Men Without Chests
In the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Abolition of Man, he sets out to prove the value of emotions and debunk a new form of teaching that denied emotion’s importance. He opens by targeting a new book used in secondary education that subtly undercuts the value of emotions. This book denies objective value, which demands an appropriate emotional response, and in so doing educates the student that all emotional responses are unimportant. The authors of the book have, according to Lewis, cut out the soul of the student and quietly taken another little portion of the human heritage.
Lewis argues for the existence of “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Mankind should inherently recognize “a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.”
Instead of denying emotion’s value out of fear that students will become overly sentimental, teachers should train students to respond appropriately to objects that demand an emotional response. “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.”
Lewis concludes the first chapter by reminding the reader of the need for emotions—emotions trained to respond to objective value. “It still remains that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…. The head rules the belly through the chest.” Our understanding enlists trained, appropriate emotions to harness appetites.
His final words are to those who insist on denying the value of emotion. “It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath them that makes them so….In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Lewis echoes the teaching of Scripture in his defense of the “chest”. Following Christ isn’t merely a manner of understanding what He says and then, by sheer force of will, moving ourselves forward. A vital aspect of following Christ is training our emotions to love that which is truly lovely. Christianity doesn’t put a muzzle on our desires; it trains us to desire steak instead of roadkill. What we need are Christian men with bigger chests. Christian men that will say “no” to sin, not out of willpower, but because they have learned to love righteousness more.
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