage you to go read this book for yourself. You’ll be intrigued as Lewis makes his case that man tyring to be his own master is, in the end, man leading to his own abolition. It isn’t specifically Christian in nature but rather could be a challenge for you to find the source of these inherent truths. It’s fascinating!
I like to highlight when I read a meaningful book so I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from the book that fell under the stroke of my highlighter…
“We continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. 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 honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
“If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity, we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless.”
“If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly, if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”
“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”
“But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever; you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. you cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”