The Church that Abolished Man

Dr. Richard Gamble spoke at the SCL conference last week about The Abolition of Man. I was pleased to see that someone who has spent a lot of time reading this book and contemplating its message was asked to develop his thoughts on that message.

Man, we must understand, has been abolished. The world we live in, its institutions, habits, practices, and attitudes, is opposed to mankind in virtually every way. Individuals occasionally burst through to do some good, but for the most part man has been abolished and we live in what Lewis called a “post-human world.”

What humbles me is the extent to which the American Christian church has been manifestly and continually involved in this abolition, from the manner of worship to the way they run youth groups to the way they study the Bible.

Here, I suggest, is one simple way to think about it. Biblically, man is composed of heart, soul, mind, and strength. For modern man – the product of naturalistic materialism, the divine image has been removed and, please note this, is therefore neglected.

The heart has been reduced to emotions and feelings. The soul has been declared “an unnecessary hypothesis.” The mind is a complicated bag of neurons and synapses. We are left with the mortal body and its desires (the common translation for “desires” is “lusts,” but that word has come to have only negative connotations, which the Biblical usage does not).

You might say that the Divine Image theory of man includes reason and will in addition to bodily appetites, while the post-human theory of man includes only the senses and the appetites attached to them.

Reason, not being believed in, is neglected, so things like grammar, music, logic, memory, math, formal literature, etc. are neglected. Since reason is fulfilled in wisdom, this neglect results in a foolish culture.

The will, not being acknowledged, is neglected, so discipline is set aside for more pleasant things, in disregard of Hebrews 12 (and the rest of the Bible, all of which is oriented toward the healing of the will). The will perfects itself in virtue, so we have cultivated a selfish, appetite driven, literally vicious culture.

Christian schools are just as guilty of teaching to the appetites as every other variation. The neglect of the reason and the will, and the appetite driven worship of the contemporary church, are their own judgment.

In the end, freedom, which requires wisdom and virtue, is lost.

May I suggest to you that you join us for the 2010 CiRCE conference where we will explore the impact of this naturalistic materialist mindset on education as it relates to freedom and how our country has lost its freedom because it stopped cultivating wisdom and virtue?

If you can’t make it, you can pre-order the conference recordings for an astounding $50 off (1/3). The 30+ CD’s should be ready for distribution by Sept 15.

One last thing: If you haven’t read The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, PLEASE read it. This is the most important book he wrote and the most important book written in the 20th century.

Saddles, Novels, and Coleridge

Approximately 200 years ago Coleridge argued,

The common modern novel, in which there is no imagination, but a miserable struggle to excite and gratify mere curiosity, ought, in my judgment, to be wholly forbidden to children. Novel-reading of this sort is especially injurious to the growth of the imagination, the judgment, and the morals, especially to the latter, because it excites mere feelings without at the same time ministering an impulse to action. 

This needs to be understood in the larger context of Coleridge’s essay on education.  He states at the start of this essay that the aim of education is to exhibit “the ends of a moral being.” Coleridge argued the point that education works from the inside out.  The soul must first be rightly formed so that one may rightly govern the other faculties.  The novel works in the opposite direction moving first from the senses with little or no attention for the soul.

A saddletree works much the same way. The heart, or core of any saddle is called a tree. Originally, the tree of a saddle was made out of wood, but today saddletrees are often made from fiberglass or plastic.  The tree is the fundamental form of every saddle. As it is covered with leather, rawhide, sheep wool, and conchos it takes on a physical appearance that is, or can be, only as good as the tree that is covered.  All the integrity and virtue of a saddle rests with the tree.  Old leather skirtings can be replaced.  But if the tree is cracked, the saddle is worth-less.

The integrity and virtue of the soul forms the man.  Education must begin first with soul, and work its way out from there.  We must educate from the inside out.

On Liberty

Here’s a link to a nice set of quotations on liberty. Raise your soul a little!

Oracle of the Dog

I hope not to spoil this Father Brown story, but it has made a recent impression on me.

A man is retelling to Father Brown the details of an unsolved murder that took place several hundred miles away.  Those who were there believed the murderer to be a man that the victim’s dog barked at after the murder took place.  In addition, witnesses testified that they were playing catch with the dog on the beach, and the dog came out of the water without the stick and began whinning at precisely the same time that the murder of his master took place.

