Men Without Chests

31 08 2009

Men Without Chests is the intriguing title to the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.  It is not only an intriguing title, but it is a compelling topic in today’s culture where we are told to tolerate lifestyles and ideas, but not truth or necessarily, people.

Abolitoin of ManLewis begins the chapter with the discussion of a book, a real book by real authors; however, he masks both the name of the book and the names of the authors as an act of kindness toward them, a kindness, although undeserved, is displayed out of Christian charity (this is my interpretation, not his).  Lewis writes, “I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book.  But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.” (2)

The book was intended to be a book on writing and literary style, yet, as Lewis points out in this chapter, the book turns out to be a insidious book of philosophy.  Lewis discusses a portion of the book in which they discuss Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet and philosopher, who wrote of a couple of tourists viewing a waterfall.   One says that the waterfall is sublime while the other says that it is pretty.  Now, since we don’t use the word sublime commonly in our vernacular, let me give you the definition: impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to go to Niagara Falls years ago and I will tell you that neither of us would have described the falls as simply, pretty.  To do so would have done an injustice to the grandeur of the falls.  The same could be said of the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Grand Canyon and many other natural wonders of this world.  Coleridge as well endorsed the observation of the first tourist and rejected that of the second.

This is where Gaius and Titius step in to introduce philosophy to the conversation.  They tell the reader that the tourists were not making an observation about the waterfall itself, but an observation about their own feelings.  Lewis quotes Titius as saying, “When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings.  What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.” (2)

In other words, we are not making objective observations about a thing, in fact we cannot, we can only express the feelings or emotions brought about when observing a thing.  I called this insidious on the part of Gaius and Titius and here is why.  In the name of teaching the proper use of the English language, they are implanting ideas about the world into the heads of school children in a somewhat subversive manner.  They are not coming out and telling them that they are discussion philosophy and a worldview, they are merely slipping it in the back door, as it were, in the guise of an English lesson.

Gaius and Titius go on to give another example of this in the fourth chapter of their book where they take an advertisement for a cruise line and again slip in philosophy under the cover of English composition.  The ad encourages the reader to buy a ticket to sail the “Western Oceans where Drake and Devon sailed” seeking the adventures and treasures of the Indies.  Lewis criticizes the ad as a poor piece of writing, but criticizes Gaius and Titius for not only overlooking the poor writing, but instead focusing on the idea that the cruise ship won’t sail were these adventurers sailed and that any treasures that they bring home will be metaphorical.  In other words, instead of dealing with the grammar and syntax, these men attack the philosophical and literary underpinnings of the ad.  Lewis points out that they could do the same with Wordsworth and many of the other great writers in literary history as most of them used metaphor in their writing.

CS LewisLewis explains that up until recently our emotions and observations were connected to something real, something objective.  Our observations could be judged to be right or wrong as they were compared to the reality of that which was being observed or judged.  He explains that every culture had an understanding of a good that is beyond the physical world and that is objective in nature.  He illustrates this by using the Chinese concept of the Tao, “the reality beyond all predicates”, or as Plato called it, the forms.  Again, he uses the Tao not necessarily as a reference to Chinese thought, but to a concept that he says spans all major worldviews and that represents an objective reality beyond the physical world.  Readers can get tripped up on this concept and I will say that I am not in full agreement with Lewis’ presentation of this concept; however, it is helpful in understanding that there is a reality beyond this physical world that can be understood and grasped by us.

It is those who not only deny this reality but also convince others that this reality is no reality at all that Lewis calls men without chests. These people claim the title of intellectual and yet set out to destroy.  In destroying a person’s confidence in being able to grasp objective truth and in the very existence of objective truth, these people destroy hope, meaning and purpose in the person’s life as well.  If there is no objective truth, there can be no real meaning to life.  Morality becomes a quaint concept with no grounding in reality.  The Apostle Paul said that if the reality of the resurrection does not exist, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32)  In other words, if there is no hope beyond this world, we might as well live it up in this world as it is all we have.

Yet, Paul says the same thing of these people that Lewis says of Gaius and Titius, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (v.33) Paul tells us that there is a reality beyond this physical existence and that Jesus is the demonstration of that through his death, burial and resurrection.  So, let us heed the words of Paul:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (vv. 57-58)

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11 08 2014
What type of "assurance" can God give us? - Christian Forums

[…] the New Testament narrative in his book Abolition of Man. Perhaps you will find this enlightening: Men Without Chests | Thinking Eternally __________________ "Be persuaded, timid soul, that He has loved you too much to cease loving […]

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