What Is Man? A review of THE CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE and MERE HUMANITY

We are entering an age of passion and apathy. Both seek to destroy the essence of humanity: our being created in the image of God. On the one hand we have the jihadists who seek to avenge the degradation of their values by Western influence, and on the other hand we have the listless Western questioning of all mores even slightly associated with Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus, from the East humanity is being attacked on the outside and from the West humanity is being attacked from within. Will truth prevail? Only if we have an accurate perception of man.
In the fifth century A.D., St. Augustine of Carthage wrestled with this very question as he pursued truth while running away from God. His CONFESSIONS reveal the depth of his struggle and the patient relentlessness of God. MERE HUMANITY is a review by Donald T. Williams of three literary philosophers of the twentieth century: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. All three of these pen and ink giants reflected upon the signs of their times and wrote poetic conclusions and prophecies of the consequences of society reducing humanity to a questioning animal.

The Confessions of St. Augustine

This read was a journey. Not only did it require resolve to complete due to the complexity of its content and the form in which it was written, but it also prompted intense soul-searching and spiritual reflection.  St. Augustine wrestled within himself for decades, as he pursued Truth and sought to surrender to Him, while running away at the same time. He recognized the vile hold his own flesh had upon him and the necessity of being freed from it, yet he could not will himself to be free. That freedom could only come from the Selfsame Creator God. However, St. Augustine had to will himself to seek the freeing power of Christ while admitting once more that even that will action was enabled by God.  Once St. Augustine had surrendered and experienced the freedom from sin’s foul clutches he had longed for, his mind was able to ponder the intricacies of creation and all we know on this earth coming into existence. He also noted the allegorical parallels between the Creation account and a soul being saved by Christ and maturing in its knowledge of Him.

Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Human Condition by Donald T. Williams

Postmodern reductionism. It’s not something that the average individual graces with much thought despite its influence on the societal worldview that affects us on a daily basis. This philosophical invasion commenced in the concluding years of the 19th century and strengthened in the early 20th century; its main objective was to undermine the influence of Imago Dei – the concept that man is the superior created being, or even created at all (for that implies a Creator). Thus, postmodern reductionism seeks to reduce humanity to the level of a mere talking beast and does so by questioning all that has been accepted as truth, claiming that all truth is subjective for nothing is absolute.

Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien each take their turn at challenging this pervasive, dangerous, and foolish worldview. Chesterton begins by stating the obvious: what bird would build a nest and then decorate it with images of nests that other birds built? What horse suggested that he be ridden by a man? What jackal ever painted a picture? Man’s creativity is evidence of an irreducible mind; the ability to surpass mere adaptation with creation.  Lewis builds on this by drawing attention to man’s awareness of conscience. Without conscience we could not differentiate between right and wrong. We would not choose; we would simply react. We would not long for better or beautiful for we could do nothing but exist.  The postmodernists cannot explain why some people argue with the worldviews held by others and declare them wrong. Animals of one species all share the same instincts. Why are people different? Why do we differ on such abstract topics such as beliefs and ideas? Why do we even talk about ideas in the first place? Tolkien goes even deeper by revealing how stories in and of themselves prove the Imago Dei within mankind. All stories are types of the one Great Story. They share the elements of good versus evil, desperation and rescuing, ruin and redemption. There is, within us all, a longing to set things right and a yearning for a hero. Literature is proof of our humanity, not our beasthood.

Through skilled penmanship and careful analysis, Williams expertly unites the works of these literary greats to call the bluff of postmodern reductionists. Their philosophies may stand in theory, but in reality and practice they crumble.   In an attempt to remove his accountability to God, man has sought to prove himself superior to God. He has done so by questioning all that God has established; in doing so, he has reduced himself to little more than an animal in his own eyes, assuming that if he can’t see himself perhaps he is invisible to God.  But the Creator does not obtain His existence or His worth from His creation and one day every knee shall bow before Him. Truth is timeless and unchanging.

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About wordvessel

Aloha! This blog is a window into the active mind of a wife, mother, woman and individual. I may be busy every moment of every day, but I still have time to think. Many seasons have blossomed and faded within my life, and this blog has endured through all of them. It is safe to say that my writing has matured because of them. I hope that you will be inspired to think in fresh ways as you read my writing. To Jesus be all the glory.
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