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This paper was written by John G. West, Jr..
Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
Included with the gracious permission of "Dr. Zeus", creator of "Into the Wardrobe", a popular website devoted to C.S. Lewis. The original online copy of this paper can be found here.cslewis.drzeus.net
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||Articles > The C.S. Lewis Archive > Finding the Permanent in the Political: C. S. Lewis as a Political Thinker
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Many Christians today argue that morality must be founded upon the Bible.
The extent to which this belief holds sway can be seen in the catchwords
Christians use when they become involved in politics; most argue for a return
to "Biblical values," "Christian values," "transcendent
religious truths," or (to use the dominant phrase) "traditional
values" based on the "Judeo--Christian tradition." The terms
differ slightly, but the bottom--line remains the same: The only real source
of morality is Christian revelation.
Lewis was aware of this view, but rejected it. As he wrote in his posthumously
published essay on ethics:
It is often asserted
that the world must return to Christian ethics
in order to preserve civilization
Though I am myself a Christian,
and even a dogmatic Christian untinged with Modernist reservations and committed
to supernaturalism in its full rigour, I find myself quite unable to take
my place beside the upholders of
It is far from my intention to deny that we find in Christian ethics a deepening,
an internalization, a few changes of emphasis in the moral code. But only
serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion
that it is a radically new thing.
Rejecting the notion of a peculiarly "Christian" morality, Lewis
argued for the existence of a natural moral law known by all through human
reason. This natural moral code cannot be escaped; it is the source from
which all moral judgments come. Its fundamental truths--maxims like good
should be done and evil avoided, that caring for others is a good thing,
that dying for a righteous cause is a noble thing--are known independently
of experience. They are grasped in the same way that we know that 2+2=4.
Lewis was certainly not the first to articulate the idea of natural law.
As any good medievalist could tell you, "It's all in Aquinas."
It is also in Paul, Augustine, Cicero, Grotius, Blackstone, and the Declaration
of Independence. But this idea of natural law is precisely what many Christians
reject, even those who cite Lewis. Unintended ironies often result. In an
essay on "Law and Nature" written by one prominent evangelical,
for example, extensive favorable citations of Lewis's Abolition of Man appear
on one page, while this denunciation of natural law appears on another:
"Even if man can treat the so--called natural laws as absolutes for
society and government, the consequence is cruelty to man. Without the reference
point in the Bible, there is no basis to judge which laws of nature are
applicable to government and man. Depending upon the man or elitist group
in power, many different things can be perpetrated and be justified on the
basis of natural law."
Lewis regarded this point of view as the cobelligerent of modern philosophy.
For just as modern philosophy attacked the ability of reason to know an
objective moral law, this sort of Christianity considered reason to be too
corrupted by sin to know objective morality apart from the Bible. Lewis
found this belief disheartening, as he wrote his brother: "Did you
fondly believe --I did--that where you got among Christians, there at least
you would escape from the horrible ferocity and grimness of modern thought?
Not a bit of it. I blundered into it all, imagining that I was the upholder
of the old, stern doctrines against modern quasi--Christian slush; only
to find that my sternness was their slush
. They all talk like Covenanters
or Old Testament prophets. They don't think human reason or human conscience
of any value at all
As far as I know, Lewis never directly addressed the political difficulties
of this rejection of natural law by Christians; yet these difficulties must
be understood in order to fully grasp the importance of Lewis's natural
law teaching for us today.
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