Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book Reflections: C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity - Book 1 Chapter 2

Some Objections

In order to properly defend and explain any belief, it is necessary to address serious objections and questions from outsiders. No matter what we do or think, there will be someone in the world that objects to our actions or thoughts. These objections may come from ignorance or simply a difference of opinion. If people can’t properly understand the foundational principals of Christianity, how in the world can we expect them to accept and live the Christian life? The purpose of Christian apologetics is to win the hearts and minds of those who do not know or understand Christianity and to give strength to those Christians who begin to doubt their own beliefs. A missionary, who ignores serious objections or concerns with the foundational principals of his faith, is like the man who builds his house on sand. Even if he is able to get someone to buy his house, the homeowners will eventually lose the house when a bad storm comes and they may very well drown themselves. With this in mind, C.S. Lewis immediately addresses some of the most common objections or questions to the foundational Christian belief in the Law of Human Nature and the understanding that we do not always live in accordance to the Law of Human Nature.

Objection or Question #1

Isn’t this “Moral Law” simply herd instinct that has been developed like our other instincts?

C.S. Lewis has a brilliant explanation and response to this question. Much like how Jesus often used parables to answer questions he received, C.S. Lewis most often explains by using real life examples. In order to answer a question, we must fully understand the question. By “Moral Law” they mean what we have described as the Law of Human Nature. An instinct is a strong desire to act in a certain way. A herd instinct is feeling a need to identify with a group. So the first accusation against the Law of Human Nature is that it is simply an instinct like our other instincts and that it developed from a desire to act and think like a the general population.

The second half of the first objection really ties in with the second half of the second objection, so I’ll address that later when I address the second objection. As for the idea that the Moral Law is simply an instinct, it is a flawed idea. C.S. Lewis explains the difference best. He highlights the difference between feeling a desire to help is different than feeling you ought to help whether you want to or not. The example he gives is when a person is in need, you will probably feel two desires: the herd instinct feeling a desire to help and a second desire which is to keep out of danger. Because these two instincts are in conflict with one another, you must make a choice between the two instincts. When two instincts are at odds with one another, we have a feeling of what we ought to do. This third feeling of what we ought to do is not itself an instinct because it is an analysis of two instincts and not a desire in and of itself. C.S. Lewis rightly notes that we are most conscience of the Moral Law when it seems to be telling us to side with the weaker instinct; in this case the instinct to help. Most often in this case we feel we ought to help, but we probably most often want to be safe much more than to help.

One last point C.S. Lewis makes that proves that the Moral Law is not just an instinct is that if Moral Law was an instinct it would always be good. However, we know that we must at times suppress our instincts. For example, we have a sexual instinct. In and of itself this instinct is not bad, but we must suppress this instinct if we have made a vow of celibacy or any time we are not married. This suppression often gets misinterpreted as limiting a man’s freedom, but in fact it empower man and grants him great freedom; the freedom to make choices. This free will is what separates us from other animals. If Moral law was an instinct, following your instinct would always be good.

Objection or Question #2

Isn’t Moral Law just a social convention, something we acquire from education?

The first objection or question implies that Moral Law is something that we develop and learn over time. The second objection follows this same logic. The person with this question believes that the Moral Law is something that we learn through teaching and that we believe because we want to be able to identify with the masses who believe in Moral Law. They may not be entirely wrong about being taught the Moral Law from parents and teachers, but because something is taught does not mean that it is a human invention. It also does not mean that because a belief is taught that the person learning this belief accepted only because they desire to be included in a group of those who believe. C.S. Lewis gives two examples of things we are taught: Mathematics and the rules of driving. The rules of driving are a human invention; different cultures have different rules for driving. The Law of Human Nature falls on the side of math for two reasons.

1. The Law of Human Nature is the same universally.
2. There is judgment between the differences in morality in different cultures

The second reason requires a little further explanation. For example, the vast majority of people believe that their moral ideals are truer than that of the Nazis. In order to make a judgment between two ideals of morality, there must be a standard. The very fact that people have different ideas about what is decent behavior is actually reinforcing the Law of Human Behavior or the Moral Law.
One final acute observation by C.S. Lewis is that people often do not distinguish differences in morality and differences of belief about fact. He gives two examples of this:

1. The witch trials
a. The difference between those that punished those believed to be witches and those who thought these people overlooking the witch trials were crazy did not have a difference in morals, but a difference of matter of fact. If a person does not believe in witches to begin with, it is not a moral advance by not executing them. If they truly believed the accusations being brought against the “witches” than they would likely seek the same justice as those who did believe in witches.
2. Setting a mouse trap or not
a. A person is not considered humane if he doesn’t set a mouse trap because he no longer believes there are mice in the house. Had he believed mice were still in the house, he may very well set the mouse traps.

After looking at a couple of common objections to the Law of Human Nature, C.S. Lewis strengthens the foundation of this principal by answering the objections in a very clear and easy to understand manner. This clarity is what makes him so brilliant. Moral Law is not an instinct but the standard by which decent behavior is judged. Different cultures may disagree on what is decent, but they all agree on the standard. I hope it is safe to say that we can now all agree that there is a standard behavior of living that we all ought to live by and that we don’t always live in accordance with this standard. This standard is not something of human invention, but something that we all know. We are one step closer to understanding Christianity.

God bless!

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