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Mere Christianity - Book Three - The Three Parts Of Morality

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Spirit/e—Mere Christianity

2009. 8. 15.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Three

 

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR

 

 

 

    1. The Three Parts Of Morality



     There is a story about a  schoolboy  who was asked what he  thought God
was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was "The sort of
person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and
then trying to stop it." And I am  afraid that is the sort of idea  that the
word  Morality  raises  in  a  good  many  people's  minds:  something  that
interferes, something that stops you having a good time.  In  reality, moral
rules  are  directions for running the human machine.  Every  moral  rule is
there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a  friction, in the running of
that  machine. That  is why  these  rules at  first  seem to  be  constantly
interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are  being taught how to
use any  machine,  the  instructor keeps on saying,  "No, don't do  it  like
that," because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right
and seem to you the natural way  of treating the machine, but do not  really
work.


     Some people prefer to talk about moral "ideals" rather than moral rules
and  about  moral  "idealism" rather  than  moral  obedience. Now it  is, of
course, quite true that  moral perfection is an "ideal" in the sense that we
cannot achieve it. In that sense every kind of perfection is, for us humans,
an ideal; we cannot succeed in  being perfect car  drivers or perfect tennis
players or in drawing perfectly  straight  lines. But there is another sense
in which it is very misleading to call moral perfection an ideal. When a man
says that a certain  woman, or  house, or ship, or garden  is "his ideal" he
does not mean (unless he  is rather a fool) that everyone else ought to have
the same  ideal. In such  matters we are entitled  to have different  tastes
and, therefore, different ideals. But it is dangerous to describe a  man who
tries  very hard to  keep the moral law as a  "man of  high ideals," because
this might lead you to think  that  moral perfection was  a private taste of
his own  and that the rest of us were not called on to  share it. This would
be a disastrous mistake. Perfect behaviour may be as unattainable as perfect
gear-changing when we  drive; but it is a necessary ideal prescribed for all
men by the very nature of the human machine just as perfect gear-changing is
an ideal prescribed for all drivers by the very nature of cars. And it would
be  even  more  dangerous  to think of oneself as a person "of high  ideals"
because one is trying to tell no lies at all (instead of only a few lies) or
never to commit adultery (instead of committing it only seldom) or not to be
a  bully (instead  of  being  only a moderate bully). It  might lead  you to
become a prig and to  think you were rather a special person who deserved to
be congratulated on his "idealism." In reality you might just as well expect
to  be congratulated because, whenever you do a sum, you try to get it quite
right. To be sure, perfect arithmetic is "an ideal"; you will certainly make
some mistakes in  some calculations.  But there  is nothing very fine  about
trying  to be quite accurate  at each step in each sum. It would be  idiotic
not to try; for every mistake is going to cause you trouble later on. In the
same  way every moral failure is going  to cause trouble, probably to others
and certainly to yourself. By talking about rules  and obedience instead  of
"ideals" and "idealism" we help to remind ourselves of these facts.


     Now  let us go  a step further. There  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. 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. You can
get  the  idea  plain  if  you  think of us as a fleet of  ships sailing  in
formation.  The  voyage  will  be a success only, in the first place, if the
ships  do not  collide and  get in one another's way; and, secondly, if each
ship is seaworthy  and has her  engines in good order. As a  matter of fact,
you cannot have either of  these two things without the other. If the  ships
keep on  having collisions  they will not remain seaworthy very long. on the
other hand, if their  steering gears are out of order they will not be  able
to avoid collisions.  Or, if you like, think of humanity as a band playing a
tune. To get a good result,  you need two things.  Each player's  individual
instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so
as to combine with all the others.


     But there is one thing  we have not yet taken into account. We have not
asked where the fleet is  trying to get to,  or what piece of music the band
is trying to play. The  instruments might  be all in tune and might all come
in  at the right moment, but even so the performance  would not be a success
if they had been engaged  to provide dance music and actually played nothing
but Dead Marches.  And however  well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a
failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta.
     Morality, then, seems to  be concerned with three things. Firstly, with
fair play  and  harmony between  individuals.  Secondly, with what  might be
called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly,
with the  general purpose of human life as a whole: what man  was  made for:
what course the whole  fleet ought to  be on: what tune the conductor of the
band wants it to play.


