“Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them …” — C.S. Lewis
More than 60 years ago, in “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis challenged his readers to wrestle with the key questions of his time with God’s natural law as the foundational premise; as the “measuring rod outside of those things being measured.”
He argued that in failing to do so, Western civilization would become a society of men without chests; a culture of heartless people divorced from any common agreement of what is right and wrong; a nation of disconnected individuals who care little for what is accurate or true.
The prophetic voice of the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Mere Christianity” warned of a time to come when questions would become meaningless because there would be little interest in any answers.
Few would dispute that ours is a time of big questions:
Life — When does it begin and when does it end, and who has the right to define it and take it?
Climate — Is anthropomorphic warming a scientific fact, a principled hypothesis, or political propaganda?
Sexuality — What is healthy and best for body, soul, family and society?
Tolerance — If all worldviews are equal why do those who champion tolerance most seem to be the most intolerant of those they find intolerable?
Justice — If morality is nothing but a cultural construct, then the concept of justice is rather arbitrary and meaningless, isn’t it? In fact, if justice is really nothing more than the subjective imposition of bourgeois rules upon the masses, who is to decide what is just and unjust? The masses? Or the bourgeois?
There are so many important questions. But the biggest one is this — Do we really want answers or are we more interested in simply silencing our opponents and protecting political agendas?
In “The Great Divorce,” Lewis challenged the subjective confidence of his peers. “Our opinions were not honestly come by” he said. “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful … You know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause.”
He goes on: “You and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn’t want ‘the other’ to be true. We were afraid … of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule …
“Having allowed [ourselves] to drift, unresisting … accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the [truth]. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend.”
Lewis concludes: “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again … You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth.”
As you read the news and watch the “smart folks” in Washington, D.C., banter back and forth on Twitter, Facebook and CNN, ask yourself, do they really want answers or are they just trying to appear “modern and successful; in [seeking] good marks and saying the kind of things that will win applause?”
Do any of them embody the childlike sincerity admonished by Lewis or do they look more like manipulative teen-agers, hungry for popularity? Do they even care if their arguments are right and true or are they simply interested in being “fashionable?”
Os Guinness, in his book “Time for Truth,” challenges those prone to such an adolescent infatuation with the faddish over the factual: “Truth does not yield to opinion or fashion” he says. “It is simply true and that is the end of it. It is one of the Permanent Things. Truth is true even if nobody believes it and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it.”
Both C.S. Lewis and Os Guinness make it clear that confidence in popular ideas and accepted trends has very little, if anything, to do with ideological veracity. Truth is not determined by vim, vigor or Vogue. “Truth is not determined by your feelings, but rather by the Eternal fact, the Father of all other facthood.” (Lewis)
If we really want answers — if we really want our ideas to be confirmed whether they are right and corrected when they are wrong — then perhaps it’s time to set aside our adolescent desire for “good marks” and instead seek what is true, even if it is dreadfully unpopular, and give up what is false, even if it is a dearly loved passion. The integrity of real questions and serious answers demands nothing less.
• Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).