Thursday, December 19, 2013

Men Without Chests

Guest post by Baloo:

I'm not a religious person. Never have been. I've been an agnostic as long as I can remember. Despite all that, one of my favorite philosophers is C. S. Lewis. Or maybe not "despite." Lewis was a "universal" guy, in the sense that his thought is accessible to a great many different sorts of people, from Christians to those with other religions, to skeptics like me, because he was big on reason, not emotion. Unfortunately, most modern thinkers, from the religious to the atheistic, aren't very reasonable (in any sense) at all, and confuse their feelings with their thoughts. (You'll note below that Lewis thinks that thought and emotion are both essential, but that they are not the same thing.)

Lewis came up recently, in a discussion about his "Men Without Chests," a portion of which at least is reproduced below. L. Neil Smith remarked that he agrees completely with the sentiments expressed (for the full effect, you should read The Abolition of Man), despite the fact that Neil is usually very critical of Lewis and thinks of him as hostile to science. I think he's wrong about that, but the point is that C. S. Lewis must have something on the ball in this connection, because he's praised for it by Neil and me and lots of others. And of course lefties hate such sentiments, and lefties are in the driver's seat right now.  So old Jack Lewis is, despite religious differences, a very important member of our anti-lefisit maquis.  This from the C. S. Lewis Institute. Note that the commentary is Christian, but Lewis' words stand on their own with no need of religious support.


In his book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis was prophetic in pointing out that relativism—the idea that there are no absolute truths—would lead to the decay of morality and a lack of virtue within society. Without a belief in and the teaching of universal moral laws, we fail to educate the heart and are left with intelligent men who behave like animals or as Lewis puts it, “Men without Chests.” Read slowly to follow Lewis’s apologetic:

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 against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms (logical arguments) that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism … about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are 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. The operation of The Green Book (a book promoting relativism) and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. … A persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment... 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.
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour 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 honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.1

The Apostle Paul writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5, ESV).”

If followers of Christ live as people with chests—strong hearts filled with God’s truth—the world will take notice.


1 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp. 35–37.

© 2012 C.S. Lewis Institute. “Reflections” is published monthly by the C.S. Lewis Institute.
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