This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.
Chapter Seven… (and final chapter). All chapters can be found here as the second book noted.
Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasure of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
Well, if Lewis is right – that our choices are this black and white, this either / or… Well, we know we aren’t obeying the Tao – objective truth, absolute values, etc. if we are therefore being kneaded and cut and shaped by others – masters, supermen, whatever – then that would seem to be meaningful in leading us to meaninglessness.
Recall that man has long lived, unconstrained, with the objective of conquering nature. as Lewis writes:
Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. …The Battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?
When he wrote these words, perhaps this was not so clearly visible. But today? We have been shown that there is no part of man’s nature – mental, physical, emotional – that is safe from the Conditioners, that is outside of their desired grasp. In what way are we not being kneaded and cut and shaped by masters?
Is not the answer to the choice Lewis gives us obvious?
And what of that part that makes man unique, different from all other beings in God’s creation?
Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
No other being created is so described – that God breathed into it, giving it a soul. So what happens when even this “nature,” man’s soul, is conquered?
…once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.
And atheists didn’t like the idea of being slaves to Christ. Well, being slave to something other than Christ isn’t really working out so well for us, is it. Slaves and puppets – is there meaning in this?
Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
Yes, there will be “a rule,” “an obedience.” But under what authority? With what ground rules? Either there are objective rules accepted without question, or the strongest lord it over the weakest in any manner of their choosing.
Sadly, it is this last step that is ruinous of all of the good “conquering of nature” that came before it. While not all good, one cannot really complain about the benefits of this conquering…to a point. Since the Enlightenment, man’s material advantage has increased at a rate unknown over all of previous recorded history.
There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis – incommensurable with the other – and in which to go the whole way is to undo the labour of your previous journey.
This step is like no other. Sure, air conditioning is great; back patio bug zappers make spring and summer evenings tolerable. But, getting in my head and under my skin?
I think Lewis has said it. Either we live in a world of objective values, objective truth, or we are fair game for the Conditioners. Either we live in a world of natural law (the Tao) founded on such objective truths or we do not:
It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.
In which world does man have hope to find meaning? In which world is all hope lost? In which world do we live today? To ask these questions is to answer them.
Hence, the meaning crisis.