Friday, November 25, 2005

Notes on The First Two Chapters of Mere Christianity

Book I: Right and Wrong as the Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

I. General Considerations:
A. Mere Christianity is a work in Christian apologetics. It attempts to show that a rational person can and should be a Christian believer. In response to the view that Christianity requires “blind faith” Lewis responds by saying “I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reason tells him the weight of the evidence is against it. This is not where faith comes in.”
B. This is not a book for experts. Lewis says that he is attempting to “translate” Christian theology into the language of non-specialists. In fact he says that if you can’t explain it in terms that non-specialists can understand, you don’t really understand it yourself. This book, in fact, was a series of talks given over the radio during WWII.
C. Lewis is concerned that modern people, coming to Christianity, very often lack much of any idea of what it is they need to be saved from. He thinks Christianity does not make sense unless people have a sense of themselves as sinners.
D. Although what he presents is known as the moral argument for belief in the existence of God, its goal is also directed not so much toward atheists as common people who may have some belief in God but do not think that they need to be saved by Christ.
II. Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
A. What is “The Law of Human Nature?” How does it differ from a) the speed limit, and b) the law of gravity?
B. Lewis says the phenomenon of quarreling implies that people implicitly believe in the Law of Human Nature, whether they think they do or not. That is, they criticize others for acting wrongly, and when they are themselves criticized for acting wrongly, they respond in ways that acknowledge the standard of right and wrong. That is, either they excuse their actions, or they say that their actions really meet the standards set by the law, etc. They do not typically refuse to acknowledge the law itself.
C. At this point Lewis poses the question of moral relativism. What Lewis is defending here is a doctrine opposed to the doctrine of moral relativism, or moral subjectivism, according to which something is right or wrong not absolutely, but only relative to a particular individual or culture’s preference. Depending on what version of relativism you are talking about, moral judgments are not simply true or false, they are true or false relative to what some individual or society prefers. The relativist position goes back to Protagoras from Ancient Greece, who said, “Man is the measure of all things." Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle opposed relativism, and said that moral judgments can be objectively true or false.
1. Is this relativist point of view something you hear a lot in today’s world? Do you have any tendency in your own mind to accept it yourself? I find that people will defend this position in the interests of tolerance. But, of course, tolerance is a true value only if there are objective moral values.
D. Do people have different moralities, which are true for them? Yes, but a study of different moral codes from different times and countries show an underlying similarity.
E. Consider, for example the abortion controversy. (The example is mine, not Lewis’s) This seems on the face of things to show how deep and irresolvable our ethical differences are, but really this is false. You never hear pro-life people saying that the quality of life is not a value, and you never hear pro-choice people saying that human life is not valuable. The combatants in this controversy agree on the basic values; what they disagree about is how they apply to the case of human fetuses, and whether quality of life considerations ever “trump” the value of life.
F. The second claim Lewis makes is that human beings do not live up to the moral standards that they themselves believe in.
III. Chapter 2: Some Objections:
A. Is the moral law just herd instinct?
1. Lewis says that the moral law is not just an instinct, it is something that adjudicates between instincts and tells us which one to obey.
B. Isn’t the Law of Human Nature just social convention?
1. The differences of morality are not all that great
2. When we think of moral differences, we think that the morality of one people is better than another.
3. Some people are “pioneers” who have a better sense of the moral law than other people
a. Examples (mine, not his) Gandhi, King, Wilberforce, etc.
b. To say that laws are most just today with regard to race than they were 50 years ago implies that there is a standard of right and wrong according to which both today’s laws and laws 50 years ago are to be judged.

1 comment:

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor -- do you know of any text that claims to explicitly display the logical structure of Lewis's moral argument for God's existence?