Jul 1, 2017

Mere Morality

As you may have already guessed, the title of this post is a play on one of the most influential and poignant books written in our day, Mere Christianity. I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said, "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." Hence, I am reading Mere Christianity yet again...because my simple mind just can't hold on to that which I've gained by reading it only once.

It's the same reason I continue to read the Holy Scriptures, too, but I digress.



A little backdrop - the book Mere Christianity is divided up into three separate books, which were previously published as separate pamphlets. Prior to that, the contents in these books had been delivered by C.S. Lewis in a series of radio shows produced during World War II while Lewis resided at Oxford.

The first book inside the collection deals with the concepts of "right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe." It is broken down as such: "The Law of Human Nature", "Some Objections," "The Reality of the Law," "What Lies Behind the Law," and "We Have Cause to Be Uneasy."

Book II addresses what Christians believe. Lewis is very intent on (and does an excellent job) keeping to the fundamental beliefs of all Christians...never chasing rabbit trails that define denominations. He sticks to the core beliefs held by (or should be held by) anyone claiming the Name of Christ as his or her Savior.

The final portion, and I would say the last half of the entire book, is spent on "Christian Behavior." Now, I realize we all think we know what constitutes "Christian behavior," but Lewis again wisely avoids attempting to sort out human differences here.

And this is where I want this post to settle in. The first part of this section is entitled, "The Three Parts of Morality." And I believe that many people in this world are simply oblivious to this reality. Most, Lewis would say, are stuck in the first part and never realize the second or third. This is key to understanding why we see what we're seeing in the world that causes an incessant wagging of our heads. We can't understand how humanity got here.

Morality, Lewis points out, is something that, in many people's minds, seems to interfere with one's desire to have a good time. "Don't do this; you MUST do that." We've all had that juvenile mindset at one point or another that says, "I don't want to be religious because I don't want some dude in a dress telling me what to do."

Fair. If that's where it ends, I'm there too. But that's not where it ends.

Battleship Formation Analogy


Lewis explains that "[t]here are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying." In this first instance, Lewis refers to social relations - how we relate to one other. We either hurt one another or drift away from each other, thereby damaging the relationship. He goes on: "The other is when things go wrong inside the individual - when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another." Here he is referring to personal integrity. Damage is incurred when a person does something that he knows is wrong and thwarts his own sense of right. His sense of right is dumbed down, so to speak.

He then goes on to paint the picture of a fleet of ships sailing in formation. "The voyage will be a success," he adds, "if the ships do not collide...and secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order." He points out that these two things necessarily go hand in hand. One cannot remain seaworthy if he keeps running into other ships, and if one's internal life is not working properly, he cannot avoid collisions.

He then notes a third part to this analogy, which is the idea that there is no fleet of ships without a destination and purpose. The fleet wouldn't be a fleet if they weren't all going in the same direction, so there must be a particular destination in mind as well as a Commander to direct the fleet and give the orders. If the fleet had no direction (and thus man has no purpose), then we are all scattered about with no particular place to go.

We don't even see that at the molecular level. An atom has purpose and order. Cells have information and direction. Body parts function under their own set of directions but for the exact same purpose: life. This is something we see at every level of science we have the capacity to study.

Morality, then, follows suit and is involved with three things: harmony between individuals, harmony within the individual, and the general purpose of human life (what man was made for).

Many people, Lewis goes on to point out, get hung up on the first thing (avoiding collisions with others) but neglect the other two. For example, when a man says about something he wants to do, "It can't be wrong because it doesn't do harm to anyone else," he is only thinking of the first thing. It doesn't matter to that man the condition of his personal integrity so long as no one else is hurt by his actions. But this, Lewis says, is a fallacy.

Jesus told the hyper-religious person to clean the inside of the cup first, and the outside would be clean also (see Matthew 23:26). Behavior doesn't dictate character; integrity does. Interestingly, it also dictates behavior.

One of my favorite applications of this that Lewis makes is when he says, "You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual." Truth.

It seems like we could stop there. In fact, over what else could we have any control over our morality? But he does take it a step further, because our thinking about morality must also. The third consideration regarding human morality involves the general purpose of human life (the fleet of ships). Why would this matter in a morality argument?

Let's go back to the man who said that something isn't wrong if it doesn't hurt anyone else. This man believes that as long as he's not damaging other people, what he does to his own ship (personal integrity) is his own business. But doesn't it matter whether or not the ship is his own property or not?

A Naval Commander feels some ownership of his vessel in that he is responsible for its safety and its actions. But does it really belong to him? Of course not; he's a steward. Does this not make a difference? Aren't there certain duties that are required of the Commander simply because he is a steward of the ship that belongs to the Navy rather than it being his own personal cruiser?

This is what is wrong with the thinking in so much of America today. Our culture teaches that "good" really just means being good socially, but it neglects the idea that it involves the inside of the person and the purpose of the person. Seems to me this is a single-dimension view of morality, and it has created a single-dimension view of what is "good."

It's a view of morality that is
Flat
Shallow
Superficial

Not to mention ineffective.

It creates a morally confused culture that is directionless, pointless, addled even. An aimless, purposeless culture raises children to grow up thinking the world revolves around them, and it owes them big-time because there is nothing to temper the worship of SELF. A single-dimension morality never leads a person to be "good" when no one is watching or to do "right" for the sake of doing what is right.

"Christianity asserts that every human being is going to live forever, and this must either be true or false," Lewis reminds us. If it is true, then there are some things that we had better take seriously that wouldn't be a concern if we were to only live seven decades and that's that. If it doesn't make sense to think that we're simply drifting purposelessly with no destination in view, then we should realize that we're a part of a greater plan, and to be a good steward, we need to do our part.

This includes much more than just steering clear of hurting anyone else. In order to effectively do that, it first necessitates living rightly within your own self. How do we understand what that looks like? By understanding who we are in the midst of a purpose outside of ourselves. This is what should drive the outside behaviors that avoid hurting others, not the other way around. Apart from purpose and integrity, we're just cleaning up the outside of the cup while the inside remains unclean, unhealthy, unproductive. 

"But seek first His kingdom {purpose} and His righteousness {integrity} and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33.