Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflections on The Abolition of Man

In reading The Abolition of Man, I found myself thinking in a new way. I have observed that this often happens with Lewis, who is a master at taking things of an ordinary sort and putting them in quite a fresh perspective.

Lewis talks extensively, and I confess, somewhat boringly, about his Tao. His Tao as best I can conceive, is an unassailable perspective or philosophy which is the kernel of who man is, or should I say, should be. I have always found The Abolition of Man to be more remote and abstract than it should be, and have found his arguments persuasive while not heroic, and certainly not central to the way I might want to present the rationale of Christ. Until I read him this time.

What I find so different in this time perusing through the book was, of course, my own reflection. The power of the best writers is not found in their ability to persuade us to their cause, but rather to cause us to begin persuasion of ourselves in trying to fit that piece in our philosophy which has not quite fit before, but now, because of the great writer, seems a bit more abhorrent than it ever was before. In rethinking this little bit that does not fit, the thinker may find himself trying to refine his own sense of philosophy, of decency by twitching a little this way, or by tinkering with a little thought that way. Frustrated at his efforts he perseveres, annoyed that no matter how he twists or bends his thoughts, it does not fit; in the end he is forced to throw out the whole bit and start over. Of course this is the result of and the power of great writers.

What is it that I threw out? Not so much I would warrant, just that I saw where Lewis was coming from. He was presenting the very bad arguments that I myself have had from my Father’s generation when they told us of the sixties’ generation that we should do this or that. “Go pick up your rifle and give your life cheerily for your country. Live your life virtuously. Be brave and be truthful. Your country needs your body and it is your duty to go to war.” All of these maxims my generation questioned. I also questioned them, and found many of the older generation unable to voice why I should do this or that. What is it, I would reasonably ask, that makes me want to die for my country, or be a hero, or even truthful, for that matter?

My father, not being a Christian, and not being a philosopher either, could never articulate the reason why we should do this or that over another, perhaps more preferable course. It was not until I encountered Christ that I began to see that most of what he had been teaching me, was part of Lewis’s Tao. That is, it was the underpinnings to the why of life, and it was largely left out by my father’s generation. His generation subscribed to a plethora of dictums that largely came from Christianity.

I realized this fact very soon after my receiving Christ, but as hard as I tried to articulate it to my Dad, it never seemed to soak in. I do not think it soaked in for a lot of his generation—my Father did not believe himself until near the end of his life. I find it ironic in thinking about his generation, a segment of heroic men and woman who became much bigger than themselves and gave us the greatest gift—our continued freedom. The irony is, of course, they knew not whom they served.

In thinking about it today, I could extend a metaphor of a great generation handing us the greatest engine of civilization of all time. They had given us the greatest and most powerful diesel engine by one of the great American generations, but they forgot to tell us about the fuel to run the engine. We of the sixties frustrated them to no end with our questions of why; they could only see their marvelous diesel engine of civilization and could not understand our questions. What we should have been talking about was, of course, the fuel. Neither generation was finding The Christ, the master of both generations, and the diesel fuel on which the greatest engine runs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, dad. I understand exactly what you mean about grandpa's generation! Great word picture with the engine/fuel.

Also, I love this: "The power of the best writers is not found in their ability to persuade us to their cause, but rather to cause us to begin persuasion of ourselves in trying to fit that piece in our philosophy which has not quite fit before..." (It's true with teachers too, right? The best teachers don't simply persuade children "this or that is true" but lead children down a path of Truth so they can discover it for themselves and in turn persuade themselves of it.)