The Abolition of Man

7. Sunday after Trinity

Luke 12;13-21

The abolition of man is the title of a lecture given by C.S. Lewis in 1943 in which he claimed that attempting to do away with a spiritual dimension and an agreed moral order to life would mean a culture overwhelmed with the domination of destructive impulses that end up destroying humankind. It seems that people at large feel something like this has already happened in a world going crazy. The old Greek saying “those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad,” is becoming more and more appropriate each day.

In discarding the Judeo-Christian standards of the past, modern society is replacing these with a kind of hedonistic self-centred mind. Happiness, bodily health and personal comfort, are now the main goals, resulting in unbalanced misery, fear and confusion descending into a spiral of social and mental breakdown. Attempting to control these things by our own efforts is an illusion that hastens the abolition of mankind. The question Christians must ask is, are we in this territory and if so, how can we respond?

The Parable of the Rich Fool, Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A full blown atheistic society at the time St. Luke wrote his gospel had not taken place and in the world, God had not been discarded as has happened today. The passage, for our reflection, which contains the parable of a rich fool, is still a warning to avoid unchecked reliance on material things that erode the soul. The parable is part of a longer discourse beginning at chapter 11 on disciplined prayer and spiritual warfare for those whose aim was to be “rich towards God”. [verse 12;21] It has always been easy to be sidetracked into the illusion that acquiring possessions and becoming rich and holding on to wealth for dear life will bring happiness. Similarly this single minded focus operates in other areas of daily life. For example it is seen in the effort some will put into bodily health, dieting, exercise, believing that we can preserve at least one part of ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with being wise about our health and responsible about our resources, like a careful farmer, but these can quickly become obsessive and harmful if they are not accompanied by godly wisdom. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal” is the teaching of Jesus. [Matthew 6;19] The fundamental truths Jesus spoke of were true for every age because all people are prone to the same mistakes and the same flaws that lead to similar delusions that we are entitled to and can have a good life on our own terms. The frantic drive to gather possessions, by the farmer in the parable was futile, as it ignores the needs of the soul. So Jesus in this parable said, it is a fool “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God”.

To avoid self destruction, the Christian aim is to seek to grow with body, mind and soul in harmony. This is the way St Peter teaches us about the way of holiness, which is to participate in the divine nature “Christ’s divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, … that we may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption”. [2 Peter 1;3-4] For the world today C.S. Lewis comes to the same conclusion that the failure to grow and train the heart and soul as well as the intellect and body will ultimately result in the abolition of man.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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