Click for: CSSHS Archive Main Page
Vol. IV • 1981


Man is Moral Choice. by Albert Hobbs. Arlington House Publishers (181 Main Street, Norwalk, Conn. 06851), 445 pp. $12.95.

According to Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner, man's behavior and choices are determined by processes beyond his control; man is nothing more than an animal that reacts blindly and slavishly to stimuli in his environment. Freedom and dignity, therefore, are just ''myths"; they cannot be "scientifically verified," that is weighed or measured.

Albert Hobbs is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Man is Moral Choice. In his book, Mr. Hobbs maintains that Mr. Skinner's view of freedom is the myth, and to check it he has written a much-needed affirmation of man's intrinsic dignity and freedom, and a hard-hitting attack on the thinking of those social scientists and philosophers who deny man's moral worth and inherent ability to make free choices and judgments.

Mr. Hobbs makes clear that the virulent assaults on free will—i.e., man's inherent capacity to make free choices and judgments—are based upon a warped view of man, the view that man is simply a machine. True, man has a material body, but he also is a spiritual being. Human beings have the capacity to reason, to conceptualize, to grasp universals, to utilize and comprehend symbols, to express in written word and in propositional speech their private thoughts and feelings. Man can love and hate, he can cry and understand and laugh at the meaning of a joke. Clearly, if man's freedom, intrinsic moral worth and uniqueness cannot be verified through the techniques of the laboratory, this is no proof that these qualities do not exist. They are indeed real, even though their reality cannot be chemically analyzed or weighed.

There is an obvious relationship between the Skinnerian view of man and freedom on the one hand and pernicious attempts to wrest away man's religious, political, economic and civil liberties and concentrate decision making power and authority in the hands of a few. If, as Mr. Skinner claims, the "survival of the culture" is the highest value, and individual freedom and dignity are just "myths," then man's religious, political, economic and civil liberties may be sacrificed. Mr. Skinner and his disciples would then "feel free" to use scientific know-how and technology to manipulate man and his environment to achieve their desired aims.

On the other hand, if, as Mr. Hobbs believes, man has the capacity to reason and also possesses free will and dignity, then proposals and efforts to manipulate man through science and technology are glaring assaults on man himself. Let us, instead, cultivate and preserve those institutions and those moral, social, economic and political conditions which help human beings to live rationally and to freely choose good over evil.

—Reviewed by Haven Bradford Gow

The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C.S. Lewis, by Gilbert Meilaender. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Ml 49503, 1978. x, 245 pp., including Index, $6.95 pb.

At the time of this book's publication, Dr. Meilaender (who received his Ph.D. from Princeton University) was Assistant Professor of Religion at Oberlin College in Ohio. The book began as a dissertation under Gene Outka and Paul Ramsey at Princeton; Paul Ramsey especially is well known as a scholarly Protestant spokesman for the right to life of pre-born children, and in related areas of medical ethics. It is encouraging to find an attitude of scholarly Biblical orthodoxy in Meilaender's critique of the social and ethical thought of C.S. Lewis, an attitude one cannot normally expect in the writings of authors associated with Princeton, Oberlin, and other prestige universities.

Meilaender begins his discussion by taking exception to a statement by Chad Walsh, one of C.S. Lewis's earliest American champions: "… for a Christian social philosophy one turns to Maritain, Niebuhr, Berdyaev, George MacLeod and many others—not to C.S. Lewis" (p. 1). Meilaender very appropriately comments that perhaps none of the people named by Walsh offer "anything more than a theological framework within which one may think about politics and society" (pp. 1-2). We might add that a Christian to whom the Bible as God's inspired, inerrant Word is the final authority for social and ethical thought can hardly place more than very tentative confidence in the "frameworks'' offered by such as Maritain (neo-Thomistic), Niebuhr ("modernist'' Protestant), or Berdyaev (Eastern Orthodox existentialist). This reviewer is not familiar with MacLeod.

Meilaender, as anyone who wishes to assemble a coherent and systematical description of the thought of C.S. Lewis on individual aspects of Christian doctrine, had the problem of "coping with the many genres in which Lewis expresses his ideas" (p. 3). The danger of overlooking parts of Lewis's answers, and worse, misinterpreting Lewis's answers due to such omissions, is obvious to any dedicated student of Lewis's rich and varied writings. Meilaender deserves unhesitating praise for presenting the widest possible range of socially and ethically relevant quotes from Lewis's expository writing (for example, Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man), h is children's and science fiction stories (the Narnia books, and especially from That Hideous Strength), and his numerous shorter articles, essays, and also private letters and poems.