     You  may have  noticed  that  modern people are nearly always  thinking
about  the first thing  and forgetting the other two. When people say in the
newspapers that we  are striving for Christian moral standards, they usually
mean that we are striving  for kindness and fair play  between  nations, and
classes,  and individuals; that  is, they are thinking  only  of  the  first
thing. When a man says  about  something he wants to do, "It can't  be wrong
because  it doesn't do anyone else any  harm,"  he is thinking only  of  the
first thing. He is thinking it does not matter what his  ship is like inside
provided that he does not run  into the  next ship. And it is quite natural,
when we start thinking about morality, to begin  with the first  thing, with
social relations. For one thing, the results of  bad morality in that sphere
are so obvious and press on us every day: war and poverty and graft and lies
and shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is
very little disagreement about morality. Almost all people at all times have
agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful
to  one another. But  though it  is natural to begin with all  that, if  our
thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not  have thought
at all. Unless we go on to the second thing-the tidying up inside each human
being-we are only deceiving ourselves.


     What  is the good of telling  the ships how to  steer  so as  to  avoid
collisions if, in fact, they  are such  crazy old tubs  that  they cannot be
steered at  all? What is the good of drawing  up, on paper, rules for social
behaviour, if  we know that, in fact,  our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and
self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them?  I do not mean for a
moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our
social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be
mere  moonshine  unless  we  realise  that   nothing  but  the  courage  and
unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly.
It is easy enough  to remove the particular  kinds of graft or bullying that
go on under  the present system: but as  long as men are twisters or bullies
they will  find  some new way  of carrying  on the old  game  under the  new
system. 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.


     But I do not think we can stop there either. We are now  getting to the
point  at which  different beliefs  about  the universe  lead  to  different
behaviour.  And it would seem, at first sight,  very sensible to stop before
we got  there, and  just  carry  on  with those parts of morality  that  all
sensible people agree about. But can  we? Remember  that religion involves a
series  of statements  about  facts,  which must be either true or false. If
they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of
the human fleet: if  they are false, quite a different set. For example, let
us go back to the man who says that a thing cannot be wrong unless it  hurts
some other  human being.  He quite understands  that he must not damage  the
other ships in the  convoy, but he honestly thinks that  what he does to his
own ship is simply his own business. But does it not make a great difference
whether his ship is his  own  property or not?  Does it  not  make  a  great
difference whether I am, so to speak, the landlord of  my own mind and body,
or only a tenant, responsible  to the real  landlord? If  somebody else made
me, for his own purposes, then I  shall have a lot of duties which I  should
not have if I simply belonged to myself.


     Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human  being is going
to live  for ever, and this must  be either true or false.  Now there are  a
good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to
live only seventy years, but which I  had better bother about very seriously
if  I am going to live  for ever. Perhaps my  bad temper or my  jealousy are
gradually  getting  worse -so gradually  that the increase  in seventy years
will  not  be very noticeable. But it might be  absolute  hell  in a million
years:  in  fact, if  Christianity  is true, Hell is the  precisely  correct
technical  term  for what it  would  be.  And  immortality makes this  other
difference, which, by the by, has  a connection with the difference  between
totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live  only seventy years, then
a  state, or a nation, or  a  civilisation,  which  may last for a  thousand
years,  is more important than an  individual. But if Christianity is  true,
then  the individual  is  not  only  more  important  but incomparably  more
important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a  civilisation,
compared with his, is only a moment.


     It seems, then, that if we are to think  about  morality, we must think
of all three departments: relations  between man and man: things inside each
man: and relations between man and  the power that  made  him.  We  can  all
cooperate in  the first  one. Disagreements begin with the second and become
serious with the third.  It  is  in dealing  with  the third that  the  main
differences between Christian  and non-Christian morality come  out. For the
rest of this book I am going to assume the Christian point of view, and look
at the whole picture as it will be if Christianity is true.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis proposes three concerns of morality

  1. Fair play and harmony between individuals. According Lewis' ship analogy, why is it not useful to stop with the first concern of morality?
  2. Harmonizing the things inside each individual. How is the second morality achieved? What causes differences between people in regards to the second concern of morality?
  3. The general purpose of human life as a whole. Why is the idea "as long as I don't hurt others, what I do is OK", a non-Christian philosophy?

