We all like things that are new, new clothes, new fashion, new gadgets and especially new ideas. No one today wants to be called regressive because one of our times greatest ambitions is to be progressive. This lust after the new idea or the wanting to be progressive leads many in our culture to disdain things and ideas that came from our forefathers. Many of us say that “We know now…” implying that they didn’t know then what we know now. It is this chronological arrogance that C.S Lewis rails against in Surprised by Joy:
The uncritical assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them
I think we need to hear that our culture, just like any other, has blind spots to the extent that the very things that we hold to be absolutely true just might be the things that are hindering us from becoming the people we want to be. For example, take the idea that seems common today that life is about pursuing our freedom and happiness and with it correlative idea that freedom is being able to do whatever I want and therefore if I am doing whatever I want I will be truly happy.
But do these ideas work? Are we truly happy now that we are pursuing happiness as all costs? Are we truly free now that we are trying to break free from every hindrance? It seems that we aren’t. Oliver James in his brilliant book Affluenza shows that we have never been more depressed and unhappy in the west despite having more than we need and usually having the very things that we thought would bring us happiness.
What CS Lewis is asking us to do is challenge our assumptions, he would have us challenge our assumption that life is about pursuing our freedom and happiness and he would ask us if there is not so much more to life than that?
But maybe the first assumption of our time that we need to challenge is the one which says we have somehow come to a place in 2012 where we are more advanced and knowledgeable than any other civilization and our western ideals and ideas are the pinnacle of human thought.
C.S Lewis would say it is high time to challenge this chronological arrogance.