"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mere Christianity I: The Moral Law

I've been reading with interest, lately, the arguments for the existence of right and wrong. Actually some of what I have read could not technically be called arguments. For instance, I was interested that Plato in his Gorgias assumes without question that right and wrong exist and that doing the good is the most important thing possible. Just because Plato and Socrates said it does not mean it is true; however, it casts serious doubt on the occasional letter-to-the-editor-writer and average skeptic who say everyone can just do what they want and make up their own morality myths. Usually these types are terribly inconsistent by throwing in a clause like: “so long as they don't hurt anybody else,” thus showing that, aaah-ha, there really is some general guideline to be followed. But while I get a good chuckle (really I shouldn't) out of this illogical position, there are also the scary few who actually appear to believe what they say.

C.S.Lewis also addresses this issue of right and wrong or “The Rule of Decent Behavior” in Mere Christianity. The book opens with the chapter heading: “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” His general premise is that “the human idea of decent behavior [is] obvious to everyone” (5). And the funny thing is that what Lewis and all the ancient philosophers and your parents and grandparents all the way back to Adam have been saying is much more believable than a sprinkling of university professors in Europe and the United States who claim it is not so. I mean, come on, if I slapped them in the face would they really not consider that unjust? Lewis very cogently makes his conclusion about the human race: “they know the Law of Nature [Moral Law] ;they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in” (8).

Lewis goes on and ruthlessly slays the further objections of some about multiple moralities and so on. A few quotes to sum up should finish this post very well but stay tuned for some more excerpts from Mere Christianity coming up.

We are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table” (7).

If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others” (13).

In the same way, if the Rule of Decent Behavior meant simply 'whatever each nation happens to approve,' there would be no sense in saying that any one nation had ever been more correct in its approval than any other” (14).

We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know. And because of that, we know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey” (23).

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001

No comments: