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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.[18]

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 …[this] view…

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.[19]

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."[20]

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…."[21]

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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