As I have been working through the Essays of C.S. Lewis, I have noticed how dedicated to the argument he was. He believed in the reality of fixed and objective truth, and believed it was necessary to assume such a fixed reality in order to get anywhere at all. We have to assume that reality in order to live rightly within it, and we have to assume that reality in order to pretend that it is not there.
He was certainly a “romantic rationalist,” but this did not mean that he submitted his reason to his feelings, or his feeling to his reason. Rather he was seeking to conform both his feelings and his reason to an objective fixed reality outside him. Men with minds and men with chests were supposed to be the same men, and therefore obligated to live integrated lives in the world God made.
The ancient view that the passions need to be subordinated to reason is actually a category mistake. The passions actually need to be submitted to what God requires of the passions — as revealed in both nature and Scripture. Our reason must be submitted to what God requires of our reason — as revealed in both nature and Scripture. My reason might help me identify what the world is actually like, and thus help me to know what my passions need to submit to, but it goes the other way as well. My passions might help me identify what I ought to love, and thus help me to know what my reason needs to study. Submitting passions in the abstract to reason in the abstract is like adding two oranges to three avocados and asking how many penguins that makes. Some unclear assumptions have been smuggled in somewhere.
But as admirable as the example of Lewis is, I have also noticed that we live in a generation that does not operate in this sane way at all — not that this is a hard thing to notice. The subjectivism that Lewis despised is now everywhere, and it is rampant in the church. In some respects, the church leads the way in it. Pretending to be concerns with the permanent things, we change churches the way we change our favorite restaurants.
For example, as I observe Christians making choices of enormous theological significance, I find them frequently doing it for reasons other than what is real or true. People change churches because they are tired. They abandon theological convictions because they are now out of fashion, and can be safely relegated to the closet of the spare room. They change liturgies for the same reasons that people quit wearing bell bottoms, and will one day start wearing them again.
And here is another example. The whole “social justice warrior” fad was not the result of rigorous analysis or argument. It is a function of deciding that the social conservatism of the parents of millennials was . . . well, too parental. So what we have seen is drift, abandonment, laziness — as though economic reality cares if the head containing the economic fallacy has dreadlocks or not. When it came to the necessity of conservatism, the Pauline principle has been largely ignored. “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Phil. 3:16, ESV).
Feelings untethered can be capricious and contradictory. But if we have abandoned the task of anchoring how we feel to how the world actually is, it no longer matters how contradictory we are. And this explains a lot.
Let me finish with an example that puts a knife to the throat of everyone who has complained — with the appropriate amount of spiritual indignation of course — about the greed of the one percent. This example should provide us with an opportunity to follow what we say we believe. It should illustrate the authority that argument has in our lives. If you make more than 25K per year, you are in the global one percent. Now what?