An Indispensable C. S. Lewis Quote to Ponder and then Reponder on Modernity versus the Ancients

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique: and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious.
--C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955 paperback ed. of the 1947 original), pp. 87-88, emphasis mine

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchPhilosophy* TheologyAnthropologyApologetics

5 Comments
Posted May 23, 2012 at 6:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Fr. Gregory Crosthwait wrote:

Fr. Thomas Hopko drew my attention to this book some years back in a wide-ranging lecture and subsequent podcast. I’ve come to agree with his opinion that this book is mandatory reading. This quotation and the entire book is ideal for pondering and re-pondering. Thank you, Canon Harmon.

May 23, 1:41 pm | [comment link]
2. Brian Vander Wel wrote:

It is always amazing to me that C.S. Lewis saw what he saw many years before others could see, let alone understand.

I can remember a personal revelation of this kind when I was re-reading The Great Divorce days after General Convention agreed to approve the episcopal election of V. Gene Robinson in 2003. In chapter 5 (I believe) a bright spirit from heaven engages in a conversation with one of the ghosts who turns out to be an Episcopal Bishop who is living in hell (because of his apostasy) and had decided to visit the outskirts of heaven. The Bishop ends up choosing to go back to hell because he realizes he will miss an important lecture that he is scheduled to give. The topic? How much more God could have accomplished through Jesus had he not died so young. I read in stunned amazement as that conversation played out in a book written nearly 60 years before those CG events.

C.S. Lewis is clearly one of God’s greatest gifts of the 20th century for Christian minds. Thanks for pointing this out to me, again. Father Harmon.

May 23, 9:12 pm | [comment link]
3. QohelethDC wrote:

This is indeed a quote to ponder, and I must have reread it a dozen times today. Thanks for the brain food!

It daunts me a bit (okay, a lot) to contradict the author of my beloved Screwtape Letters (a man no doubt far wiser than I’ll ever be), but I’m not sure I agree. I think some of Homo sapiens’ greatest triumphs and most important progress have come from our repeated refusal to accept “reality” as we inherited it. Out of that refusal came the abolition of slavery, the eradication of smallpox, and greater rights for women, to name just a few top-of-mind examples.

I realize those struggles can include times when people do “things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious.” A couple of examples come to mind from America’s agonizing journey toward racial equality. In 1902 (I think), Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for a meal. Countless Americans were shocked and horrified, and decades passed before another black guest set foot in the mansion. In my own lifetime, Virginia had laws—rooted in a vision of God’s plan for separate races—against interracial marriage. The laws stayed on the books till the Supreme Court struck them down. All this to say an earlier age’s standards for disgust might not always serve us well today.

May 23, 10:17 pm | [comment link]
4. QohelethDC wrote:

Oops, I left out the word “daunting” from the first sentence in my second paragraph. Sigh.

May 23, 10:25 pm | [comment link]
5. Steve Perisho wrote:

“The very experiences of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnances was the first essential for progress.”

C. S. Lewis, That hideous strength:  a modern fairy-tale for grown-ups, chap. 9, sec. 5.

May 25, 1:06 am | [comment link]
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