The Abolition of Man and Some Other Thoughts


I frequently find myself thinking about C.S. Lewis’ little masterpiece, The Abolition of Man, if only because it was correct when he wrote it and has been prophetic ever since. It’s odd, the copy I own is old, tattered, and rescued from a fire – much like his thesis. That thesis is almost too complex to put into this posting – at least in the time I’ve allowed myself to write today. But simply stated:

Much of our modern system of education [it was education Lewis was primarily examining – I would today broaden its scope] is broadly failing to understand what it is to be human. It is the substitution of the “measureable” for the “metaphorical,” in one sense, a modern practice that is utterly demolished in Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery. In both cases the triumph of the “scientific” over every other contender, renders man, or at least much that makes us human, of little value. Thus history only has value as we can study it “scientifically,” not in any sense that might link us to that history. Thus there can be no tradition, nothing within us that extends without us, except the ability to measure or perhaps to feel – but that feeling, as Lewis noted is described as only to feel, and thus not to feel at all.

And yet, as Lewis notes, even those who write within this modern attack on Tradition (or as he chose to call it “the Tao”), themselves stand within the Tradition. There is a simple fact and a reality: there is no other place to stand. We are part of a Tradition of human living that has always existed. Whether I analyze my breathing in some scientific metaphor and measurement or speak of the breath of life, I still breathe, and I want to breathe. There is much that binds us to one another even when it is not recognized.

The Orthodox faith is a form of Christianity that embraces the Tradition – indeed it celebrates it. Marvelously, it does not have to invent it, for the Tradition abides even when Modernity seeks to reinvent the human out of existence. There are customs (important parts of Tradition even when found in ethnic flavor) such as suggesting to a woman that she “lay in” (at least liturgically) for 40 days after giving birth. Today’s insurance policies might not allow so much (I do not know). But it is a Tradition that should not be read for saying, “Don’t go out, you’re unclean.” Instead it’s a Tradition that values the birth of a child enough to protect them and allow them to bond with a mother and – even a Tradition that doesn’t completely know why it asks what it asks. But it does remember something important about being human.

I would say the same thing about parts of the Tradition that teach us to mourn. To pray on the third day of death; the ninth day of death; the fortieth day; the anniversary – and the anniversary without end. To stand around holding candles in the depth of our mourning singing, “Memory eternal!” is not simply some time-worn custom – but an act far superior to the “grief therapy” of the modern psycho-babble industry that organizes grief camps and has children writing letters to deceased loved ones and sending them (the letters) aloft by balloons. Of this latter practice (I once worked as a Hospice Chaplain and I know it well) I can at least say that it, too, flows from the same Tradition – human beings must grieve the dead. The difference is that an Orthodox Memorial service is certain that God is with us and that we pray because of the Resurrection of Christ, whereas balloons are sent aloft because they make us feel better.

Louth takes on the pseudo-sciences that try to push the humanities into the sciences themselves. Thus we have the “science” of “historical critical” studies – which – whatever good they may do – cannot do what they claim or wish. And least of all do they do teach us how to read a text.

I think of the Abolition of Man, not because I despair, but because I realize that I am daily working not for his abolition, but for his recovery. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has noted: “God not only became man so that man could become god; He also became man so that man could become man.” Christ alone is the fully human and as we live within the Tradition that is the living presence of Christ in the Church – we slowly work to rescue man from the eddies of modernity and restore him to the Tradition that leads to Christ and to the fullness for which he was created. I do not seek to measure that effort, or judge it by its numerical success, but rather by the joy that I know every time I see that it is true and that I see that another knows it is true.

We were created for God – to give Him glory and thanksgiving. Anything less is indeed our abolition. But here we are a generation or more after Lewis wrote his little book, and we are doing (as Orthodox Christians) not what he loathed, but what he lauded. The Tradition will not go away for it is nothing less than God at work among us, saving us, and fulfilling us (not with modernity’s false fulfillment) with the fullness that is nothing less than the life of Christ. Glory to God.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


24 responses to “The Abolition of Man and Some Other Thoughts”

  1. StSusannatheMartyr Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Father. It dovetails with what I’ve been reflecting on since the discussion the other day on your post “A Russian Tale.” I fear I was too quick then to agree with another comment emphasizing that we have to make a sharp distinction between custom and doctrine. To begin to draw such fine lines requires us to divide our minds and our hearts and our actions — a kind of human Nestorianism of a sharply divided self — and not to live in the fullness that you describe here.

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, your subject hits right on a topic that seems to be central to me right now. I have been in an ongoing discussion with some unbelievers on the internet that has reached an impasse. I am simply unable to bridge the gap in their understanding of man and the Christian understanding. They tend to want everything tied up in a nice, neat empirical package they have control over. When I refuse to give them what they want, they assume I am unable to answer their questions. We end up talking past each other, unable to effectively communicate.

    The desire to be fully human, to be whole, drew me to the Orthodox Church in the first place. The freeing power of Tradition and the spice of many of the traditions also played a role. It seems we humans in our falleness want to remake God in our image rather than allowing Him to restore His image in us.