Fiennes stared.  “But look here,” he cried; “how do you come to know the whole story, or to be sure it’s the true story?  You’ve been sitting here a hundred miles away writing a sermon; do you mean to tell me you really know what happened already? If you’ve really come to the end, where in the world do you begin? What started you off with your own story?”

Father Brown jumped up with a very unusual excitement and his first exclamation was like an explosion.

“The dog!” he cried. “The dog, of course! You had the whole story in your hands in the business of the dog on the beach, if you’d only noticed the dog properly.”

Fiennes stared still more. “But you told me before that my feelings about the dog were all nonsense, and the dog had nothing to do with it.”

“The dog had everything to do with it,” said Father Brown, “as you’d have found out if you’d only treated the dog as a dog, and not as God Almighty judging the souls of men.”

After several more details are unfolded by Father Brown, he continues:

“The dog could almost have told you the story, if he could talk,” said the priest. “All I complain of is that because he couldn’t talk, you made up his story for him, and made him talk with the tongues of men and angels. It’s part of something I’ve noticed more and more in the modern world, appearing in all sorts of newspaper rumours and conversational catchwords; something that’s arbitrary without being authoritative. People readily swallow the untested claims of this, that, or the other. It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.” He stood up abruptly, his face heavy with a sort of frown, and went on talking almost as if he were alone. “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there’s a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like a vista in a nightmare. And a dog is an omen, and a cat is a mystery, and a pig is a mascot and a beetle is a scarab, calling up all the menagerie of polytheism from Egypt and old India; Dog Anubis and great green-eyed Pasht and all the holy howling Bulls of Bashan; reeling back to the bestial gods of the beginning, escaping into elephants and snakes and crocodiles; and all because you are frightened of four words: ‘He was made Man’.”

The thing about common sense is that it has become uncommon.  People grow increasingly superstitious and disconnected when they cease to look through the natural eye denying that they bear the Image of God.

The Greatest Movie Ever?

Last night my wife and I went out to eat to celebrate our 26th anniversary and afterward we watched Casablanca, which is translated White Castle but never mentions hamburgers.

It must be the case that there is a better movie somewhere in the universe, and not having watched as many movies as most other people I can’t know for sure, but I have never seen a better one myself.

I’ve watched this movie about a half dozen times now (watching a movie once is a complete waste of time), but last night I was watching it with an eye to some of the more literary elements, like plot and language.

There’s much to love in this movie, like the witty cynicism that serves as the background for the few noble actions, the camera work, the love of country that saved the world from the extreme nationalism of the Nazis, and the recognition that the whole enslaved world wanted to come to America, not for cheap jobs but for freedom.

But the language! The turns of phrase – it’s downright poetical. What other movie has so enriched our store of phrases? Even some that were never said are drawn from Casablanca, one at least then turned into a sports store (I refer especially to that famously unspoken line: “Play it again, Sam.”).

I listened closely and through the whole movie I was jarred by only one truly awful, disproportionate, adolescent, over the top statement. It was by Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) when she and Rick (Humphrey Bogart) were in Paris. I can’t remember the line, but it was a real clunker.

Otherwise, from the very opening of the movie to the end you hear line after line with good form, irony, wit, insight, potential for reflection, and that magical capacity to sum up in a phrase something everybody recognizes as worth expressing.

I’m out of time now, but if I have time, which is unlikely with the conference coming up, I’ll watch the movie again and write some quotations, especially of the first quality, good form. All the other qualities depend on form or they won’t be memorable.

To see an illustration of this, look at the appendix to Strunk and White, where they suggest alternatives to Thomas Paine’s famous, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Try to improve on the form of that line!

Form is what makes truth (and life) pleasant.

Everybody Votes

If you are wondering whether our 2010 conference will be practical, consider the way Americans vote. Intelligent voting requires trained intelligence, the ability to filter the BS, the ability to think disinterestedly, and the knowledge of how the political system operates.

Our students have been robbed of all these things because of the obsession with practical and relevant instruction.

What is more practical than freedom? If we don’t train our students to be free, how will they be? Freedom is an achievement, not a birth certificate.

Please come and think with us.

Where the Post-Modern Goes

Post modern thought, to the extent that it dominates culture, will and must lead to, or at least make inevitable, tyranny.