Thursday, December 1, 2011

"The End is Near" - C. S. Lewis

You know the cartoon with the guy in the robe holding a placard that says "The End is Near"? You can view a selection of cartoons of this type here.

Well, here is a quote from C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man in which he sounds just like the guy in the cartoon.

"The practical result of the education in the spirit of "The Green Book"
must be the destruction of the society which accepts it."
(C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, p. 27)

Yes, you read that right: C. S. Lewis is saying that any society which educates its young people by debunking the notion of objective value will thereby destroy itself. Lewis argues in this prophetic book that there is such a thing as value (goodness, truth, beauty) in objects themselves totally apart from our subjective evaluations of those objects. What he calls "The Green Book" is a high school English textbook that teaches relativism in the course of teaching English composition. He actually thinks that such books are destroying our culture.

But then, he is an Augustinian who accepts the Platonist-Christian synthesis that dominated the church for well over a millennium until the decline in realist metaphysics and the rise of nominalism in the later part of the high middle ages (Christendom) prepared the way for the rise of Modernity. He believes that the Divine Logos which created the world left the imprint of his rationality upon it and, since we bear the Divine image, we can rationally understand some of the truth about reality and we can discern the good and the beautiful, despite our having fallen into nature and the consequent loss of some of our rational capacity.

Lewis believed that value is not merely subjective. In The Abolition of Man he talked about the Tao, the common core of moral value held in common by Plato, Aristotle, Confucianism, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism. The lectures published in this book were delivered to a secular audience so he avoided excessive reliance on terms usually associated with one religious tradition. But he is clearly talking about what the Western tradition has referred to as "natural law." Lewis ends chapter 2 by raising the question as to whether or not traditional morality can be retained by a society that rejects all supernatural bases for it.

Lewis does not answer this question due to the context of his lectures but it is clear that he thinks it cannot - at least not in Europe. Europe has been Christian for two millennia and it has no other soul or religion. It is either Christianity or secularism for Europe and Lewis argues that the relativistic, subjectivist secularism of mid-twentieth century Britain is an insufficient basis for traditional morality.

But to say it is an "insufficient basis" is not strong enough. Lewis is literally predicting the fall of Western civilization if it does not regain its soul, that is, if it does not experience a widespread and profoundly deep revival of the Christian religion in the near future. One senses without difficulty that the hour is much later than when he wrote these words in 1944 and that his prediction is coming true rapidly. A widespread and sincere acceptance of relativism spells the doom of the society that sinks to this state.

When a mild-mannered, Oxford don pulls on the burlap and digs out his "The End is Near" sign, it might be time to sit up and take notice.

11 comments:

DanO said...

Hi Craig,

Just thought I should let you know that I posted a response to your piece on sex, socialism, and pacifism. Here's the link:

http://poserorprophet.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/assumptions-about-utopianism-in-conservative-christian-ideologies/

xo

Craig Carter said...

Dan,
I actually read it and laughed out loud! You think natural law means that people should act like animals. That is the extent of your understanding of that concept? Your ignorance is just astounding.

Maybe it was a parody . . . ? It was just a joke right?

Gordonhackman said...

I actually had the exact same thought as Dr. Carter when I read DanO's piece. Clearly he has almost no understanding of natural law at all. His "response" comes off as sophomoric.

DanO said...

Disregarding the tangent on natural law (I'm not saying natural law means people should act like animals, I'm saying that natural law has no foundation in "nature" -- furthermore, it should be added, "nature" itself is nothing more than ideology operating at its finest, which Richard Davis may want to keep in mind the next time he wants to post and then delete something about "postmodernism" on the Bayview Review), I'm more interested in hearing your response to the charge regarding arbitrary understandings of "utopianism." Seriously, I'm actually inviting you to back up what you say with something substantial... you know, by actually taking the time to rebut any of my objections (which you have never done at any point, on any post -- assertions, like your most recent remark, don't actually count as rebuttals -- as you may have been taught at some point and consequently forgotten given that "academic" milieu in which you now work), so now is your chance to knock my argument apart and show the strength of yours. Go for it. You got your shot in, good for you, now feel free to back it up with some substance.

Ignorantly yours,

Dan

xo

Craig Carter said...

