How C. S. Lewis Might Have Described Our Current Obsession with Monuments

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A national conversation has begun about the monuments in our communities. Maybe you’ve seen the news coverage of protesters removing statues of historical figures due to the moral failings of the individuals depicted.

The recent events have caused me to wonder about (and re-evaluate) my own thoughts about monuments. When traveling, I usually enjoy encountering statues in public parks and other places. I love history, and I’m always interested in reading the plaques (often followed up by some Google searching) to learn something new about the past. However, when researching the people depicted, I inevitably find how imperfect, and sometimes downright evil, the people depicted are. Statues of racists, sexists, or downright prideful and mean people who, at least in their time, were admired and seen as heroes or leaders. Other monuments commemorate wars and other times of suffering.

Does my curiosity about history really justify the existence of monuments celebrating sinful people or times of hardship? Is it really right to have statues memorializing fallen people? And if we remove them, who should we replace them with?

The wide range of reactions to these monuments seems to indicate that even today society is still struggling with age-old issues of sin. We all want someone to look up to as a leader, someone to idolize and emulate. And we love to tell stories of our own successes as a people. As a result, it is frustrating to find that all our human heroes inevitably fail. Even the people we love the most in our own personal lives and families have skeletons in their closets. We want so badly to have someone to follow, but every human example ultimately falls short of perfection. For whom then can we build a monument? Who is deserving of that kind of praise?

It actually makes me happy to see our culture struggle with this incredible yearning for goodness and virtue. I would always prefer to see the culture seek perfection than to seek sin. But this yearning for perfect heroes and role models raises a question: From where does this desire come? We have no examples of perfect people. Regardless of who we look to throughout history, no matter how much any person has accomplished, they inevitably fail a moral test in some area. Our greatest politicians, mentors, and social leaders all fail to meet the standard of perfection. They all lie, or act selfishly, or struggle with pride, or have biases, or have one of a million other failings worthy of judgement. If we have never seen a perfect person, if we have no examples of truly “good” people, then why do we still long for perfection?

'Only a perfect being would truly be deserving of the monuments we create for fallen humans.' - Jimmy Wallace Click To Tweet

C. S. Lewis observed something similar in other human desires. In Mere Christianity, he wrote:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

There also seems to be something in the human heart that desires the perfect being and leader. Only a perfect being would truly be deserving of the monuments we create for fallen humans. If C. S. Lewis was here, he might have added another desire to his argument:

“If I find in myself a desire for the perfect being which no experience in this world has revealed, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world in which this being will be revealed.”

As the culture struggles in deciding who they wish to honor, Christians have an amazing opportunity to introduce those around us to the only one deserving of that kind of praise: God.

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner’s son) is a Police Officer, a Detective in Los Angeles County, a Christian Case Maker, and host of the Incarnate Investigation Podcast (featured at ColdCaseChristianity.com).

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One comment

  1. I’ve pondered this issue myself, and have reached the following conclusions:

    If we’re going to be pulling down monuments to people who were racists, or advocated slavery, we need to remove the pyramids, the Sphynx, and the Great Wall of China. Oh, and all those statues of the Caesars, from Julius onward. The pharaohs were certainly pro-slavery, and the Chinese also practiced slavery; contrary to popular opinion it was not invented by white men.

    I live in the city of Jacksonville. Named for Andrew Jackson, the man personally responsible for the Trail of Tears. Forty miles away is the city of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US, and the famous fort “Castillo San Marco,” which was built by Native Americans enslaved by the Spanish conquistadors. We need to pull that down too, don’t we? All over this country we have streets named for men who knowingly gave smallpox-infected blankets to Indians. Will we be changing those street names?

    Robert E Lee is now referred to as a traitor. Despite his heroism in the Mexican-American war (will we be giving Texas, California, etc. back to the Mexicans anytime soon, by the way?), he left the Union when Virginia seceded. Lee was a man of integrity, but now we call him a traitor. Four years ago Donald Trump was elected president and many people responded by blocking the roads, camping out in city centers, looting and rioting. Why are these people not considered traitors?

    People’s moral views shift according to the time of day, temperature, and all sorts of other crazy reasons. Right now–and I say this as a woman and a Jew–it seems that WASP men are the seen as the root of all evil. Tomorrow I’m sure we’ll find someone else to vilify. The only constant in the world is God.

    Just sayin’…

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