    Would you say that the vulnerability to God that is required in Traditional Christianity is part of the Cross for us?

  3. Christopher Avatar


    Did you ever download Fr. Hopko’s talk on this book? You can find it here:

    I read this book years ago while I was just starting to explore Christianity. It was very heartening to have someone explain the “law written on the heart” and how it is expressed in so many cultures. This helped me get over the hump that Christianity is just another “religion”. The first part of the book is however about these “post-humans” that so many of our neighbors are now.

    Fr. Hopko unfortunately gets carried away and does not do a good job at the end answering the question as to how to properly speak about the Gospel to the post humans. As he says, you have to have a heart (a chest as saint Clive would say), you have to be thinking like a human to hear like a human.

    I think it’s a very important question however, but I think most of the time it is simply out of our hands (and in God’s)…

  4. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Wasn’t C.S. Lewis writing against the political correctness of his time? With his background in Medieval Literature and Mythology, he saw the lifeless and colorless nature of modernism in contrast to the vibrant and textured understandings of ancient peoples. I say this because we are faced with the same problem today as Christians. Political correctness isn’t concerned with the truth, but with indoctrination, which is neither science nor critical thinking.

    You suggest that our common humanity is the tradition in which we live, just as fish can live no place but in the water and still be living fish. The political correctness of our time is even more insidious than that of Lewis’ day because it would have us believe that we are not fish. It has indeed attempted to reinvent humans out of existence! But this is not science. It is anti-science!

    We can’t teach Philosophy in the public schools because students would learn to think metaphysically. We can’t learn about the ancient peoples of Africa because students would discover the deep religiousness of the earliest humans.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes, I would agree. I suppose the point I am making is that being truly human and the Tradition are inherently connected. The Tradition would teach us what it is to be truly human (and this is defined by the humanity of Christ).


    You’re right, Hopko doesn’t address how we speak to the post-human – I think only grace makes that door open. We always have on our side that despite the nonsense of modernity, we were all created for God. The Nature of even the most rank modernist agrees with God. We have to pray and be patient.

  6. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Often we think and act as if the Incarnation of Jesus was God’s mid-course correction, but humanity was God’s idea and the Incarnation is at the heart of true humanity.

    I believe that there is an even deeper mystery here that has to do with blood. Without blood there is no human life. Without the blood of Jesus there is no eternal life and there is no need of Priests.

  7. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    “The Orthodox faith is a form of Christianity that embraces the Tradition – indeed it celebrates it.”

    Fr Stephen,
    You are indeed more charitiable than I am. I have always been less than charitable and even far less polite and considered Holy Orthodoxy to be Christianity, the others are just forms and shades of lesser truths.
    It gets me into trouble when I verbalize it…
    It might even when I write it, so please correct this thought of mine…
    the handmaid,

  8. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    C.S. Lewis was the leader of the Socrates Club that met weekly at Oxford. In 1950 he invited scientist Antony Flew to present a paper to the group. Flew’s paper, titled “Theology and Falsification” was anti-Christian. In 2004 Flew made a remark that there might be an impersonal Intelligence behind the universe. The media jumped on this with headlines to the effect that this atheist had become a believer in God. I wonder is C.S. Lewis prayed for Flew? We know that Lewis was a man of deep prayer.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    Thank you for your kind words. I struggle to be kind – I believe it to be a direct commandment from Christ. My own story as a Christian includes a number of affiliations. I believe that Orthodoxy alone preserves the fulness of the faith – but I recognize both that I was a Christian before I was Orthodox and that I’ve known non-Orthodox who were far more Christian than I am at this moment. But if you read the fathers, you’ll find this kindness extended even towards some heretics. Many non-Orthodox Christians, even though I differ with them, do not rise to the level of Arianism or some of the early heresies. I do not think it is correct to think of them as heretics (they are not). They, at worst are schismatics, but even then are not willfully so (many are doing the best with what they have). We who seek mercy of God must show mercy to others.

    In a sense, I believe that Orthodoxy is the home of every man, woman and child – they are just in different stages of estrangement. But this is their home and it belongs to them as much as it does to me, for everything is Christ’s.

    God keep us all in his mercy.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary-Leah, I struggle with the same issue as you. What helps me keep it in check most of the time is realizing that we all habor heretical beliefs and that, in and of itself, does not make a heretic. Only the Church herself can decide who is a heretic. I also think it vitally important to discriminate between the formal theology of other Chrisitan groups and the acutal piety of specific believers. To the extent that someone believes rightly, IMO, that belief comes through the Church. That is the rationale, I believe, behind the traditional Orthodox missonary approach of listening to what people believe and then telling the rest of the story so that their beliefs may be complete.

    There is also an issue of the actual love and faith which carries what we say. I know a man who has no qualms about upbraiding Protestant clergyman with questions like, “Why do you preach heresy? You do know your’re doing that, don’t you?” These men become his friends because he has such deep knowledge of Scripture and Tradition, Old and New Testament and has such a loving heart. He challenges the heresy, not the person.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Oh, BTW, there are at least two saints in the Orthodox calendar who might have been heretics, St. Nicetas or Nikita who was quite probably an Arian and one of the desert dwelling St. Issac’s (I can’t keep them straight) who is frequently associated with Nestorianism.