Dano
Oh, Dan, really. Substance? You want substance? You think Utopianism is benign?

You are so totally captured by secular ideology. I'm not sure mere facts have any impact on you whatsoever. But then, I'm no expert on "Penguin Ethics."

But surely even you have heard of the USSR, the Berlin Wall and the 100 million murders in the name of creating a perfect world in the 20th Century? How many people were shot trying to cross the Berlin Wall into the worker's paradise of the East? How many people have died trying to escape the evil, capitalist United States in rickety boats trying to get to Cuba? How many Western, left-wing intellectuals want to move to North Korea?

Or did you think those 100 million murders by 20th century Utopian governments were all the result of too much capitalism? Maybe they were all George W. Bush's fault? Does "Penguin Ethics" reveal Bush to be the real cause of Communist tyranny?

Deal with 100 million murders due to Utopian ideologies ruthlessly imposed by fanatics. Explain it all away and claim that the problem is that Communism hasn't really been tried yet. Tell me that compared to Stalin, the Vancouver Police Force is the real source of evil in the world. Then come back and tell me I have no substance behind my critique of Utopianism. I can't wait.

Nothing is more utopian, naive and unintelligent that the ravings of Marx and Lenin - and Pol Pot and Mao and Hitler and all the other homicidal maniacs of the 20th century. And nothing is more dangerous.

See: 1) The Black Book of Communism, 2) Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, etc.
Dr. C.

DanO said...

That's better, but still wide of the mark.

You see, I did not say that socialism was not utopian. Rather, what I did suggest is that, as far as I can tell, your conception of marriage is just as utopian. One could go on and on with lists of horrors and atrocities that have taken place within, and because of, marriage (since, I reckon, it first came into being), and so one could then suggest that marriage be abandoned as a "noble ideal" but far too "utopian" (in that destructive manner you dislike).

In response to this, I imagine you have two lines of defense: first, you could point to all the good that marriage has done in the world... but then one could say the same of socialism and we end up at the same impasse. Secondly, you could explain why the utopianism of (your understanding of) marriage is worth pursuing and forcing onto others, while the utopianism of (your understanding of) socialism is not worth pursuing and is akin to rape if forced onto others. What you have not done, however, up to this point is offer any reason why one should accept one utopian ideology (about marriage) but reject another (about socialism).

So, good, you got a dig in on me. You now got a rant out of your system. Both can be quite cathartic (look, I'm doing it, too!). Now, however, I look forward to something with more substance.

Affectionately yours,

Dan

Craig Carter said...

Dan,
I see absolutely no parallel between marriage and socialism. Nothing. I see more similarity between baseballs and volcanoes.

Socialism is a system of total social control by bureaucratic elites & therefore is like rape. Marriage is the exact opposite of, and the alternative to, rape.

Marriage is a civilizing influence that reckons with the fallen world and exerts a discipline on it that promotes the raising of children in a good and beneficial manner. Socialism is anti-marriage, as well as private property and the state. (See Engels)

They have nothing whatsoever in common. You merely assert with no evidence whatsoever that marriage is as bad as socialism. Where is you equivalent of the Black Book of Communism? Is it Ms. Magazine?

BTW, marriage is not a "utopian ideology." I see that you do not understand the meaning of the word "ideology." If you did, you would see that marriage is an institution rooted in human nature as created by God and the furthest thing removed from an ideology one could possibly imagine.

DanO said...

Well, I've tried to keep this really simple and I've tried to speak plainly given that we are on opposite sides of the barricades (alluding to Zizek there), even though we are members of the same body, but your response continues to be an exercise in missing the point. So many things that could be said...

For example, your statement that "[m]arriage is the exact opposite of, and the alternative to, rape" is blatantly false.

I've known many people who were raped by their spouses and the institution of marriage, along with the perceptions of gender roles that came along with the way in which that institution was embodied, facilitated and helped to hide those rapes. Indeed, the understanding of marriage that you propose in that (scary) quotation would make it impossible for a spouse to rape his partner. This, then, simply further perpetuates the problem I am highlighting, thereby making your position an ideological support of (actual physical, and not metaphorical or analogical) rape.

