Men Without Chests

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ [the heart] and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

—C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 21: 25

Most of you by now know the story of the best cyclist in the history of the sport, Lance Armstrong. An enormously gifted athlete at the top of the cycling world, Armstrong suffered from stage IV cancer and was given a high probability that he would not live. He not only survived his cancer, of course, Armstrong became the seven-time winner of the prestigious Tour de France, transforming the sport as the greatest in its storied history. His success ran so deep that it was seen as unbelievable, defying natural human ability. Armstrong defended himself for years against critics accusing him of using performance- enhancing drugs, usually very vociferously and defiantly, including winning millions in successful lawsuits. And, of course, we all know that he recently admitted that his success was not so natural, that he indeed had the assistance of the most sophisticated drug machine known in all of sports and destroyed the careers, the reputations, the bank accounts, and, to a degree, even the lives of untold others who got in his way. And, now that he has come “clean,” he does so with virtually no remorse or contrition, unrepentant in his confession. His only crime, he implies, is that he was caught. He lied and destroyed, and angrily defended himself in the process, to protect only himself, a self-absorbed narcissist of epic proportions.

There is outrage by many at Armstrong—and outrage at those not outraged—because of his lack of honor and virtue. But Armstrong, I argue, is merely the fruit of our cultural tree. The shocking things are not his lies and seemingly unrepentant, unremorseful attitude, but our feigned outrage at Armstrong’s lack of honesty and lack of soul. Should we really expect any more from a culture based on falsehood? Armstrong’s mantra of “everyone’s doing it” may seem weak, but it is one of the mantras of our postmodern world, a world of relativism so similar to the tenth century BC when the writer of Judges proclaimed that, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Armstrong is by no means alone at the judgment seat; we read and hear of Manti T’eo’s lies and the subsequent Notre Dame cover up, the affairs of General Petraeus, the Benghazi cover up, the slightly less-recent Enron deceit and debacle; the list can fill volumes.

Our society undermines honesty in every way imaginable. Underhanded behavior is glorified. Unfaithful spouses are glamorized. Untouched photos are gone. In our nation, politicians are not elected based on their deeply held convictions or their ability to accomplish great things. We choose men and women who are most able to deceptively convince the most people that they agree with them. Lying is not frowned upon. Quite the contrary; it is expected. For truth, you see, has become relative, and therefore ever illusive.

Every photo published is almost expected to be a lie of some sort. Photoshop and filters make pictures seem as if the subject were perfect. Magazines portray a false life as the object of desire. Never mind that it is literally unattainable. Chasing the lie will keep you buying more things. In sports, like so many other areas of our culture, the frequently repeated phrase is, “It is not cheating unless you get caught.” Armstrong, then, never really cheated. He never was caught while competing, only after retirement. We told him performance-enhancing drugs were perfectly fine, so long as he let us believe our naïve fantasy about “LiveStrong.”

Manti T’eo was embarrassed about being conned in such a heart-wrenching manner, so instead of coming clean, he perpetuated the very fraud that was committed against him. And his university—my dear wife’s alma mater, by the way—covered it up. It was more important to the school to keep its squeaky-clean image during its national football championship quest; it was more important to T’eo to remain respectable in the eyes of others than to be honest. What’s that? Respectability is the opposite of honesty? That is our culture. In a world where “image is everything,” integrity is nothing. In a culture where there are no longer absolute truths, you can create your own truths, your own reality. And, all is fine unless you get caught.

In his book, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis included an essay entitled “Men Without Chests.” In it, Lewis depicts one of the problems with our culture: we ask for a virtue while cultivating the opposing vice. Lewis was prophetic in pointing out that relativism—the idea that there is no absolute truth—would lead to the decay of morality and a lack of virtue within society. Without a belief in and the teaching of universal moral laws, we fail to educate the heart and are left with intelligent men who behave like animals, or as Lewis puts it, “men without chests.” Lewis’ treatise (written in 1947) is about the failed educational system, and he asks the question: Can we really divorce truth and values from education? Many of the “experts” of Lewis’s day thought so. Since that time, the idea of “values neutral” education has been all the
rage. It began with the simple relativistic assumption that there is really no such thing as transcendent “right” and “wrong.” This is, of course, the ultimate conclusion we are forced to draw when we adopt some form of naturalism and place humanity as the ultimate arbiter of reality. As we proceeded into the postmodern era, that assumption spread like cancer through academia. From there, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation [became] the philosophy of government the next.” Today, there is hardly a part of Western culture— including the church—that isn’t infected with the idea.

Before long, the educational theorists realized that they must teach some form of truth and morality, if for no other reason than crowd control. In keeping with their attempt to be values-neutral, they settled on a hollow secular humanism that simply compounded the problem, demanding that children act morally while giving them no compelling reason to do so. Ultimately, students essentially were led to believe that it only pays to be morally upright when you think that someone will catch you.

This dilemma is precisely what Lewis predicted. As a culture, we produce men and women “without chests” and we expect them to do the right thing anyway. Heads may appear to have swelled in our time, but largely because chests have atrophied. Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o and General Petraeus and so many others may indeed be men without chests, but they are our men without chests. That doesn’t make what they did excusable. It makes what each of us do each day to affirm honesty and truth, particularly God’s Truth, so very important.

“I Know of No Way of Judging of The Future But By The Past”

Following the establishment of Jamestown as the first permanent English settlement in the New World in 1607, it was set up to be the center of the Virginia Colony’s government and commerce. However, the inhospitable swampy and insect-ridden terrain at Jamestown eventually drove the settlers to higher ground a bit further inland, to Middle Plantation. Colonel John Page, a prosperous seventeenth- century Virginia merchant and landowner, owned Middle Plantation, eight miles west of the new English settlement of Jamestown. Col. Page had earlier donated some of his vast estate for the construction of the first brick Bruton Parish Church, and later donated over 300 acres of his Middle Plantation for the development of a new town, Williamsburg.

