C.S. Lewis and the Death of Humanity, or
Heeding C.S. Lewis's Warnings against
by Richard Weikart, Ph. D.
Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus, and
Senior Fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute
any Christians recognize that we are living in a “culture of death,” where—especially in intellectual circles—there is easy acceptance of abortion and increasing support for physician-assisted suicide, infanticide, and euthanasia. While many Christians make cogent arguments against such practices—as they should—we seem to be losing ground. This is because our society is embracing secular philosophies and ideologies, many of which deny that the cosmos has any purpose, meaning, or significance. Once the cosmos is stripped of value, humanity is not far behind, especially since most secularists have also rejected any objective morality. Some intellectuals are complaining that humans are a “plague” whose population needs to be sharply reduced.1 The famous late-twentieth-century postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault glorified sadomasochism, mob violence, suicide, and death. Despite this, or maybe because of it, the late Foucault was (and still is) a darling of many progressive intellectuals.
When C.S. Lewis cautioned about the dangers of dehumanizing secular ideologies in The Abolition of Man and his science fiction novel That Hideous Strength, many Christians took notice. But, on the whole, the intellectual world paid little heed, careening further down the fateful road against which Lewis warned. Lewis’s critique is still a powerful antidote to the degrading vision of humanity being foisted on us by intellectuals in many institutions of higher learning. I have tried to update Lewis’s critique in my new book, The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis explained how dehumanizing ideas had insidiously crept inside of the British educational system in the mid-twentieth century. For example, textbook authors told impressionable students that when they call a waterfall sublime, they are not making a statement about the waterfall, but rather about their own feelings. Lewis pointed out that this exercise would lead students to two conclusions: that (1) all sentences about values are about the emotions of the speaker, and (2) these statements are ultimately unimportant.2 Many intellectuals make the same point about moral values, interpreting them as merely expressions of an individual’s preferences.
Lewis countered this denial of objective truth about morality or aesthetics with two objections. (1) In most cases, skepticism about values is selective. It is used to dismiss (often with contempt) the “traditional” values that one opposes, but it leaves untouched one’s own “progressive” values, which remain unstated but assumed. Lewis asserted, “A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.”3 Lewis understood the hypocrisy behind such debunking. (2) If we are not rational beings in a world with objective values, then we are “mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.”4 Thus Lewis recognized that controllers, who claim to be taking the destiny of humanity into their own hands, have no control over themselves.
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