In Defense of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful: On the Loss of Transcendence and the Decline of the West
by Jordan Cooper
In his extraordinarily dense little volume, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis warns against the devolution of education, which he saw occurring in his own day. Fleeing the scene was the old understanding of education as virtue formation. No longer were students expected to search for the good, the true, and the beautiful so as to be shaped and conformed into those transcendentals. What Lewis dreaded was the mechanistic and flat conception of reality put forward by scientism, which stripped the cosmos of all sense of meaning. For the modern educators Lewis had in view, meaning was not real or objective, but was rather the imposition of wishful thinking. Lewis saw the writing on the wall, and he predicted that this kind of intellectual and educational shift would sow the seeds of Western civilization’s demise. It would produce a society of “men without chests.”
If a society of “men with chests” is one in which “the good life” is lived in conformity with the transcendentals rather than by self-expressive individualism, many (in Lewis’s day and in ours) might think they would rather have “men without chests,” but Lewis powerfully explains how this will lead to more than they bargained for: “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 and bid the geldings be fruitful” (p. 26). If Lewis was predicting what a society of “men without chests” might look like eventually, we appear to have found ourselves in the position of being able to describe it from the inside. Our men have lost their chests. What is the way forward?
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Samuel G. Parkison until recently a pastor and professor in Kansas City, is now Associate Professor of Theological Studies and the Director of the Abu Dhabi Extension Site at Gulf Theological Seminary in the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of three books—Revelation and Response: The Why and How of Leading Corporate Worship Through Song (2018), Thinking Christianly: Bringing Sundry Thoughts Captive to Christ (2022), and Irresistible Beauty: Beholding Triune Glory in the Face of Jesus Christ (2022). He and his wife, Shannon, have three sons.
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