Gadgets. They are here to stay. Human history is threaded with invention and innovation, helping us with our many inefficiencies. It’s easy to believe in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Superman which was popularized further by playwright George Bernard Shaw, novelist H.G. Wells and other in the early part of the 20th century. It’s the confidence in the progression of humanity always getting better and achieving more.
Nietzsche is infamous for declaring God dead, and Wells is the one who says WWI would be the “war to end all wars.” We know the brutality of the First War and the wars that continue to follow, and humanity has awoken to many a sunrise since Nietzche which would at least suggest a God.
Despite the setbacks and misguided philosophy, humanism has only gained strength in our day and time. Ask anyone if we’re “more advanced” and “progression as a society” and the simple answer will likely be, “Yes”. Few would probe to better qualify the terms and fewer still would say, “Of course not”. And, because there is likely a snobbery of reading into history to pull out applicable points for today–so progressive and suave–the thought of a letter from C. S. Lewis in 1956 is absurd. Nevertheless, I wanted to include it here. First, let me say that Lewis is an inheritor of this battle against humanism, which is basically saying a future with no need for God. G. K. Chesterton is part of the Inklings group, though he predates Lewis (GKC is dead by 1936). You may know the Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man influenced Lewis to faith. You may also know that Chesterton was good friends with George Barnard Shaw and H.G. Wells. He profoundly disagreed with them and even called them heretics in a book by that title. Lewis and others took on this encroachment of humanism that by the 1950s had been shaken but not undone. Far from it.
The letter is to a Michael Edwards on Oct. 20, 1956. It’s a response to a much longer letter that Edwards, a doctor, sent to Lewis about his confusion with Christianity. The letter is printed in the third volume of Lewis’s Collected Letters.
Dear Mr. Edwards–
Most of your questions about unfallen man can’t, as you see, be answered. I suppose there are 3 conditions: unfallen, fallen, & redeemed. The third is not usually thought to be a mere reproduction of the first. In it the whole travail produced by the Fall will be turned to account and many things wd. not have been without the Fall will be redeemed, become the occasions of good. The Cross itself is the supreme instance.
Our job is not to try to recover the unfallen stage but to go on to the redeemed one. In our use of the various things that have come in since the Fall, hadn’t we better be guided by the solitary plain moral rules – namely kindness, courage, chastity etc – rather than speculation?
Of course enjoying equipment or motoring is not a sin. the point I wanted to make is that excessive excitement about gadgetry and the belief (Weston’s belief) that the possession of, say, wireless & airplanes, somehow makes one superior to those who lack then & even justifies one in conquering such people, is bosh. My motto wd. be ‘Have your toys, have your conveniences, but for heaven’s sake don’t start talking as if those things really mattered as, say, charity matters.’
As for ‘giving up’ things – well, when we’ve given up all our sins (the things everyone knows to be sins), we can think again! The problem will not be immediate. The devil is fond of distracting us from our plain daily duties by suggesting vague & rather faddy ones, you know.
With all good wishes.
C. S. Lewis