In his work The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis tackles the abolishment of teaching virtue. Which was a primary function of education (be it formal or informal). Lewis writes:
St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.
We don’t naturally do this. That is why I, as a father, have to teach my children to obey. I don’t have to teach to disobey, they do that naturally, but being virtuous does not come naturally to us because of our sinful nature.
However those virtues that should be taught is based on something. Something external. It has to be or else how do you teach and train different people the same virtue. Lewis goes on to describe what guides this kind of education, “It is 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.”
Objective, universal, absolute truth. Things that are true for all people, all times and all places. When this objective value, this absolute truth is removed, how do you teach virtue? You can’t. Lewis eludes to this when he says, “Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value.”
We can only think about that rhetorically because it can’t play out in reality. But yet that is what we’ve done in society. We do not have that objective value. It has been rooted out. It has been mocked. And we see educational systems (whether in the school or in the home) that are impotent in teaching virtue. So as a result, we see a devolving.
For instance people in society today ask things like… What’s wrong with premarital sex? Why is that wrong? Who cares if I smoke pot, it’s not hurting anybody. What’s wrong with little white lies. Why is cheating bad? What’s wrong with looking at pornography. What’s wrong with raunchy humor? Why is homosexuality wrong? Lewis at the end of this particular lecture says what this will lead to – men without chests, men without virtue, but yet we expect them to have virtue.
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.
We are shocked then when Governors have affairs. People steal. Reporters plagiarize. People instead of being enterprising end up being unproductive or worse – a drain on society. Looking at the above quote I think of kids I encounter in detention centers – there is no basis, no objective value, for them to not commit crime, therefore is there any wonder why more kids don’t? Are we surprised when approximately 40% of men have either emotional or physical affairs when we laugh off remaining pure until marriage and pornography? Why are we surprised to see acceptance of gay marriage? What do we expect when as a society we’ve “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than Creator,” (Romans 1:25, ESV).
We shouldn’t expect anything different than that. It’s a natural consequence.