    St Nikita was a soldier-martyr. Killed by a heathen king who was attempting to invade and destroy the Arian-Christian lands where St. Nikita lived. St. Nikita gave his life in defense of Christ against the heathens.

    St. Issac simply transcended theological categories into real theology by his union with God.

    I also contemplate St. Peter’s vision on the roof top and God’s words to not call unclean what God has cleansed. And Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice: “In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation, so I beg you, have mercy”

    I still go off from time to time that’s why I need so many reminders.

    Thank you Father for your example of the better way.

  12. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and Michael, sometimes it is very hard to get one’s thoughts straight, when an idea has become firmly implanted. Your one storey universe has helped greatly, in this regard, so has this: “St. Peter’s vision on the roof top and God’s words to not call unclean what God has cleansed”, the other idea that I believe has been touched on is the Orthodox one of making whole that which is part of the truth, such when the missionaries evangelized Alaska and fulfilled their native theology with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these have all been very helpful ideas to replace the one I currently have let be dominant.

    It isn’t that I don’t know these things, I do, especially to be loving and charitable, it is just that when approached with the topic of the true church, it is so easy to step into the trap with, “Holy Orthodoxy” and let chips fall where they may.

    Not very tactful, when my history with Protestantism is what I consider “darkenss” and Orthodoxy what I consider to be “Light”.

    Father Dorin!
    What comes from my heart is hearfelt but not tactful and can be off-putting to those who maybe seeking. They still want to validate, as has Fr. Stephen, what has come before, while I tend to have invalidated it in my mind. Perhaps therein lies the issue, I have no respect for where I came from religiously because it was so nominal with periods of effort then falling away.

    As I said; I struggle to overcome, but with support like this I will surely make inroads!

    always asking your prayers,
    the handmaid,

  13. […] Glory to God for All Things! I asked a question of Fr. Stephen about how to be more charitable when speaking of Holy Orthodoxy […]

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary-Leah, I have stuggled often with where I came from. Yet I try to remember that Jesus used my experience to lead me to the Church. In this respect the title of the web site says it all, dosen’t it?

  15. -C Avatar

    I might suggest that whether your former Protestant tradition led you to Orthodoxy (as mine did) or whether they pushed you out and drove you to Orthodoxy – either way, you should be grateful to them – because either way, you have come to be an Orthodox Christian.


  16. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    No Protestantism has nothing to do really with my becoming Orthodox, I learned about Orthodoxy in high school from a boyfriend who was Orthodox, so I knew of Orthodoxy for quite a while, that it existed.
    When I was seeking and then I actually went into an Orthodox Church to worship, I was home. I went from nothing to faith, or darkness to light.
    I had nothing before really, hence the attitude. Being raised nominally, ocassionally C&E, sometimes C sometimes E, hit or miss, etc. That is not faith, not really.
    It would be too easy to pick on them in anyway, when the lack of faith then is mine alone.
    So the True Church issue must be one of recognizing that others do not have my experience, and that I need to validate theirs and honor that and let it go…
    Thanks guys for the help…
    In Christ,

  17. […] Updated October 26th 2007: Father Stephen Freeman writes about Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. […]

  18. Nance Avatar

    I never noticed the similarities between Lewis’s Abolition and Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics until reading your summary of the former just now. I’d say it’s time to reread that one.
    But it does remind me much of the Introduction in Voegelin’s NSP; he offers there one of the most insightful and scathing critiques of this attempt to turn the study of man into the purely empirical, “scientific” study that I’ve ever read.

  19. Matthew Ferszt Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,

    I’ve just happened across your website while I was searching for images of Dr. Lewis of blessed memory. Your phrase comparing the “measureable” for the “metaphorical” struck an immediate responsive note. What an exquisite phrasing! Let us give thanks to God that He has redeemed and will redeem the whole man…body, soul and spirit.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar

    Just a brief note from the “other” Michael Bauman to say that, though I am an ardent Protestant, and therefore find myself sometimes at a distance from what the
    Orthodox Michael Bauman occasionally writes, I sincerely hold him and his commitments in the highest esteem. If I were to articulate and defend my views in the Protestant orbit as well as he does his in the Orthodox orbit, I should be quite pleased.

    Blessings on you, Michael.
    Michael Bauman

    PS: Had I some other way of communicating with you in private, I would have taken it. I hope I have not embarrassed you in any way by complimenting you in this more public way.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sir I appreciate your kind words. Here is my e-mail in somewhat cryptic form–take out the stars:(g*p*g*b*@k*a*n* I enjoy genuine conversation with others who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and seek His face. I have learned much from the devotion in action of many Protestants I have known over the years.

    I probably should be embarrssed, but I don’t have enough humility for that. I will say that if you appreciate my words it is likely because of your own love of God, not anything to do with me.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are two Michael Baumans. The world is indeed small.

  23. […] Updated October 26th 2007: Father Stephen Freeman writes about Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. […]

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