 

 

 

There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was 'the sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it'.

How morals seem:

  • they seem to be interferences... annoyances. To keep us from enjoying ourselves.

How morals work:

  • directions for running the human machine
  • prevent breakdowns, strains, friction in the running of that machine.

That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, 'No, don't do it like that,' because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.

For some people it's easier to talk about moral 'ideals' or moral 'idealism' than about moral obedience.

  • It is true that moral perfection in impossible, and that in that sense, it is an 'ideal.' In that sense, any kind of perfection is 'ideal' for humans - driving, tennis, drawing straight lines.
  • Moral 'ideals,' are not like and ideal house, or room mate, or car. For moral ideals, there is only one.

Perfect behavior may be as unattainable as perfect gear-changing when we drive; but it is a necessary ideal prescribed for all men by the very nature of the human machine just as perfect gear-changing is an ideal prescribed for all drivers by the very nature of cars. And it would be even more dangerous to think of oneself as a person 'of high ideals' because one is trying to tell no lies at all (instead of only a few lies) or never to commit adultery (instead of committing it only seldom) or not to he a bully (instead of being only a moderate bully). It might lead you to become a prig and to think you were rather a special person who deserved to be congratulated on his 'idealism'. In reality you might just as well expect to be congratulated because, whenever you do a sum, you try to get it quite right. To be sure, perfect arithmetic is 'an ideal'; you will certainly make some mistakes in some calculations. But there is nothing very fine about trying to be quite accurate at each step in each sum. It would be idiotic not to try; for every mistake is going to cause you trouble later on. In the same way every moral failure is going to cause trouble, probably to others and certainly to yourself. By talking about rules and obedience instead of 'ideals' and 'idealism' we help to remind ourselves of these facts.

There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong:

  • Interactions between people, i.e. drifting apart from one another or colliding with one another and causing damage to each other:
    • cheating
    • bullying
    • etc
  • things that go wrong inside individuals "when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another," causing internal damage.

It is like a fleet of ships.

  • The ships must take care not to run into each other, or get in each others way
  • The ships must remain internally seaworthy, water tight and in good working condition
  • Both are required
    • Ships that collide and even scrape into each other will not remain seaworthy.
    • Ships that are not internally maintained will not be able to avoid collisions and otherwise interfering with each other.
  • Another analogy is a band -- everyone has to be playing the same tune in the same time.
  • None of this takes into account the destination of the fleet of ships or the piece of music the band is playing.

Morality seems to cover three primary things:

  • Fair play and harmony between individuals
  • Internal maintenance of each individual.
  • The general purpose of mankind. (destination of fleet, music for band)

Most people want to stop after the first thing -- fair play, kindness, etc. "As long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." "It's a victimless crime." etc.

But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing - the tidying up inside each human being - we are only deceiving ourselves.

  • what good it is to set sail a fleet if they ships are such wrecks they can't help but destroy each other?
  • what good is a set of rules for how to treat people if they are corrupted with "greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit" and cant keep the rules anyway?

This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make improvements in our social and economic systems, but any attempt is wasted effort if we're not willing to try to make people who can keep up those systems.

You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.

So, we're forced to talk about the morality inside the individual:

  • We have to consider who is the owner of the "ship" or the person.
    • If the individual is the owner of his own "ship" (body), it his business.
    • Christianity asserts that we are not our own, but the Lords!
    • Compound this with the fact that Christianity clearly states that the years we live in this body are only the first phase. We (those who are in Christ) will live forever, and we should think about how our behavior will impact that eternity.

It seems, then, that if we are to think about morality, we must think of all three departments: relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him. We can all co-operate in the first one. Disagreements begin with the second and become serious with the third. It is dealing with the third that the main differences between Christian and non-Christian morality come out. For the rest of this book I am going to assume the Christian point of view, and look at the whole picture as it will be if Christianity is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt 

http://www.opendiscipleship.org/Mere_Christianity_leaders_notes

http://www.gordy-stith.com/Mere%20Christianity/mere_christianity_study_guide.htm