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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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The problem with tying all morality to the Bible is that it implies that
those who don't believe in the Bible cannot really be good citizens. After
all, if only believers can have access to true morality through the Bible,
perhaps only they can be trusted to make the laws. What has been called
the theological--political problem resurfaces with a vengeance, for in this
situation there exists no common ground on which believers and non--believers
can meet for debate and joint action in the political arena. The natural
law rescues us from this quagmire by articulating a morality shared by believer
and unbeliever alike.
This is not to say that the only justification for natural law is political.
The overarching reason for Christians to believe in natural law is because
it is demanded by revelation itself. Lewis knew this with full force, but
before examining his comments we would do well to refer to the Apostle Paul.
In chapter two of Romans, Paul argues that "when Gentiles
by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even
though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of
the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness,
and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."
Now according to Paul, the Gentiles have a knowledge of morality even without
having Old Testament revelation. They do that which is right "by nature."
That "by nature" does not mean "by instinct" here is
clear from the context, for Paul goes on to describe the process by which
the Gentiles come to moral knowledge "by nature"--and the process
is a rational one. It consists of the inner mental dialogue of the conscience
with "thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Nor does
Paul diminish the rationality of this knowledge by the phrase "written
on [or 'in'] their hearts." As Lewis argued in The Discarded Image,
Paul's statement here is in complete harmony with the ancient view that
morality is dictated by "right reason"--and more particularly,
with the Stoic conception of natural law: "The Stoics believed in a
Natural Law which all rational men, in virtue of their rationality, saw
to be binding on them. St. Paul['s]
statement in Romans (ii 14 sq.)
that there is a law 'written in the hearts' even of Gentiles who do not
know 'the law' is in full conformity with the Stoic conception, and would
for centuries be so understood. Nor, during those centuries, would the word
hearts have had merely emotional associations. The Hebrew word which St.
Paul represents by kardia would be more nearly translated 'Mind'."
Though Romans 2:14--15 is the single explicit reference in the New Testament
to natural law theory, its importance should not be minimized on that account.
For it is the context in which this reference to natural law appears that
shows us its true importance, not the absence of other references to natural
law in the Bible. In the immediate context of the passage, Paul is trying
to explain how a just God can condemn wicked Gentiles who have not had the
benefit of the Mosaic law. Paul argues that the Gentiles have "no excuse"
because they themselves recognize the substance of the moral law by nature.
In other words, the natural law allows God to justly condemn wicked Gentiles.
In the broader context of Pauline theology, the necessity of a natural law
becomes even more evident once one focuses on the proper function of Old
Testament law. Paul emphasized that Old Testament law was worthless as a
method to save people from their sins because no one could ever hope to
perfectly fulfill it. All the Old Testament law did was to make the Jews
conscious of sin so that they would know that they needed a savior; the
law demonstrated their need for repentance before God. But
Christ died to save Gentiles as well as Jews. Because God never promulgated
the moral law to them through revelation, Gentiles must have been conscious
of their sin through some other route, or they never would have known of
their need to repent. This "other route" is natural law. Without
it, the Gentiles could not repent and be saved.
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