Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Club: The Abolition of Man - Men Without Chests (pt1)

I’ve read this first essay in The Abolition of Man three times this year and am finally starting to have even a glimmer of what on earth Lewis is talking about.

And, that glimmer? It scares the heck out of me.

I’m pretty sure I debunk and misappropriate words and am putting assumptions into my children’s heads *every *day.

I often consider that I’m homeschooling for my grandchildren.  I pray my children will be standing on my educational shoulders so that maybe, just maybe, their children will have an education where they don’t have to look up all of Lewis’ literary allusions (Coleridge? Waterfall?), vocabulary (bathetic?), and Latin expressions (“pons asinorum”?)  I am thankful for the wide margins in my edition!

Even more mentally challenging than the specifics of Lewis’ writing craft are the ideas he presents. Every word written is specifically designed to support his argument.  Which is great modelling, because he’s arguing that the words we use are important in meaning and the usage in assumption.  Lewis argues that we are whole people, not just minds, not just bodies, not just emotions, not just souls, but integrated wholes.  He means that we can teach in a way that doesn’t subvert any of these improperly, which is what mis-used and mis-applied reading does.

When he talks about “debunking” I think about 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and all the recommended ways of accomplishing that destruction.  Two of those are looking down on patriotism and heroes.  If we discount heroism and love of country based on peccadillo (or outright sin), we destroy both the imagination and those future decisions based on incomplete assumptions.

I love the picture of irrigating deserts. It reminds me, of course, of Psalm 1 and that  tree planted by the river, by water, which leads to wisdom as described in Proverbs, and to bearing fruit.  It brings to mind that Jesus is living water – he satisfies our being. The sated soul is not hungering after pabulum.

All this leads, of course, to the concept of ordo amoris – the ordering of affections.  The idea that 
“objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.”
 is pretty heretical in our modern thinking; let alone the idea that some things vary in level of approbation. 

When I consider this concept, I think of the 19th Century idea of training taste.  Jane Austen gives us a vision for this training and ordering in Mansfield Park.  Even though under the same governess, Maria and Julia are so different from Fanny in character and taste.  Some of this is disposition, certainly, but a great deal of the difference is due to Edmund’s mentoring of Fanny.  He teaches her to order her affections rightly through planning and discussing her reading, listening to her, caring for her, and encouraging her. When we consider the eventualities of the three girls, we can see which teaching was better suited for true education.

I’m currently also reading Give Them Grace.  I’m only one chapter in, yet appreciating Fitzpatrick’s emphasis on parenting with the gospel, not only the law.  She argues that failure to completely obey the law should be a stepping stone to the gospel for our children.  She shows even everyday teaching of the Bible is incomplete if we stop at “obey” but must go on to “trust Christ who can.”  (I’m still waiting as I read, to see how she recommends handling disobedience, but I’m hopeful.)   But this reading of The Abolition of Man makes me think about the assumptions I’m teaching regarding God and his work in our lives.  Are the assumptions I’m teaching “obey and be saved” or “trust Christ and obey.”

I was talking to my sister about ordo amoris as part of an general educational philosophy as opposed to the pragmatism of Dewey.  I told her how as a more mature Christian I’m more interested in many areas: art, history, math, science, etc.  This interest is solely because my love for God has grown and those disciplines fall under his domain, pointing to him and his character.  Now the questions are, am I going too far in my assumptions? How do I teach and encourage my children in this manner?


  1. Dawn, I'm learning from your post and the others much. That's why I selfishly wanted a book club, I always gain so much from your writings. As you say, for such a short book and half essay, there is so much to learn from in these few pages by Lewis.

    I like your connections with 10 Ways... (though I haven't read it, I think I understand what you refer too). The same with the other books, I haven't read them, but I understand they are examples in literature of THIS very thing Lewis discusses.

  2. Great post, Dawn! I particularly like your connection with Mansfield Park; Fanny had the humanities tutor and book club. :)

    My mom would say she was homeschooling for her grandchildren. Now here I am with those grandchildren. Can I still pass the buck? :) Generational thinking, right?

    I just got a used copy of Give Them Grace and was trying to determine where to stick it in the "to read" pile. :) Considering the recent paths I'm on with regard to my own attitude, I should probably read it sooner than later.

  3. I absolutely agree with how you feel, Dawn. I am determined to study into this debunking in depth and hope we can keep discussing it for a while. I think I am going to ask Andrew Kern to join in for a sec on the conversation since I believe who could add insight.

  4. Dawn, I will apologize to you as I have to everyone else today. :) I am working my way through the links, and just now reading this post.

    While I was reading yours, I had the thought that I was getting a little obsessed with the concept of debunking, and it wasn't helpful because even though I thought someone (can't remember who) explained it very well on Cindy's blog, I am having trouble holding on to the idea.

    But learning *to care* in general seems to be the antidote, and I think that was part of what you were saying by the end--you learned to love things because your love for God matured. I am hoping that the more that I learn to love and embrace and delight, the less likely I will be to debunk. Perhaps instead of worrying about it, I can hope to become the sort of person who simply wouldn't do that, if that makes sense.

    I don't know. Just thinking out loud...

    I fear my habit of criticizing sermons is going to have to go...

  5. Don't apologize, Brandy, I think that what you just said is right on target ... cynicism and sarcasm can be huge factors in wanting to debunk and caring the antidote. Thanks for the succinct way to consider this!


Thanks for commenting! I love and reply to comments because I love building community with my readers!