An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance


Week Six

The Abolition of Man:

Chapter One - Men Without Chests


The term "Men Without Chests" is the intriguing title of the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. In the book, Lewis explains that the chest is one of the “indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. ”Without Chests” we are unable to have confidence that we can grasp objective reality and objective truth. For Christian believers and followers of Christ that is a significant problem.

The result of such chest-less education, as Lewis warns, is a dystopian (where everything is bad) future. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise,” says Lewis. “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Bruce Jenner says of his gender condition, “I just couldn’t continue living a lie.” What he means is that he perceives his physical, birth gender to be a lie. That perception implies that the truth lies in his feelings about his sexuality, rather than the physical reality of it. This kind of depraved thinking is exactly the concern that C.S. Lewis profoundly expresses in chapter one.

What Lewis refers to as The Green Book is a representation of the flawed thinking being taught in our educational and formative systems. Lewis uses the illustration of an high school grammar book to point out how easily the system can be used by those who have an agenda beyond simple education to manipulate the cultural and societal thinking of future generations.

C.S. Lewis wrote “The Abolition of Man” as a warning to society about a coming depravity instituted by an insidious plot to negate the power of descriptive words by relegating their meaning to subjective feelings, rather than their true, objective reality or actual definition. He identifies the evil plot in a simple line of text in which the authors suggest to the student, using the story of “Coleridge at the waterfall,” that the words, “sublime” and “pretty,” have no objective value, but are instead, only subjective expressions of the men’s feelings. Here is how Lewis describes the flaw, “The schoolboy, [or girl] who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.” Unimportant because their value is only relative, that there is nothing absolute in their expression.

He goes on to warn that what the schoolboy, or girl, has learned from the example presented in the book, is insidious and subconscious in nature, that it will grow subconsciously to effect the child’s long-term thinking in ways that extend beyond grammar, to philosophy and that, if enough children fall victim to this kind of thinking, it could completely control and alter cultural norms.

Lewis had to conclude and include the possible effect into an imagined future which he expressed in his novel, “That Hideous Strength.” From the future, which he could only imagine, we can now see the very real outcome, as if it were a prophecy. I think we could all agree - here in 2018, the deconstruction is nearly complete. Bruce Jenner and millions like him in a forceful, activist community known as LGBTQ, are the proof of Lewis’ greatest fears. So, when the power of words to discriminate value is negated by subjective philosophy, the result can be devastating. Words are important tools that require our care and respect, though I recognize that every generation distorts and codes their meaning as a way of confounding the generation before them.

For the Authors of The Green Book, men he refers to as Gaius and Titius, Lewis had some rather unkind words. “Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions, the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards with a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that “a gentleman does not cheat,” than an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among [cheaters].”

He goes on to say, “The operation of The Green Book and its kind are to produce what may be called, Men without Chests, (that is men without moral compass, or conviction). It is an outrage that they, (Gaius and Titius), should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them to say that he who attacks them attacks intelligence. It is not so… It is not excess of thought, but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.”

In the news, almost daily, the hypocrisy of one protest or another demanding truth and morality from our government and its functionaries, those who rule over us rather than for us, demanding that our formative pillars such as systems of education, social media and related structures, even our diminished lexicons and speech conform to the fluid standard of their feelings. Lewis said of it, “And all the time – such is the tragic comedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more drive, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or creativity. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate [then] bid the geldings, be fruitful.”

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