How Does This Make You Feel?

How does this make you feel? is not a question which gets much respect within most classical Christian circles, and The Abolition of Man might have something to do with this. Lewis is critical of educators who reduce all truth to a matter of feeling. In the aforementioned treatise on education, Lewis famously dismisses the idea that waterfalls are not truly sublime, but merely grant some men feelings of sublimity. Rather, he argues, waterfalls are objectively and absolutely sublime and only a man with maligned affections would fail to admit this.

How does this make you feel? also strikes us as an overly Freudian, psychoanalytical question. It reeks of Oedipal theories and inkblot tests, and leather couches with only one armrest.

However, to treat How does this make you feel? as the cancerous inquiry of a relativist or Freudian is to conflate the modern notion of feelings with a more Medieval notion of feelings.

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis is not exactly opposed to feelings. Rather he bemoans the loss of sentiment in the modern age. Reducing feelings to arbitrary, indiscernible, amoral fluctuations of the soul has given us a generation of “men without chests,” or men without hearts, which are men without feelings. We have lost sight of the fact that feelings have transcendent value, that feelings guide our souls towards God, who is truth. Without hearts and feelings and chests that respond properly to the world, the student fails to become truly human.

We must be careful not to dismiss How does this make you feel? for Enlightenment sympathies. The question is, in fact, highly relevant because human sentiments are highly relevant. Human sentiments are not a corruption of humanity, as though reason alone can satisfy our want of safety, serenity, liberty. Teachers who lead classes through Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, or Ecclesiastes should be itching to ask, How does this make you feel? because the answer to this question proves whether the teacher is satisfying the demands of classicism (I wonder how many teachers have not asked this question in the middle of class, though they felt it must be appropriate, due to the nasty reputation the question has obtained). Classicism is about training the sentiments, adjusting and shaping the emotions. How will the teacher know if they have done this unless the heart of the student breaks for Frankenstein’s monster? Or recoils at Rochester’s early hubris? Or exalts in Solomon’s bankruptcy of life under the sun?

The teacher must be willing to show a student how to feel about Beethoven, a pieta, the Nunc Dimittis. We may not aimlessly ask how students feel about this or that, but we must ask directly and certainly, confident that a proper answer can be given.

Ask away, but only ask students who understand the question demands a particular response. Not just any answer will do. We do not go to class to share our feelings, but to refine and sanctify them.

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