Frequently Meilaender tries to shed more light on Lewis's thought by comparing or contrasting it with the statements of other authors on the same topics. Such comparisons, contrasts, or sometimes enlargements of Lewis's thoughts are generally of interest primarily to trained theologians, and sometimes speculative rather than edifying (for example, the discussion of agape involving comparisons with or elaborations by Anders Nygren, Reinhold Niebuhr and Charles Williams in Chapter II, "The Revelry of Insatiable Love''). It seems to this reviewer that Meilaender has recourse to such comparisons or elaborations especially when he is either unsure of Lewis's position, or else in disagreement with it. One of the clearest examples of this tendency is the lengthy footnote on Lewis's understanding of Christ and culture, which to this reviewer seemed wholly superfluous; it does not even answer Meilaender's own question about "where we ought to place Lewis in Niebuhr's typology" (pp. 175-176). Other speculations appear right in the main text, rather than merely in a footnote, and they also show that it is ill advised to construct a systematic "C.S. Lewis theology, " especially by relating hi m to other Christian apologists (''modernist" Niebuhr in particular!). Lewis himself, when writing about his beloved Christian teacher George MacDonald, pointed out that he himself was "no great friend to such pigeonholing" (Preface to George MacDonald, An Anthology). Moreover, Lewis explicitly did not wish to expound and defend any theological assertions beyond what he considered "mere Christianity"—namely, "the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times" (Preface to Mere Christianity). Hence Meilaender's discussion of Lewis's belief of "purgatory" as a place or manner in which "the process of transforming the sinner into a person who desires a life in common with God and other persons… continues after death" (p. 110), seems unduly long; Lewis did not dwell on this opinion with anything like dogmatism or major emphasis, as Meilaender himself amply confirms (p. 124). First Corinthians 3:1 1-15 might have been cited in support of Lewis.

Meilaender believes that the foundation for man's social and ethical thought, and indeed for his entire life posited by C.S. Lewis is man's receptivity of God's creation; "(t)his is the key to understanding the picture Lewis paints. The proper posture for the creature is one of receptivity" (p. 18). His entire first chapter "The Sweet Poison of the False Infinite" (pp. 1-44) deals with Lewis's perception of man's creaturehood. Meilaender's discussion, solidly based upon a multitude of apposite quotes from Lewis's writings, and touching upon the proper enjoyment of pleasures through receptivity or renunciation of created things, is outstanding in every way. According to Lewis, Meilaender points out, the ''datum… is the character of the creation… the nature of the creation itself requires us to say that both an affirmation and a negation of things… are part and parcel of a right attitude toward created things" (pp. 21-22). Lewis's emphasis—indeed, first and fundamental emphasis—upon God as Creator and man as creature, and the Christian life as the proper attitude towards God's creation, has not received due attention by other Lewis students as it has by Meilaender. This aspect of Meilaender's work commends the book highly to believers in Biblical creation desiring to see and to practice the implications of Biblical creation in social and ethical thought.

—Reviewed by Ellen Myers

Erling Jorstad, The Politics of Moralism, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1981, Pb„ 128 pages including Notes; $4,95,

If there is doubt in anyone's mind that the 1980 election results were deeply disturbing to professing Christians of a middle-to-liberal opinion blend, Jorstad's critique of what he calls "the New Christian Right" will quickly dispel such doubt. The book begins as follows:

Jorstad then describes the "two kinds of religio-political organizations" "both remarkably well organized, strongly financed, and clear in their objectives" (7) to whom he ascribes the "New Christian Right's" political success; the big name "electronic church" preachers, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and James Robison, and the computerized direct-mail agencies, with Moral Majority listed first, and with Richard Viguerie (whom Jorstad calls "Vigurie" throughout the book) given the highest marks for efficiency. What the "New Christian Right" succeeded in creating in the 1970s (and, Jorstad adds in parentheses, for the foreseeable future) is"the politics of moralism" (8)

Jorstad's discussion of "Morality versus Moralism"(8-11) should be quoted in full to do justice to his extreme caution in definitions, interspersed and indeed culminating in numerous questions to which, it is implied, yes-or-no answers are impossible because of their extreme complexity. The section begins with a question—''the centuries-old question… who decides what is wrong or right: professional priests, holy men, sacred writings, or trial-and-error experience? '(8). A sentence later Jorstad adds that ''authentic morality hesitates to place too much authority in any one person or group of persons because"—because, perish the thought, we can and indeed must test men's words and acts by God's own law and testimony (Isaiah 8:20)?—no rather, because of man's tendency to elevate relative, "contingent" values to absolute ones, according to Reinhold Niebuhr. "Moralism" on the other hand, differs from morality because "its authority is based on that view of Scripture which claims it is inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired entirely without "error" in its original."(9)Jorstad continues:

