The Conspiracy of Decent Silence
The title of the book is How Heathen is Britain? The author in the book, and Lewis in the foreword to the book, sound an alarm for intentional discipleship of young people and training in apologetics. The term “conspiracy of decent silence” is a reference, from the book, to the ignorance of Christian doctrine from not taking it seriously or passing it to the rising generation. The epilogue of the book offers a timely challenge:
I should like to end with a renewed disclaimer. In spite of appearances I am not trying to teach my betters their job. I am quite sure that there are many betters ways of teaching young men the evidences of the Christian Faith. All I claim for the one I have adopted is that, in its limited way, it does work, and that it needs doing most desperately. I have now held what I like to regard as an unofficial chair of philosophy for well over two years and have had nearly four thousand boys through my hands. With that experience behind me I do claim to know the pitifully inadequate mental equipment with which most of them have to defend their faith, and their gratitude at being given something more solid upon which they can base it. This is not so much a criticism of schools as of the spirit of the age. Forty years ago Christianity was taken for granted. It was one of those things which were just not mentioned. The conspiracy of decent silence led to its being forgotten, doubted, and finally denied, through sheer ignorance. The Creed faded into the background. The code which was once based upon it remained in operation—for a time.
The code is even now disintegrating before our eyes; it would have gone anyhow, for it has long lacked an authority on which it can be based. I have just finished a discussion on the standards of good and evil, and on the possibility of knowing the purpose and destiny of life. Out of thirty answers, twenty-two state categorically that the standards are shifting and that human purpose and destiny are a matter of guess-work. You who read this may disagree, but I think that is a shattering result. You may say that they will not act up—or rather down—to their lack of conviction. Perhaps not, or at least not yet. The “old school tie” code has still a certain validity, for which we may be devoutly thankful, but it is painfully limited in its scope; increasingly derided, and devoid of intellectual foundation. It was founded by and large on the Christian ethic, which derived in turn from the ancient Faith. The code cut off from the Creed is as a tree without roots. It is already looking sickly and it will surely die.
This small book is already badly dated. In the introduction to the first period it is said that we are emerging from an evil period. That was written shortly before V-day, when victory was certain and hopes were high. Today it looks as if we might be entering another period worse in some ways than the last. Whether it is or not depends upon the rising generation. For good or evil they will build the civilization of the future. It is for us of the last generation to decide whether we dare allow them to face their task without a code, because we are too indifferent to teach them the creed upon which it depends.