“Men Without Chests” is the curious title of a chapter in Lewis’ book The Abolition of Man, and it’s from that chapter title that this blog takes its name. (You can read the chapter here). What does this odd title mean? Is this some odd anatomical reference? Is it an obscure metaphor referring to cowardice?
Lewis guides us by taking us back in time. He takes us back to the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, who thought of education very differently. Training a young child was not a matter of filling his head with information which could later be cashed in in the form of a well-paying job. Rather, both pagans in the classical era and believers in the pre-modern era believed a child needed to be trained in an area completely neglected by modern secularists: feeling correctly. The child needed to be taught to judge all things for their value, and develop healthy admiration for what was true, good, and beautiful, and develop healthy distaste for what was false, evil, and ugly. This was not simply the training of the reason, but the training of the heart, not simply the accumulation of knowledge, but the development of desires. Education, for pre-moderns, was not the path to a career, it was the shaping of a human to be just, noble, honourable, and responsible.
They saw that the parts of the man that mediated between reason (the head) and appetite (the belly or loins) were the affections or desires (the chest). When the ‘chest’, or the noble affections were trained, the human had a seat in the soul to protect it from giving in to sheer visceral appetites and passions.
By contrast, modern education pretends to eschew all judgements (except for non-judgementalism), embrace all truths (except exclusive truth), and see all things ‘beautiful in their own way’ (except those who claim that beauty is an objective reality – they find those people ugly). Twelve years of this produces what Lewis calls “Men Without Chests”. That part of the human which loves, admires and praises, or disdains, hates, and refuses is sorely underdeveloped, or even missing.
When it is missing, what results is a human with nothing between himself and his appetites. The man without developed affections pendulums between brutality (loving too harshly or not loving enough) and sentimentality (loving too sweetly or loving too much). Brutality and sentimentality are equal and opposite errors, and they are both forms of idolatry.
Now picture entire churches, entire segments of professing Christianity, lacking this judgement, this sense of beauty or ugliness. Picture churches whose worship is either brutal or sentimental. Picture Christians incapable of admiring God for His beauty, unable to spot cheap substitutes for true worship, lacking all ability to distinguish between worship and entertainment. Those would be Churches Without Chests.
And now consider whether such a phenomenon requires your imagination, or merely your powers of basic observation.