May 25, 2008

"penetrates our thinking like a toxic vapor"

Maclin Horton:

The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast…. Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.
      —C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Lewis, describing here his own condition prior to his embrace of Christianity, gives us the essential truth about the agony of the modern Western world. If you have absorbed the materialist assumptions which dominate our culture (whether you realized you did so or not, and it’s probably worse if you didn’t), you believe, or are always fighting not to believe, that everything human is ultimately meaningless, a sort of vapor that emanates from matter and clings to it, then vanishes with the death of the body.

Love? Just a sentimental name we give to the reproductive instinct, not intrinsically different from the division of an amoeba. Beauty? Another sentimental word with which we justify a meaningless preference for one thing over another, not intrinsically different from a cat’s preference for fish over broccoli. Truth? Truth is death—we are dead stuff, briefly animated by chemical processes, and soon to revert to dead stuff. Nothing we ever did or can do has ultimate meaning.

Not to believe these ideas requires a constant effort. Their authority comes from the sciences, or rather from the misuse of the sciences: because the method of science requires limiting the scope of inquiry to physical data, and because technology has been so successful in using science to tame the physical world, the assumption that only what science can see is real penetrates our thinking like a toxic vapor.

To believe that what really matters does not really exist is a prescription for misery followed by despair. The souls that thrive best in this mental environment are those which are most defective. The more one believes that love, truth, and beauty are the essence of life, not just accidental and illusory by-products, the more miserable one is likely to be, unless supported by a solid faith, a set of beliefs that are strong and coherent enough to challenge materialism....

Posted by John Weidner at May 25, 2008 5:17 AM
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