Saturday, August 6, 2016
Thoughts on The Abolition of Man
Hillsdale College sends out emails about free online classes, which include lectures, readings, and quizzes. I decided to study a course right now along with someone I am mentoring. This course is called An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance
“C.S. Lewis was the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century. He was also the author of works of fiction, including the Chronicles of Narnia, and of philosophy, including The Abolition of Man. This course will consider Lewis’s apologetics and his fiction, as well as his philosophical and literary writings, and their continuing significance today.”
I have listened to and watched the first lecture and then listened only to the second. I find that I do not understand all of it unless I listen and then watch and take notes. Something significant to me today was the discussion Lewis has in Men Without Chests (the first chapter in The Abolition of Man) about Reason and Imagination. He talks about an elementary-education literature book, which states that feelings are arbitrary and not essential for education. He tells of a well-known story of Coleridge about two tourists observing a famous waterfall. One called it 'pretty' and one 'sublime.' The authors of the elementary literature book, Gaius and Titius, take a third position and say the tourists are not referring to the waterfall, but to their feelings about it. They argue not about the waterfall being “pretty” or “sublime”, but only say something about the arbitrariness of their feelings. Lewis’s argument is that if you separate reason and imagination, you will eventually cause the abolition of man.
Just as Aristotle believes the Soul and Body are inseparable, Lewis believes Reason and Imagination (emotions, feelings) are inseparable. In essence, Reason is the knowledge of the who, what, where, when, and why of the waterfall and Imagination is the “how I fit into this scenery and who I am in relationship to it” type of knowledge. The waterfall is a creation of our Mighty God and represents magnificence, majesty, and awe. If I were there along with the tourists to witness the beauty of it and recognize it as a sublime gift to me and humanity by a Loving Father, I would feel humble, and lifted. Thus, I would join with the one in calling it sublime. The word 'sublime' describes the high level of respect for the Creator’s gift.
While reading The Abolition of Man, I remembered a book I started on the recent backpacking trip, called Follow the River. It had come highly recommended to me as an excellent way to learn history and the culture during 1700-America. I started the book and got to page 80, or somewhere near it, I cannot remember. I ended up closing it and not picking it back up because it did not fill my soul. It was not “sublime” to me.
If I understand Lewis at all I I would say the book was not sublime because of the author’s improper and ignoble tone. The writing expressed base thoughts with little effort to build character and improve relationships. Oft-times, a contention would arise and instead of developing a brilliant and noble dialogue or thought-dialogue to dispel the contention, the author walked away from the opportunity for the characters’ personal growth.
It is true that the author based his fiction on a historical fact of a woman, along with her two young boys, being kidnapped by Indians and her long journey of her escape nine months later. The original story is noble and good and inspiring, but the author modernized and fictionalized the story as an avenue to further the cause of the baser human desires. To make my point without going into sordid detail, the author lingers on the memories of this woman’s sexually intimate experiences with her husband and has her compare his body with that of the Indian chief’s, who continues to stare her down. It is not to say that these things could not have happened, I am merely saying that the author seems to be focusing on these base instincts and desires, rather than on the Good, the True and the Beautiful, or in other words, the Sublime.
If I were to apply Lewis’ principle of using the right word for the circumstance, I would label the woman in the original story as a woman of great courage, faith, and passion for surviving. In the fictionalized story, I label the woman as low-class, the book as poorly written and neither of them worth spending my time.
The educational effect of using Reason and Imagination is that both together dictates the highest way to live. When our conscience is grounded in the Good, the True and the Beautiful, it is grounded in Christ, who is the Author of all Good, the True and the Beautiful. Anything that is not up to those standards is other than noble and virtuous and will eventually abolish mankind.