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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.

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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… do 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."[22]

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'."[23]

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.[24] 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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