In 1943, Former Atheist Illustrates the Moral Law

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 | Labels: , | |

Today we are going to take a step back and into an idea illustrated wonderfully by one of the most well known writers of our time. C.S. Lewis takes a long hard look into what he calls the "Law of Human Nature" that is pressing on all of us whether we like it or not. He shows that our behavior is illustrative of its existence.

"...I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money - the one you have almost forgotten - came when you were very hard up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done - well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister(or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it - and who the dickens am I, anyway?

I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe indecent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much - we feel the Rule or Law pressing on us so - that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves...

...human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly... they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it..."

- C.S. Lewis, 'mere' Christianity , 1943

It is insightful to look upon ones own inner conflicts to learn about themselves. Lewis was quite possibly one of the most astute observers of what goes on in the mind at the time of moral conflicts. As a former atheist, Lewis' deep analysis of himself and his drive to understand morality drove him to believe in a moral law. He goes much deeper into the foundation of this moral law and criticisms against his ideas in his book, if someone is initially inclined to argue with him it would be wise to read his argument in full.

The entire book is available in text format here:

My generation seems sedated to the ideas of morality. The translucent glaze that comes over their eyes when confronted with a morally taxing question, the fear of offending, the fear of being contradicted. It is easier to live within a shell than to exact the idea of morality, or to press beyond the relativism that sedates us into comfort than to sober ourselves with reality. There is a terror to those who have been sedated, to those who have been 'isolated from reality' by media and entertainment that has occured as Edward R. Murrow eloquently warned us it would in 1958.

If we were to become sober, to exact the ideas of morality once again, it is to tell the alcoholic that he is too liberal with drinking. It is to tell the heroine addict he is too liberal with the needle. It is to break ourselves from that which has crutched us our entire lives. This, I implore the reader to realize, is the tragedy of my generation and the tragedy that will result in an inevitable self-inflicted terror upon our society. You see, the alcoholic often does not realize he is addicted until he has near destroyed himself or those around him. The heroine addict often destroys himself even before he realizes his addiction. Which are we? Are we to bring those around us and ourselves to near destruction before we break from our sobering, sedated isolation from reality? Or are we to destroy ourselves before we exact that realization?

There is hope, and that hope is in Jesus Christ alone.

Craig Chamberlin