The Poison of Subjectivism

C.S. Lewis eventually expanded the essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism ( from which I took the following excerpts) ,” into The Abolition of Man . With his usual elegance and composure, Lewis reminds us what it means to be men with chests:

At this point we must remind ourselves that Christian theology does
not believe God to be a person. It believes Him to be such that in Him
a trinity of persons is consistent with a unity of Deity. In that
sense it believes Him to be something very different from a person,
just as a cube, in which six squares are consistent with unity of the
body, is different from a square. (Flatlanders, attempting to imagine
a cube, would either imagine the six squares coinciding, and thus
destroy their distinctness, or else imagine them set out side by side,
and thus destroy the unity. Our difficulties about the Trinity are of
much the same kind.) It is therefore possible that the duality which
seems to force itself upon us when we think, first, of our Father in
Heaven, and, secondly, of the self-evident imperatives of the moral
law, is not a mere error but a real (though inadequate and creaturely)
perception of things that would necessarily be two in any mode of
being which enters our experience, but which are not so divided in the
absolute being of the superpersonal God. When we attempt to think of a
person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as
obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it
we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to
some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that
pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it
arbitrarily by a sic volo, sic jubeo (in which case He would be
neither good nor wise). But it is probably just here that our
categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal
resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories –
ambulavi in mirabilibus supra me. But it might be permissible to lay
down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law.
The good is uncreated; it never could have been otherwise; it has in
it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side
of existence. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods
themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities
proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies
beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to
all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but
also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being
these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share
the unity of their self-caused life. God is not merely good, but
goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

These may seem fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing
short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and
religious experience converging to meet at infinity, not at a negative
infinity, but in the positive infinity of the living yet superpersonal
God, has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship;
and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective
can lead us only to ruin. Nor is the matter of merely speculative
importance. Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a
mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last
resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means
whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the
function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences
by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education
and mass propaganda. Because he is confused, he does not yet fully
realize that those who create conscience cannot be subject to
conscience themselves. But he must awake to the logic of his position
sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and
the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand
themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such
morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?
If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the
local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? The very idea
of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches
rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally
incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so
long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature,
the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and
conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his creation.

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective
values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have
one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of
elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our
votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we
believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers
such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much
rarer, and much more beneficial – virtue, knowledge, diligence and
skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But
give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will
refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his
Salvo readers, Lewis’ “Flatlanders” image is one that strikes me as memorable because it is so vivid; when I read it,  I can imagine that a Flatlander would indeed be flabbergasted in his effort to conceive of a cube, just as we are under- qualified ( as humans) to grasp the concept of a triune God. Do any other particularly powerful Lewis images come to mind as you recall favorite passages?

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