Between Heaven and Earth: Thoughts on the Culture Conflict

C.S. Lewis . . . political philosopher?

Was there any subject to which C.S. Lewis wouldn’t bend his wry blend of “mere Christian” wit, penetrating passion, and ridiculously complex sentence structure? Perhaps the last great Christian renaissance man, Lewis wrote essays and letters about everything. A new book elucidates (or attempts . . . I’ll reserve judgment till I read it) Lewis’ philosophical theology. However, I wanted to quote from an essay of his that deserves more attention. In “Is Progress Possible?” Lewis says,

. . . Classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The Modern state exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good–anyway, to do something, to us or to make us something. Hence the new name “leaders” for those who were once “rulers.” We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, “Mind your own business.” Our whole lives are their business.

And this from a man who, like Jesus and Tony Campolo, is neither a Republican or a Democrat. When asked about “the great issues” of the day, Lewis asked:

Could one start a Stagnation Party—which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?

Is “mind your own business” to government consistent with the great commission of mere Christianity? It was also Lewis who said in the Screwtape Letters that one of the greatest traps waiting for politically motivated Christians is to think of politics as part of their Christianity, and then think it the most important part. Screwtape gleefully instructs that it is then only a short jump to thinking of one’s Christianity as the most important part of one’s politics.

In an excellent essay, John G. West at the Independent Institute suggests that Lewis cared nothing for public policy if by that term we mean, “that conglomeration of compromise, convention, and self-interest that forms the staple of much of our own political diet.” However, if you are looking for principles and Christian thought brought to bear on crime, suicide, the welfare state, and the nuclear age, then Lewis had a lot to say. What is the difference? West sums it up:

… political problems of the day were interesting to him only insofar as they involved matters that endured. Looked at in this light, Lewis’s penchant for writing about politics and his simultaneous detachment from the political arena seem perfectly explicable.

What commanded Lewis’s political attention were those things that endured, and that’s something to ponder.

A Funny thing Happened at the Forum . . .

The coverage of the Saddleback forum is starting to get so much coverage that talking about it runs the risk of eliciting the kind of bored apathy that accompanied admiration of boybands a few years back. Nonetheless, I’ll risk a comment about Obama’s abortion answer. When asked by pastor Rick Warren about when a fetus acquires human rights, Obama replied:

I’m pro-choice but [pensive pause] I didn’t come to that decision [pensive pause again] because I’m pro-abortion . . . I came to that conclusion because women do not make that decision lightly. They wrestle with it . . . with their pastors, [penultimate pensive pause] and their friends [ultimate pensive pause].

This is just my paraphrase but I think I got the [pensive pause] gist of it. But I want to ask, why does it follow that if someone struggles with something morally that whatever action they finally take, the mere fact of that struggle makes it morally tolerable? There may be other reasons, but the struggle itself shouldn’t be the reason for tolerating (or even supporting the decision).We struggle to make many decisions in life. Newlyweds may struggle with the decision to take out a home loan, and I’m sure many men struggle with the decision to cheat on their wife. Even in Islamic states, I’m sure fathers struggle with killing their unmarried daughters for riding in a car with with a boy. All of these may even consult their spiritual leaders, friends etc. But these are not the same kinds of struggle! We can accept whatever the couple decides as a matter of practical judgment about what’s best for them, but the cheating husband who appeals to his struggle as reason to excuse adultery will most likely find himself living in a Motel 6 with half his stuff. The difference is that we presuppose the immorality of adultery, and appeals to existential angst don’t change the moral equation. The fact that Iranian fathers struggle with the decision to engage in honor killings doesn’t mean the outcome is morally acceptable. However, can we like wise presuppose the immorality of abortion? According to Obama, that’s above a mere mortal “pay grade.”

National Science Center speaks Ex Cathedra, Condemns Questioning Evolution

J.S. Mill said:

To prevent the State from exercising, through these arrangements, an improper influence over opinion, the knowledge required for passing an examination (beyond the merely instrumental parts of knowledge, such as languages and their use) should, even in the higher classes of examinations, be confined to facts and positive science exclusively. The examinations on religion, politics, or other disputed topics, should not turn on the truth or falsehood of opinions, but on the matter of fact that such and such an opinion is held, on such grounds, by such authors, or schools, or churches.

Mill was vehemently against stifling debate. This was because he believed that one could not have confidence in one’s opinion unless:

He has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what is fallacious.

I would go so far as to say, one is not justified in one’s belief unless one is allowed to question one’s beliefs. Consider then what Mill would say to a world where Florida legislators have to introduce bills to allow teachers of government-run (read public) secondary schools to question conclusions of evolutionary theory. Note: not to teach intelligent design, to merely offer critiques of evolutionary theory that intelligent design might question. Many are vehemently against this latest plot of the vast evangelical conspiracy to warp the young into believing creationism. Eugenie Scott exec. director of the National Center for Science Education says, “These anti-evolution bills are really the creationism du jour, an end run around the legal decisions that have banned the outright teaching of creationism.”

So questioning the conclusions, the gaps, and the methodology of evolutionary theory is now creationism? What’s that I hear, Mill rolling in his grave? What’s wrong with saying, “Some credited scientists with lots of letters after their name are concerned about some of the accepted theory especially with regard to some flagella and specified complexity?” There’s no mandate, no curriculum–just a teacher pointing out what some very smart people are protesting. (That’s what intelligent design is in my opinion, its a protest movement among scientists.)

I wonder if one would be allowed to question Darwinian evolution with the critiques of Stephen J. Gould’s punctuated equilibrium? I have my suspicions that such questioning would be fine, as long as one has another evolutionary theory to critique it with. But Scott gives the game away with her statement: “Any student shaky on this subject can kiss [their] careers goodbye.” Ah, now I see. Question the establishment as Madame Curie, Niels Bohr, and Galileo did, and you can kiss your career goodbye. The New Church has spoken. Anathema you are for your questioning the holy teachings. Such actions will lead to your excommunication.

But California wants to go further. Where Florida wants to prevent teachers from questioning evolutionary theory, the land of fruits and nuts wants to deny credit for incoming high schoolers who go to religious schools that teach creationism or use textbooks that teach creationism. To be fair there are some text books I think are just bad and they include the texts in question in California:

The paper said rejected texts include a book for the course Christianity’s Influence on America, published by Bob Jones University, which “instructs the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events” and “Biology for Christian Schools,” whose first page says “if [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong.”

Okay, both of those statements could be a) out of context b) poorly worded c) just plain bad. Also, I do think any science text had better give the major elements of evolutionary theory and its strongest arguments or it does a disservice to the student. Having taught from Bob Jones’ high school text books, I can attest that there a great deal to be desired in the way of scientific integrity. But so what? What’s intellectually dangerous about giving a religious school the benefit of the doubt? If students can pass the SAT and hold their own in class, what is the problem? Unless of course the New Edict isn’t meant to screen out “poorly educated hicks” who have no idea what good science is (read home schoolers), but rather to prevent that pesky questioning in class . . .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *