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Men Without Chests: How C.S. Lewis Predicted Charlie Hebdo Censorship


“It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by an unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to produce her…It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”

Western news organizations are falling all over themselves to censor images that raise the ire of violent terrorists, and C.S. Lewis predicted their exact behavior over 70 years ago when he published “The Abolition of Man,” his treatise on how the corruption of language leads inevitably to the corruption of mind and soul. Which brings us to the pathetic and censorious response by so many media organizations to the Islamic terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication.

The main photo for this story is courtesy of the New York Daily News. (The absurd pixelation of the cartoon on the front page of the Charlie Hebdo paper was done by the New York Daily News, not by The Federalist.)

The New York Daily News’s censorship is emblematic of the response of far too many media organizations to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Peaceful people who are offended must deal with offense, but violent sociopaths who are thrown into murderous rages by cartoons? Their feelings must be respected. Welcome to 2015, where polite requests for decency are ignored, and childish temper tantrums are exalted as the means by which developmentally stunted neanderthals get whatever they want. Which brings us to CNN.

Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, CNN allegedly issued a memo to staff detailing what types of images and words would be banned by the network and what would be allowed:

Although we are not at this time showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet considered offensive by many Muslims, platforms are encouraged to verbally describe the cartoons in detail. This is key to understanding the nature of the attack on the magazine and the tension between free expression and respect for religion.

Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are also OK. Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.

It’s also OK to show most of the protest cartoons making the rounds online, though care should be taken to avoid examples that include within them detailed depictions of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Where to begin? For starters, note that the network is apparently afraid of even using the word Muhammad. Instead, the Islamic religious figure is referred to by CNN merely as “the Prophet.” Not a prophet. And not even the prophet. “The Prophet,” with a capital P.

If we are to take CNN’s memo at its word, no other prophets existed before or after Muhammad. He is literally the only one. Forget Moses. Forget Abraham. Forget that both are major prophets for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Nope. Muhammad is the only one (even if that statement itself is heretical to the ideology they’re desperately trying not to offend) and he will be faux-respected by fearful news executives, even if that faux respect results in the blatant disrespect of other religions that outright reject Muhammad’s alleged teachings. Your offense is only worthy of note if comes packaged with a death threat.

I look forward to CNN referring to Jesus Christ as “the Messiah” from now on. I look forward to CNN referring to God as “G-d” out of respect for Jews who believe it is sinful to utter His name. And I really look forward to never seeing another historically illiterate Eastertime screed masquerading as news about how Jesus is just a silly myth who never really existed and that people who put any stock in the most well-attested historical documents in all of antiquity are just a bunch of nutty kooks.

I mean, if we’re talking about respect for religion, surely that must mean respect for religions that don’t send masked terrorists to gun down your news bureau whenever it publishes something stupid and insensitive, right? Or do my views only deserve respect insofar as they refuse to acknowledge your right to even exist?

For the Men Without Chests, however, history, theology, and even grammar must bow before the altar of terrorism.

CNN, a television network that exists to broadcast images to the world, instructed its employees to avoid the use of pictures and instead use words to describe the cartoon images. Did I mention that CNN is a TV station? And that the whole point of TV is to display images? Because it is. That’s why TV exists. To display images. Unless you’re CNN. And how did CNN justify its ban on pictures? It said it was necessary because “[verbal descriptions] are key to understanding the nature of the attack on the magazine and the tension between free expression and respect for religion.”

A TV executive with with an allegedly functioning brain actually wrote that the key — not a key, but the key — to understanding a murderous attack over cartoon images is to…only use spoken words to describe the images, rather than, oh, I don’t know, show the actual images.

But at least CNN gave its staff the freedom to publish cartoons protesting the killings in Paris, though. At least CNN had the decency to show images protesting the barbaric attacks in Paris. Right? Right??

It’s also OK to show most of the protest cartoons making the rounds online, though care should be taken to avoid examples that include within them detailed depictions of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Oh. Okay, then. We wouldn’t want a news organization to air detailed depictions of the raison d’etre for France’s deadliest terrorist attack in two decades. And we certainly can’t have a news organization faithfully reporting on criticism of the attackers or their ideology. That would just be too much.

I don’t personally believe in modern day, post-Christian prophets, but if I did, I’d have to assume C.S. Lewis was one of them, because he saw this nonsense coming. He saw how the deliberate corruption of language leads inexorably to the degradation of society and the eventual corruption of mankind. We are seeing it now: let’s pretend that certain things don’t mean what they mean so that we may hopefully be the last up against the wall when the violent and perpetually offended hordes finally take control.

Maybe if we just call him “The Prophet” and tut-tut his detractors under our breath, his zealous followers will leave us alone and instead attack those fools who called him “a prophet,” or — gasp — used his actual name, or — even worse — drew a picture of him. Maybe they will look upon us with favor and spare us as a way of repaying our subservience to their ideology. Maybe our deliberate corruption of language in service of a violent strain of religion will signal that we mean them no harm. Maybe our weakness will be seen as strength. Maybe our lack of spine will be seen as courage. Maybe up will be down, hot will be cold, and slavery will be freedom.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “we remove the organ and demand the function”:

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

This is a society of men without chests. This is CNN.