“The fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology,’ as men choose their clothes.” (C.S. Lewis)
The great theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, tells us that man first sinned by the desire to define for himself what is good and what is evil. Saint Thomas says that “man sinned primarily in aiming at a resemblance of God in virtue of which he should be capable of fixing for himself moral good and moral evil” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q.163, a. 2.).
The C.S. Lewis scholar, Walter Hooper, tells us that the “Summa Theologica is a work Lewis used constantly,” and in The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis provides a defense of the Natural Law and of objective values as against man-made ideologies that harm and dehumanize us, thus defending the tradition of universal moral norms just as Aquinas did.
With respect to the dangers of man-made ideologies Lewis states: “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means…the power of some men to make other men what they please.” Lewis adds that the “man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique” (pp. 72-73).
“They are like,” says Lewis, “men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what “Humanity” shall henceforth mean.” It’s not like “they are bad men,” says Lewis. Having stepped outside the Natural law, these men have “stepped into the void.” They are “not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of man” (p.77).
Lewis adds this grim observation: “I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.” Certainly, one can think of many modern examples where such power has been used to crush and control other human beings. Thus, says Lewis, “a dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery” (84).
We now come to the crux of Lewis’ argument, to a quote and a warning which stands out as the key statement in the book, and which at the same time demonstrates Lewis’ literary prowess in expressing a philosophical idea and a grave concern in a few dazzling, power-packed sentences. Lewis says:
“The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: Traditional values are to be ‘debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.
The belief that we can invent ‘ideologies’ at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere specimens, preparations, begins to affect our very language. Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements” (p. 85, slightly edited).
“The [Catholic] Church’s firmness in defending the universal and unchanging moral norms is not demeaning at all. Its only purpose is to serve man’s true freedom. Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical — unyielding and uncompromising — defence of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom.
This service is directed to every man, considered in the uniqueness and singularity of his being and existence: only by obedience to universal moral norms does man find full confirmation of his personal uniqueness and the possibility of authentic moral growth. For this very reason, this service is also directed to all mankind: it is not only for individuals but also for the community, for society as such. These norms in fact represent the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy, which can come into being and develop only on the basis of the equality of all its members, who possess common rights and duties. When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the “poorest of the poor” on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 96).
COMMENT: When considering the current plethora of man-made ideologies and social constructs crowding the intellectual landscape, consider whether they are rooted in reality, in the natural law, in common sense, and in biological reality.
Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.
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