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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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Viewed in this way, it does not matter that Romans is the only place where Paul explicitly delineates the natural law for the Gentiles, because the need for a natural law is presupposed by the very preaching of the gospel of repentance to anyone who is not a Jew. As Lewis noted in his essay on ethics: "The convert accept[s]… forgiveness of sins. But of sins against what Law? Some new law promulgated by the Christians? But that is nonsensical. It would be the mockery of a tyrant to forgive a man for doing what had never been forbidden until the very moment at which the forgiveness was announced…Essentially, Christianity is not the promulgation of a moral discovery. It is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law."[25]

Lewis made this same argument somewhat more fully in The Problem of Pain.[26]

Lest one think that I am overstating the case for natural law, let me present a caveat: Natural law provides a basis for Christians to enter politics, but it does not provide simple--minded solutions to specific political problems. Nor did Lewis claim that it would--nor for that matter has any other thinker within the natural law tradition. As Lewis more than once explained (echoing Aristotle's Ethics): "[M]oral decisions do not admit of mathematical certainty."[27] Natural law only supplies general moral precepts; prudence is required to correctly apply those precepts in particular situations. Hence there is always the chance that one's political decision will be wrong.[28]

Contrary to those Christians who reject natural law, however, this problem of uncertainty cannot be solved by replacing the law of nature with the law of revelation as expressed in the Bible. The Bible rarely gives particular advice on specific political issues. It does not tell us whether to build nuclear missiles or invade Panama; it does not inform us what type of social programs to enact, if any; it does not guide us in our choice of the best tax system. The Bible invariably requires interpretation if it is to be used as a political guidebook, and interpretation opens the door for misconstruction. The Bible is infallible; but its interpreters are not. So the Bible can be abused and misused as much as natural law.

Now I am not arguing--and I know Lewis would not argue--that the Bible has no role in the area of morality. But in a society that is not a theocracy the Bible can never be the only standard of morality. The Christians who lived during the American Founding recognized this fact, and their political rhetoric was fashioned accordingly. They spoke regularly of the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" and of acting in accord with both "reason and revelation." They saw natural law as the necessary meeting point for citizens of all religious beliefs.[29] Like the early American Christians, Lewis recognized the inescapable need for natural law. Christians today would do well to heed his advice.

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