Thursday, February 14, 2019

Abortion and the Conquest of Man

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Are You a Practical Atheist?

Stephen Charnock, a clergyman who lived in the 1600s, said this: “Men may have atheistic hearts without atheistic heads.”

In other words, a man who only believes in his mind that there is a God may not agree in his heart.

An overt atheist, one fully committed to his unbelief, might indulge in moments of speculation, even though in his head he knows better. I once knew an atheist who asked me to pray for him. In his head, he was an atheist, and in his heart, too. But moments of despair or fear, even enlightenment or amazement, may have led him to consider the prospect of God.

I’ve also known a few who’ve asked for prayer, not expecting that it will be done, or if it is done that it won’t accomplish much. The request from this sort of person is not so much a longing for God, but a grasp at pity. No answer is needed, only acknowledgement that the person’s life is not the way he wants it to be. He’s been cosmically cheated out of what he thought was due him.

In his head, he believes. He assumes God is there, or at least he hopes it. He follows certain rules, but others he ignores because they aren’t easy for him. Maybe he goes to church. He gives something of his money and time and attention. In his mind, he finds the notion of God necessary. But in his heart, God is unknown.

A fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

The overt atheist denies God because he sees no option. Nothing proves God’s existence to him. In both heart and mind, God is absent. But an atheist in practice—a practical atheist—finds it hard to let go of what God has become to him. The head belief may be built on tradition. It might come from a childhood acceptance of a religious order. Or it could just be fear of the proverbial zap by a lightning bolt for admitting doubt. The practical atheist says there is a God, but he has no desire, or ability for that matter, to love Him or live for Him. He may call on divine rescue from time to time, but he’s practically noncommittal about the ultimate rescue, even if he says otherwise.

Who’s to blame for the practical atheist’s predicament? Did he attend a church which did not fervently preach the gospel? Was he wrongly led to believe that God would grant him a life of good wishes and happy endings? Perhaps he clings to God in his head because deep in his heart he wants God to be true, but he has never experienced God’s truth. So he goes on living as if there is no God, and what a fool he is for it. He lives as he pleases, not caring for God or others. Not abiding in God’s word, even though he says he agrees with it. Not filled with gratitude, but with self-indulgence.

If he keeps up his act within the church, he might be spotted by a discerning brother. He might be outed by a gospel-centered body of believers. He might be called by God. If so, God will win him, and his practical atheism will let him go.

The overt atheist who asks me for prayer will get prayer. Whether or not his request is genuine, I don’t know. The practical atheist who asks for prayer will get it too. Whether or not his request is genuine, I don’t know. God knows, and God is able to rescue heads and hearts from both atheist camps. From the one that declares there is no God, and from the one that presumes there is a God.