C.S. Lewis and the problem of moral relativism

by Daniel Thejus (bobby)

We all have some idea of right and wrong. From the time we are kids and as we attempt to ‘grow up’ we demand for justice- that’s my sharpener, don’t steal it; that’s my girlfriend, don’t flirt with her; that’s my son, don’t mess with him; that’s my car, you better pay for ramming into it; that’s my walking stick, don’t use it as fire wood; that’s my epitaph, don’t copy it. Somewhere inherently we desire and crave for justice- right and wrong. Everyone say such things regardless of their social, economical or physical status or stature. “Whenever you find a man who says he doesn’t believe in a real right and wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He will break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he’ll be complaining ‘it’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson.”- C.S. Lewis.

We assume a law for human nature -of decent behavior or moral laws, like the law of gravitation. When Mr. Folly decides to defy the law of gravity and jumps off a high-raised building, without a parachute, he is sure to have his body or head cracked. And if Mr. Phony decides to underestimate the moral law, he will have his mind and emotions become senseless, depressed and then mad. Like Stanley Jones says, if sin has its kicks, you have to be prepared for its kick-back. And only mad people are capable of being insensitive to their surroundings.

According to Kant’s categorical imperatives, one has to ask himself whether his action (suicide, laziness, murder, cheating etc…) can be made a universal law which everyone can follow. Most sane people will agree that it’s not possible to universalize ‘vice’, but rapists and murderers don’t seem to think on those lines. And some don’t even mind being killed after they have murdered, like in the recent shoot outs where the murderer kills himself. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you!

The moral law or law of human nature, is not simply a fact about human behavior in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is… on the other hand, it’s not a mere fancy, for we can’t get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did. And it’s not simply a statement about how we should like other men to behave for our own convenience; for the behavior we call bad or unfair isn’t exactly the same as the behavior we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite. Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing – a thing that’s really there, not made up by ourselves.(C.S.L)

Nietzsche defined values in the plural form, suggesting moral values of a particular society or of a particular person, a new kind of human being who judges right and wrong on the basis of what is good and injurious to him. A selfish man with a selfish gene; here old and impaired people don’t deserve to live. We have witnessed this logical outworking in Hitler’s life and in some of us as well- When we disregard those who don’t match up to our standards.

Today it isn’t very strange to hear people (like Nietzsche) say, , ‘each individual has to decide what is right and wrong from within his culture or community and different cultures have different moralities. To this C.S Lewis says “But they haven’t. They have only had slightly different moralities” he goes on to say, “Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud for double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to – whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you oughtn’t to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you mustn’t simply have any woman you liked.”

And when it comes to instincts he contends that instinct prompts us to do good- mothers love, the instinct for sex and food. But when we, for instance, see a child crying in a park, “You will probably feel two desires- one a desire to give up (due to your herd instinct), and the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct of self preservation).” He goes on to say that there is a “[third impulse or thing] which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help and suppress the impulse to walk away.” Read Luke 10:25-37

This third impulse that prompts us to do the right thing, we call goodness or right conduct- the law of right behavior- the moral law and this moral law stems from the framework of a personal God.

– Bobby Thejus


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