Furthermore, your concluding remarks are worth quoting in full because they are such a fine example of ideology at work. Here is what you wrote:

marriage is not a "utopian ideology." I see that you do not understand the meaning of the word "ideology." If you did, you would see that marriage is an institution rooted in human nature as created by God and the furthest thing removed from an ideology one could possibly imagine.

What is "ideology"? The most basic definition is as follows: ideology is "a set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system." Maybe you should repeat that out loud a couple of times so that it sinks it. Do you now see how what you are saying, and what you are calling "the furthest thing removed from an ideology" is nothing more than an ideological assertion? As Zizek reminds us (I brought him up earlier so I could bomb him in at this point), the beliefs that we hold to be natural, assured, common sense, or whatever, are the purest form of ideology precisely because we believe that they are not ideological. Really, it's all ideology, Craig, so there's no need to flee from that term. It'll be okay.

Anyway, unless you come up with anything really fascinating, it's probably futile to continue the ol' conversation at this point. I will, however, reiterate a central premise of mine:

You are picking and choosing the good or evil that you see in marriage and in socialism. Of the former, you highlight only the good. Of the latter, you highlight only the bad. A counter narrative could be offered that reverses that -- highlighting the bad of the former, and the good of the latter. Given, then, that both would contain both good and bad, this would suggest that both are a lot more morally "grey" than "black" or "white." If that is the case (and I believe that it is), then both systems("marriage" and "socialism") are equally utopian. Both aspire to be life-giving but have frequently ended up supporting that which is death-dealing. The conclusion I draw from that? Throw the whole thing out? No. Marriage is worth pursuing in certain circumstances and socialism is also worth pursuing in certain circumstances. Simply because something that aspires to be good sometimes produces (great) evils does not mean to get rid of the baby with the bathwater. If that were the case, what we would do with our faith and our mutual participation in that body I mentioned at the beginning?

Yours in Christ,

Dan

(PS - it's also worth reconsidering the whole "utopian" as a bad word premise. That's something explored in that book by Jon Sobrino I mentioned to you awhile ago -- No Salvation Outside the Poor -- did you ever get around to reading it?)

Daniel said...

I repeat DanO:

“Very well; and pray who sent you on this errand?
Why, the renowned knight Don Quixote de La Mancha, who redresses wrongs, and gives drink to the hungry and meat to the thirsty.” ― Sancho Panza speaking to himself.

Obliged and Vaya con Dios, Friston.

Oh, and high brother Craig, this "troll"as you called me before is only back to say hi to DanO and Y'all--till you expunge this post (I have never seen a blog with so many comments removed by it's blogmaster, hmm...I wonder why that is? I reckon you ain't got around to reading much Tennessee Williams yet LOL! Well, have a blessed advent y'all, Daniel

p.s., still waiting for your Malick review DanO.

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Craig Carter said...

Dan,
You speak as though I were not familiar with Liberation Theology. Perhaps you think that if I only read a little bit of it I would see the light. Actually, LT was the rage at TST in the early 90s and I have a whole shelf of books of LT including most of the works of Guttierez from my brief fling with LT in those days. I really gave it a try, but it seems to me to give away the store to Marxist heresy.

I don't believe in the labor theory of value, the Marxist concept of ideology, the evilness of the state, the oppressiveness of the family, the immorality of private property, the immorality of capitalism, the "iron laws of history", the perfectibility of man, "free love", the classless society, the idea of rigidly fixed classes itself, the withering away of the state, the benign intentions of the Party, the predictions of Marx about capitalism, the myth of primitive communism, the humane nature of socialism, the ideal of equality of incomes or the "new socialist man."

So what is left of Marxism except tyranny, poverty and atheism? Honestly, what is attractive about this rot?

You seem smitten with that silly, European Communist, Zizek. I think that is funny, so here is a joke:

Q. What is the difference between Zizek and Stalin?
A: 140 divisions and a nuclear suitcase.

I thought you would be familiar with the Marxist definition of ideology.

BTW, I find your statements on marriage normal for a Marxist but shocking for a professing Christian.

Evangelicals will never come to think as you do. (Most of the ideas you seem to think are "postmodern" are 2 centuries old.) But, seriously, I think you would be much more at home in the Anglican or United Churches. I think you would fit right in and you wouldn't have to put up with people like me.