I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis. Not the fun stuff, but the philosophical. Not absorbing every word but rereading the brilliance until at least a sentence or two blows my simple mind. I thought at one point that I might need a C.S. Lewis for Dummies. Surprise, there is one, though I’m not sure it addresses The Abolition of Man, the little book keeping me gloriously stupefied. I haven’t finished the book, but I can see the journey laid out before me. One I’m not sure I want to take, but I can’t stop now.
Other readings of late, that is, the headlines, have brought something of a different sort of wonderment, one leaving me stupefied on the level of repugnance. A gruesome realization that I live in a world quickly falling into the Biblical foresight of right becoming wrong and wrong becoming right. It’s then that I go back to Lewis, and squint and ponder words like these, which make the headlines seem like a follow-up:
Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well . . . I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man . . . The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?
Lewis may have seen it coming—the great promise, and potential calamity, of modern technology and medical advancements. He hints at the intention of science, genetic modification, at the treatment of the unborn. In another passage, he rightfully fears what may happen to humanity when human instinct becomes nonessential:
As we pass from mother love to rational planning for the future we are passing away from the realm of instinct into that of choice and reflection: and if instinct is the source of value, planning for the future ought to be less respectable and less obligatory…
This is a hard contemplation for me, one wrapped in societal acceptance. Most women today take for granted their perfectly legal, morally tolerable right to use contraception. But not too far back in our nation’s history, the use of birth control was illegal, considered to be lewd behavior. Once it became good medicine, most women, including most Christians, including me, embraced the practice. I won’t argue the ramifications of contraception, either good or bad. But Lewis did.
Now his words rail against the headlines. The omen of what may taint our future is now here. Birth control became the norm. No longer taboo. No longer sinful. The conditioning of our minds and lifestyles to accept something that proved to be a good thing led to a thing that is not good at all. The use of birth control before conception led to the expulsion of a pregnancy after conception, and now to the death of a baby right up to the point of delivery. But surely a woman won't carry a baby for nine months, and then decide to abort.Will she?
Some governing bodies are removing all limits, while others attempt to pull back on what’s legal. We Christians rage at the thought of a baby being killed on his delivery date, but now we seem to breath a little easier, to almost celebrate a state government pushing to outlaw abortion if the baby has a heartbeat. Did we not once insist life begins at conception? Has our protest against any and all abortion now shrunk at the passing of a worse law?
Are we being conditioned to accept the practice of abortion to a point? When it’s all settled, the full-term abortion law might fade away as the pre-heartbeat law becomes the standard. A moral shift of society. No longer opposed. Is this push for full-term abortion an act of the power of Man, as Lewis calls it, to alter our concept of morality? Time will tell. The signs are there that we, as billions of people, will change our opinion of right and wrong as we are conditioned by the thousands of men.
Though he became a Christian, perhaps his pre-redemption atheism gave C.S. Lewis the right voice to speak to a world bent on straying off the path of survival. The Abolition of Man encompasses a code of morality, reason, instinct, and posterity. It’s not a guide so much for the Christian, but for the human race.
Seventy-six years after the book was written, we continue on a path that may lead to our destruction. Along that path, the abortion issue is not one simply to be opposed by Christians, but to be cautiously weighed by all women, and men, and governments. Of course, that’s not the way it will work out. The question is, will Christians accept the death of an embryo if the government will only abolish the threat of death to a full-term baby? Again, time will tell.
Or maybe time is running out. Lewis may have let his faith shine for a moment in the above quote when he wrote of that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. He spoke of extinction, but he waited, as I wait still, for the Redeemer. That day will come. Perhaps not far off.
Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) HarperOne 2009