Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How practicality has influenced philosophy and evangelism

In Present Concerns, C.S. Lewis writes an essay entitled Modern man and his categories of thought. He begins the essay by talking about how the earliest missionaries (the Apostles) preached to three sorts of men: Jews, Judaizing Gentiles, and Pagans. He argues that all three classes had a belief in the supernatural. All were conscious of sin and feared divine judgment. In this day, he explains, almost no one shares these ideas. He concludes the essay with this thought:
“I sometimes wonder whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity. If they were Stoics, Orphics, Mithraists, or (better still) peasants worshipping the Earth, our task might be easier.”
What's most interesting in this essay is that he points out six causes for this shift. Of those six, I wanted to highlight two: the Emancipation of Women and Practicality (which are very closely related).

To begin, it should be noted that he is all for most freedoms women now experience in civil and social arenas. He just notes a change in the way conversation has shifted. For instance, he says:
“Any mixed society thus becomes the scene of wit, banter, persiflage, anecdote – of everything in the world rather than prolonged and rigorous discussion on ultimate issues, or of those serious masculine friendships in which such discussion arises...The only serious questions now discussed are those which seem to have a ‘practical’ importance, for these satisfy the intense practicality and concreteness of the female...But the proper glory of the masculine mind, its disinterested concern with truth for truth’s own sake, with the cosmic and the metaphysical, is being impaired.”
Dang females :). Seriously though, I'm not sure how much I agree that it is the woman's fault for causing us men to have less serious discussion and to speak more pragmatically, but I think the truth of the evolution of conversation is there.

In talking specifically about how practicality has affected the shift in our thinking, he says:
“Man is becoming as narrowly ‘practical’ as the irrational animals. In lecturing to popular audiences I have repeatedly found it almost impossible to make them understand that I recommended Christianity because I thought its affirmations to be objectively true. They are simply not interested in the question of truth or falsehood. They only want to know if it will be comforting, or ‘inspiring’, or socially useful.”
It's amazing how relevant Lewis is to today's postmodern culture. Pragmatism trumps objectivity, then and now. Let's seek to avoid this.

(I'd love to hear your thoughts)


  1. Hard truth isn't always comforting or easy on the emotions, and maybe men are more equipped to deal with it.

    Yet, I won't ignore the fact that both men and women are created in God's image and that we are to complement each other by bringing to the table what is uniquely ours to share with the other for the good of all involved. It's both giving and recieving.

    Women who have had strong relationships with their fathers often exhibit more competitiveness and objectivity, and often are more successful in life. Men who are open to the influence of their moms have more social graces and are able to function well in relationships.

    In high school, I was invited by a boy I liked to play indoor soccer with him and a mixed group. I found out my friend and the other guys were aggressive players, but being passive was not an option for me, I played as well as I could. When I went home, complaining of the rough treatment and the bruises I received, Dad just laughed at me and told me that if I play with the guys, I have to expect to be treated like them. In his home culture, in Hawaiian Porteguese communities, women do not play sports and stay within their assigned spheres as women. Dad did not agree with that, and felt that my female cousins in Maui were never going to break out of their limited expectations. So, he was glad that I tried to play soccer with my male friends, even though I discovered I didn't like it much.

    So, I was invited a couple more times, but I declined because my pride was not going allow me to stay out of the way, but I didn't want to get badly hurt either. And I didn't want to be accused of watering down the challenge of the game because now the guys had to be careful not to hurt me.

    So, in relation to conversations about truth, maybe the presence of women affected the objectivity. But on the other hand, why did the men acquiesce?

  2. first off..where did you hear of such a glorious book?

    I think we can see the pandemic that is currently happening in the US about 'feel good-ness'. No thoughts of my own here, agree with Lewis. + it is women's fault ;)

    *CS lewis has been timely since he was alive...i wonder when he will be rendered obsolete?

  3. Quotes remind me of David Wells' (not the pitcher) books. Four book series, the earliest title conveys the same thought in the last Lewis quote you gave - "No Place for Truth."

    Last book of the series "Above All Earthly Pow'rs" - was the source of Desiring God Conference's 2006 theme, which is how I first heard of Wells to begin with. I'd recommend this one book above the earlier 3, but all are good.

  4. I have no sense of humor.

  5. Michael
    Thanks for the recommendation. I've had "Above all Earthly Powers" since that conference we went too, but still haven't read it. Maybe I should.