To a person unfamiliar with the God of the Bible "with Whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1: 17)—the God Whose very Name "I AM that which I am" speaks of the absolute impossibility of "new" (different) or "revised" teachings forthcoming from Him, because His revelation indeed was full, complete and binding from the beginning, as the oaktree is full, complete and "binding" in the acorn—Jorstad's picture of Bible believing Christians is repellent, as repellent as Elijah must have been to the people two-timing God, ''halting between two opinions'' on Mount Carmel. One question Jorstad never asks is whether it is worthy of an Almighty, Good and Wise God to let His people dangle in perpetual uncertainty about what He means when He speaks, or about whether He always means the same thing. Such a question would reveal that Jorstad's God is rather like a situation ethics counselor—and Jorstad and professing Christians of a middle-to-liberal opinion blend ("persuasion" is too categorical a word) would rather not be committed to situation ethics out loud. Situation ethics is, however, the practical outworking of Jorstad's "Morality versus Moralism" discourse. When Jorstad puts down ''moralism" as "not morality because… it assumes that humans are wise enough to understand what God intends for each of them in every instance of life" (9) he is guilty of an outright falsehood in the case of Christians who know that Jesus Christ is right when He tells us "Without me you can do nothing"(John15: 5).But with Him—by God's Spirit —with "the mind of Christ"—with the "wisdom of God''—and never contrary to God's Law and testimony in the Scriptures (lsaiah 8: 20;1Corinthians chapter 2)—oh yes, we can "discern all things''(l Cor. 2:15) including what God intends for us in every instance of life (see also Proverbs 4:12: "As thou goest, thy way shall be opened step by step before thee"). If this certainty makes us "moralists" (a kind of pharisees) rather than moral in Jorstad's dictionary, then so be it. If it is moral to be somewhere in the middle about abortion, the extent of civil rights for homosexuals, bans on voluntary prayer and Bible reading in public schools, (examples given by Jorstad), then the "New Christian Right" is not moral. But then, one hopes Jorstad would agree, neither are the political spokesmen for abortion on demand, total freedom of expressing homosexuality, and those who would continue the ban on prayer and Bible reading (or on the teaching of creationism along with evolutionism). Jorstad's last chapter, which is essentially a call for "pluralistic" reasonableness and balance, to be nurtured by local churches and congregational activities rather than the "show-biz" effects of television preachers, should satisfy —we must say it again because we must say it again—professing Christians of a middle-to-liberal opinion blend.

Jorstad does a fairly thorough and acceptable job of describing the history, financing and programs of the major personalities and movements of the "New Christian Right." He discusses some general objections to television presentations of the Gospel which seem well taken (for instance, the theatrical character of television shows which leaves no room for acquaintance with a plain everyday Christian's routine daily walk). He realizes, as many analysts of the 1980 presidential election did not, that the "New Christian Right" is supported by millions of small financial contributors who find in this movement what had long been denied them—a public form for the "moralistic" belief in the God of Creation Whose wisdom expressed in His law is violated only at an individual's or a whole nation's peril.

Jorstad writes in a gentlemanly manner, raising questions about the "New Christian Right" rather than attacking it outright, and careful to document all his assertions of fact from a variety of sources from across the religious and political spectrum. One finds oneself aching for contact, for an opportunity somehow to draw this man to God—there is a kind of studied "objectivity" about his work which surely, surely witnesses of good will open to the Truth in Person? But then you remember that he would not welcome—he does not welcome—the God with Whom there is not Yea-and-Nay, but Yea (2

Corinthians 1:17-19), the God whose Word is like a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4: 12), with which to tamper damns to hell (Galatians 1:8-9)—and you realize his gentle uncertainty masquerading as humility, but actually a form of rebelliousness, is of Satan's blindness (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

If you don't know much about the major "New Christian Right" personalities, the plain reporting parts of this book are useful, though they should perhaps be compared with reports by friendlier (to Falwell, Robertson, etc ) sources. If you want insight into the gentle uncertainty of professing Christians with a middle-to-liberal opinion blend, Jorstad's ''Morality versus Moralism'' (8-11) section is highly recommended, as is his conclusion (Chapter Twelve, 105-116).

—Reviewed by Ellen Myers

"Book Reviews: 3 Titles"
CSSHS • Creation Social Science & Humanities Society • Quarterly Journal

Main Page:  CSSHS Archives