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I was reading portions of C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Abolition of Man”, and thinking about the war in Ukraine. I, along with almost everyone else in the West, have been astonished by what I have been seeing. I don’t mean that I am astonished that the Russian military is wantonly destroying cities and killing civilians. Anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention will know that this is how the Russian Military pacified Syria and Chechnya. Furthermore, what we have been seeing in Russia seems to bring to mind the images of the Stalinist USSR, when the value of human life was made subservient to the values of the Statist Control. No one who has paid attention is surprised to see such wanton disregard for human life.

What has surprised many of us is the courage of Ukrainian people. Furthermore, I am overwhelmed at the many men who have taken their wives and children to safety, only to return and fight and die for their country. Rather than fleeing with their family, they have chosen to sacrifice all for their homeland.

As I reflect on this, I reflect on C.S. Lewis’ thesis in “The Abolition of Man”. Listen to what he says about virtue.“It is still true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous.

He means to say that mere arguments or philosophies of what it means to be righteous will never sustain that character in anyone. Putting that into Ukrainian context, the people of Ukraine are not the courageous people they are merely because they believe in their land and culture. There must be something more.

Lewis goes on.“Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.

Lewis says he would rather play cards against a man who says he does not believe in ethics, but who has been bred to believe that a gentleman does not cheat, than to play against a moralist who has been raised among people who are sharpers. That is, they have a culture of being cheats and liars. He says it is the habit of the person, or the inclinations of his affections and love that shapes a human being, much more than reason or intellect.

The Bible speaks of this reality as the flesh. The flesh consists of habitual patterns ingrained into our personality. We may intellectually, emotively and spiritually long for a certain reality to be true in our lives, but the flesh simply overwhelms the will and asserts its authority. The intellect retreats, and the flesh prevails. As Paul would say in Romans 7:24,

“O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.”

Now think again of the Ukrainian men who have decided to fight for their homeland. Even while I don’t know Ukrainian culture well, the explanation for this action must be that they have trained their flesh to love their families and their land more than their own lives. It is a habitual part of their culture.

With that in mind, think again of C.S. Lewis and “The Abolition of Man”. Remember that Lewis claimed that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Lewis then speaks about our chest, which he calls the liaison officer between cerebral man and visceral man. Or, to put it in other words, the connection between what we think and what is instinctual in our flesh. He said, “As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’.”  He means the chest. The governing body that mitigates our actions.

Lewis thought that much of the Western world, having jettisoned the Christian faith, had produced men without chests. They had lost the organ that permitted us to act in a given fashion. They still thought in terms of virtue, but now lacked the dynamism that allows for self-sacrifice. In short, the West stares at the self-sacrifice of Ukrainians and admires it. But if the West is truthful, it also recognizes that most of us would never do the same if the same sacrifice were required. Our heads would say to do so, but the removal of our chests would forbid it.

The example of Ukrainians reminds us of the poverty that now exists in the secular West. Having trained our flesh to love our own desires and self-indulgences, self-sacrifice for the sake of others is often not possible.

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.

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