The original settlement of Middle Plantation had grown up around a seventeenth-century palisade built as a defense against Indian attack. By 1690, it was a small village composed of stores, mills, a tavern, Bruton Parish Church, along with assorted homes. With its proximity to the James and York Rivers, and its healthier climes than nearby Jamestown, the location was an attractive one for the early colonists. When the Jamestown courthouse burned for the fourth time in 1688, Middle Plantation became the locus for colonists who envisioned a capital city equal to their aspirations. The name Middle Plantation was changed to Williamsburg, in honor of William III, King of England, in 1699.

Since that time, Williamsburg has become perhaps most well-known as the birthplace of democratic governmental principles among the patriots before and during the American Revolution, and today the restored colonial city – now known as Colonial Williamsburg – is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Here, history comes alive in the most preserved colonial city on the continent.

When the eighteenth century began, the young Williamsburg capital was laid out in a pattern of squares and perpendicular avenues. The Market Square, or town commons, and a main street stretching from the newly constructed Capitol Building to the recently established College of William and Mary were the key elements to the plan. The Capitol and the College, founded in 1693, represented stability and continuity to the early settlers. By the eve of the American Revolution, Williamsburg was a thriving center of commerce and government, with a vibrant population of 2,000 people, half of whom were slaves. Gunsmiths, tailors, carpenters, bakers, merchants, clerks, along with their slaves all worked to form the economic nucleus for the governmental system being developed by the capital city’s growing number of politicians and lawyers.

Perhaps the most important institution in town by the middle of the eighteenth-century was the tavern. Taverns were not just for drinking; they were the heart of political, social, and cultural discourse, especially as trouble brewed with England. In the late evening and even into the wee hours of the early morning colonial Virginians often exchanged their ideas of liberty and freedom for the nation-to-be. Moreover, the young city had become a center of learning, with famous political leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler, emerging from the College of William and Mary, today the second oldest college in the United States. Others, such as Patrick Henry, also became active in developing the emerging political philosophy of what was to become a new nation.

The prominent role Williamsburg played in the events leading to the Revolutionary War is well known. In 1765, Patrick Henry delivered his rousing Stamp Act Speech at the House of Burgesses here, crying “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III—may
he profit from their example.” Later, the First Continental Congress was called in 1774 and the Revolution ended just thirteen miles away, with the surrender of Cornwallis to General Washington on the fields of Yorktown in 1781, with the birth of American independence.

When the Virginia capital moved again, this time to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg reverted to a quiet college town and rural county seat. In retrospect, Williamsburg’s loss of capital city status was its salvation as many eighteenth- century buildings survived into the early twentieth century. The restoration of Williamsburg began in 1926 with the rector of Bruton Parish Church bringing the city’s importance to the attention
of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who then funded and led the massive reconstruction of the colonial city as we see it today. Today, Williamsburg is known internationally as the premier center for the preservation and interpretation of American colonial history. Over 300 acres of buildings and streets preserved as they were in the eighteenth- century, including 88 original eighteenth-century structures and hundreds of houses, shops, and public buildings. Most have been reconstructed with their original foundations, complete with costumed actors, typically graduate-trained historians. Located in the Historical Triangle of Virginia—just eight miles from Jamestown and thirteen from Yorktown and linked by the National Park Service’s bucolic twenty-three mile long Colonial Parkway, the area is carefully shielded from views of modern commercial development. A visit to the restored Colonial Williamsburg is a step back in time to a thriving eighteenth-century community. It has been described as “a theater of living history where merchants sell their wares, craftspeople ply their trades and patriots sit in dark corners and whisper of revolution. Today, Colonial Williamsburg’s authentic character and baroque town plan is the pride of the nation.” The historic area interprets the life and excitement of Colonial Virginia—and American—history. We can still hear the words of Patrick Henry, perhaps faintly yet distinctly in the far off distance, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” Come to Williamsburg, not just for the stimulation of the SCL conference, but also for the intellectual discourse in the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg with colleagues from near and far, our eyes lit by the lamp of historical experience so that we might help lead a new generation towards the future.

The Dilemma of Henry Laurens: An 18th Century Charleston Slave Merchant

In the South Carolina Low Country, a merchant-planter elite class emerged in the eighteenth century, a class dependent largely on slave labor. Charleston’s Henry Laurens, by the American Revolution, was perhaps the most prominent and affluent of the S.C. merchant-planter elite. He was involved in virtually all goods coming in and out of Charleston, though he admitted that the trading of slaves was his “most profitable branch.” He ultimately withdrew from the slave trade, while becoming a successful planter and concentrating on administering his vast plantation network, which were kept afloat by the many slaves that provided labor. In addition to being a successful merchant, slave trader and planter, Laurens was also a revolutionary political leader, president of the Second Continental Congress, and a commissioner to negotiate the peace of independence. Laurens has been cited by South Carolina historians as unique among the Low Country merchant-planter elite for having been an abolitionist and for ending his lucrative involvement in the trading of human cargo. Traditional historiography cites Laurens’ withdrawal predominately because of moral implications and his evangelical zeal, yet perhaps other reasons prevailed?

Sam Cox

In addition to holding numerous degrees, Mr. Cox, is a retired US. Army Reserves officer, and has served as a history teacher, department chair, cross country and track coach, dean of students, upper school head, and headmaster at five independent schools. Since 2001, Mr. Cox has served as headmaster at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, VA. His historical specialties are Colonial America and Modern Europe, and his master's thesis dealt with Henry Laurens' involvement in the African slave trade.