Fr. Rivera gave an eye opening presentation on C.S. Lewis’ great work, “An Abolotion of Man.” His purpose was not to give an in-depth teaching of every detail of the book, but to inspire us to read it for ourselves, and to give enough of an understanding to help us comprehend what we are reading.
First, Abolition of Man is actually a series of three talks given by CS Lewis. In this series, Lewis uses Philosophy from a variety of sources, but most especially Eastern Philosophy which goes back even before the time of Jesus by several hundred years. The reason for this is to emphasize the existence of the Natural Law as being an obvious truth, and not something invented by Christians, as is often argued by many non theists.
To clarify, the Natural Law, is that law that is written on man’s heart; the innate knowledge of right and wrong. For example, when you were a child and a sibling took something of yours away from you, what is your first response? “That’s not fair!” Where do we get the sense of what is fair or not fair? Were we taught that response or do we instinctively know that what they did was wrong? Natural Law goes beyond this, in that all things have a purpose designed by God. The purpose in accordance to God’s will is a good. In other words, a cat will behave as a cat. A tree will behave as a tree according to the nature God gave it. This does not mean that all that is natural obeys the natural law. Genetics shows us that things can go against the good it is originally designed to do. God designed cells to perform a specific function, but a gene can make that cell cancerous, and it no longer performs the good it is supposed to do. It’s natural, but does not follow natural law. A lion eating a deer is behaving as a lion is supposed to behave. It follows the natural law. When we behave as human beings made in the image of God, we follow the natural law. When we go against the intention God has for us, we violate the natural law.
Back to the themes in the book. The theme of the first lecture focuses on Lewis’ observation of a child’s grammar book teaching underlying themes, through simple statements which at first glance appear to be innocent. The grammar book in particular talks about adjectives being subjective only to one’s emotions and not to an objective reality. Lewis was concerned that this would lead to those children understanding that there is no objective moral truth. Lewis goes on to explain that our thoughts and emotions are important, but must be rightly ordered. This connection of thought and emotion is in the chest, hence the title of the lecture, “Men Without Chests.”
Fr. Rivera went on to show modern day examples of the subliminal messages we get from movies and advertising, which lead to thinking that goes against an objective truth.
For example, look at many children shows. The theme often personifies animals causing many children to grow up believing animals should have equal or even greater rights than humans.
The second lecture focuses on the existence of Natural Law and the reality of an objective moral truth. In his focus on Eastern Philosophy, Lewis calls this the Tao. This tells us that there is a proper goal and a proper way to achieve that goal. We often hear the argument, let them do what they want to do. What concern is it of mine? They make laws for their community, we make laws for our own community. But what if the laws of the one community involves killing the citizens of your town? You know that it’s wrong, but how do you enforce your belief system on them? Who has the right to make universal laws? The only One Who has the right to make universal law is the One Who created all.
Finally, the third lecture focuses on the right vs. wrong use of science to feed our desires or what we call appetites. Lewis was prophetic in stating that science in the wrong hands will make man a slave to man. The fallen human nature wants control, wants to be like God. Science gives him the opportunity to conquer his own humanity. However, often times it is the person with power or wealth who gets control of the other. Lewis was especially concerned about nuclear war, and the ability of one or a few having the power to wipe out an entire population of other people. Other examples include people trying to be something they are not; where they have taken technology to modify themselves in ways that go against humanity. Transhumanism is the prime example of humans trying to control evolution to become a creature they conjure up in their minds. Examples include those who have surgery to give themselves a forked tongue to look like a reptile, add horns or tattoo themselves to look like a cat. There are also those trying to download the human consciousness into computers.
We know, through the natural law, that science must be used in cooperation with God’s design. It is important that children do not grow up with messages that deny this fact, as it will lead to individuals using science for their own power instead of the good of society, or most importantly for the right order of giving glory to God.
This is just a quick overview of Fr. Rivera’s talk, which included examples to clarify many of the points he was making. He and I strongly encourage you to read or listen to The Abolition of Man, as well as look deeper into natural law. Lewis was greatly concerned about the incremental messages we hear, which lead us to have opinions on ethical questions, which we have not scrutinized against the moral law. It is of great importance to teach our children right reason, to learn to question what we believe in light of God’s design.
Recommended further readings include:
* A Brave New world
* End of Time: Philosophy of History by Joseph Pieper
* Spes Salvi – (Hope of Salvation) by Pope Benedict
* Abuse of Language by Joseph Pieper
*After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre