If you ever forget what year it is, get in an argument on social media. Someone will tell you.
When discussing virtually any issue, particularly one concerning morality, someone will inevitably express frustration that anyone could disagree with them. They’ll proudly assert, “They must not know it’s 2016.”
Instead of arguing for or against something, they merely state the year and assume that ends the discussion. But they’ve only given a fact with no connection at all to the issue.
Yes, it’s 2016, but that has nothing to do with whether a position is right or not. In two different works, C.S. Lewis demonstrates the absurdity of this line of thinking.
Part of the continued belief that stating the year is a valid argument, comes from what C.S. Lewis described as “chronological snobbery.”
When Lewis was still a hardened atheist, he dismissed Christianity, not because he had a better explanation for the world around him, but mostly because the belief system was “old.”
His friends who had left atheism behind began to call him out for his bias—particularly Owen Barfield. Here’s how Lewis described it in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:
In the first place, he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date.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.
Much of what passes for progress, particularly in realm of morality, is merely chronological snobbery. You see this clearly in arguments about the “right side of history.”
There is an unquestioned assumption (and unchallenged arrogance) that our current culture has the right answers to the moral questions that people have wrestled with for thousands of years. Unsurprisingly, a culture that idolizes youth would automatically assume new is better.
This also takes for granted that all changes to what society considers morally acceptable is good. All progress is good progress. But what if we are progressing in the wrong direction?
The other Lewis work demonstrates that most people haven’t even thought about that as a possibility because they aren’t even looking for things that are good or true.
“Contemporary” Not “True”
In The Screwtape Letters, he uses the fictional correspondence between a senior devil and a junior tempter to discuss the best ways to confound and confuse humans.
In one instance, the elder Screwtape tells Wormwood to stay away from trying to convince his subject of the rightness of a position. Unquestioned assumptions ensnare much easier than reasoning arguments.
[M]an has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
Referring to the current year as an argument instead of pointing to the truthfulness of a moral claim is exactly what Screwtape is advising his younger demon to do. There’s no need to argue for something, if you can get someone to believe it simply because it’s “contemporary.”
While much of our culture unquestionably embraces chronological snobbery and pointless jargon, you have a choice. You don’t have to accept it. “2016” is not an argument anymore than “1016” or even “3016” is.
Yes, it is 2016 and it will continue to be that until January 1, 2017, but right and wrong will not change because a clock strikes midnight. Cinderella is not a parable about morality.
You may disagree with using the Bible as a standard for morality. That is a discussion for another day. But you need to explain how using a calendar would be better. One has existed for centuries, while the other will literally be thrown away in a few months.
Those who assert chronologically based morality must argue why something so temporary should be trusted to determine something so important. And no, you can’t just say, “Because it’s 2016.”