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Mere Christianity - Book Three - Social Morality

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Spirit/e—Mere Christianity

2009. 8. 29.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Three

 

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR

 

 

    3. Social Morality


     The first  thing to get clear about Christian morality  between man and
man is that in this department Christ did  not come to preach  any brand new
morality.  The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by)
is  a summing  up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right.
Really great moral teachers  never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks
and  cranks  who do that. As  Dr. Johnson  said, "People need to be reminded
more often  than they  need  to be  instructed." The real job of every moral
teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after  time,  to the old simple
principles  which we  are all so anxious not to see; like bringing  a  horse
back and back to the fence it has refused to jump  or bringing a  child back
and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.


     The second thing  to get clear is that  Christianity has not, and  does
not profess to have, a detailed political programme  for applying "Do as you
would be done by" to  a particular society at a particular moment. It  could
not have. It is meant for all  men at all times and the particular programme
which suited one place or time would not suit another. And,  anyhow, that is
not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not
give  you lessons in cookery. When it  tells you  to  read the Scriptures it
does  not give you lessons  in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar.
It was never  intended to replace or supersede the  ordinary human  arts and
sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs,
and a source of energy which will give them all  new life, if only they will
put themselves at its disposal.


     People say, "The Church ought to give us a  lead." That is true if they
mean it in the right way, but false if they mean it in the wrong way. By the
Church they ought to mean the whole body of practising Christians. And  when
they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some
Christians- those who happen to have the right talents- should be economists
and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should  be  Christians,
and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to
putting "Do as  you would be done by" into action. If  that happened, and if
we  others were really ready to take it, then  we should  find the Christian
solution for our own social problems pretty quickly.  But,  of  course, when
they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to
put  out  a  political  programme.  That  is  silly.  The clergy  are  those
particular people within the whole Church  who have  been  specially trained
and set aside to look after what concerns us as  creatures who  are going to
live for ever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for  which
they  have not been trained. The job  is  really on us, on the  laymen.  The
application of Christian  principles,  say, to  trade unionism or education,
must come from Christian trade unionists  and Christian schoolmasters:  just
as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and  dramatists  -not
from  the bench of bishops  getting together  and trying  to write plays and
novels in their spare time.


     All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a
pretty clear  hint of what a  fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps
it gives  us  more than we  can  take. It tells us  that there  are to be no
passengers  or parasites: if  man does not work, he ought not to  eat. Every
one is to work with his own hands, and what  is more, every one's work is to
produce something good: there will be no manufacture  of silly  luxuries and
then  of sillier advertisements  to persuade us to buy them. And there is to
be no "swank" or "side," no putting  on  airs. To that  extent  a  Christian
society would  be what  we now call Leftist. on the other hand, it is always
insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks  of respect) from all of
us  to properly appointed magistrates, from  children to parents, and  (I am
afraid this is going  to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly,
it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding
worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the
New Testament hates what it calls "busybodies."


     If there were such  a society in existence  and you  or I visited it, I
think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its
economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, "advanced,"  but that
its  family life and its code of  manners were  rather old-fashioned-perhaps
even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of  us  would like some bits  of it,
but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what
one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We
have  all departed  from that total plan  in different ways, and each  of us
wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan
itself. You will find  this  again  and again about anything that  is really
Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it  and wants to pick out those
bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is
why people who are  fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are
fighting for Christianity.


     Now another  point.  There is one  bit of  advice given to  us  by  the
ancient heathen Greeks,  and  by the Jews in  the Old Testament, and  by the
great Christian  teachers of  the  Middle  Ages, which  the  modern economic
system has  completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money
at  interest: and lending money at  interest-what we call  investment-is the
basis of  our  whole system. Now it may  not  absolutely  follow that we are
wrong.  Some  people say that  when  Moses and Aristotle and the  Christians
agreed in forbidding interest (or "usury" as they called it), they could not
foresee the  joint  stock  company,  and were  only dunking of  the  private
moneylender,  and that, therefore,  we need not bother about what they said.
That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do
not know whether the investment system is  responsible for the state  we are
in  or  not This is where we  want the Christian economist But I should  not
have been honest if I  had not  told you that three  great civilisations had
agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which
we have based our whole life.


     one more  point and I am done.  In the passage where the  New Testament
says  that every one must work, it gives  as  a reason "in order that he may
have something to give to those in need." Charity-giving  to the poor-is  an
essential part  of Christian morality: in the  frightening  parable  of  the
sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some
people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of
giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no
poor to  give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce
that kind of society. But if anyone  thinks that, as a consequence,  you can
stop  giving in the meantime, then he has  parted company with all Christian
morality.  I do not believe one can  settle how much we ought to  give. I am
afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,
if our expenditure  on comforts, luxuries, amusements,  etc,  is  up to  the
standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably
giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I
should say they are too small There ought  to be things we should like to do
and  cannot  do  because  our charitable  expenditure  excludes them.  I  am
speaking now of "charities" in the common  way. Particular cases of distress
among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it
were, forces upon your notice, may demand  much more: even to the  crippling
and endangering of  your  own position. For many of us the great obstacle to
charity lies not in  our luxurious living  or desire for more money, but  in
our fear-fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a  temptation.
Sometimes our  pride also hinders our charity; we are  tempted to spend more
than we ought  on the showy forms  of generosity (tipping, hospitality)  and
less than we ought on those who really need our help.


     And now, before  I end, I am going to venture on a guess as to how this
section  has  affected any who have  read it My guess is that there are some
Leftist people among them who are very angry that it has not gone further in
that direction, and some people of an opposite sort who  are  angry  because
they think  it has gone much too far. If so, that brings us right up against
the  real snag in all this drawing up of blueprints for a Christian society.
Most of us are not really approaching  the subject in order to find out what
Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from
Christianity  for  the  views of our own  party. We are looking for  an ally
where we are offered either a Master  or-a Judge. I am just the same.  There
are bits in this section that I wanted to leave out. And that is why nothing
whatever  is  going  to come of such talks unless we  go a  much longer  way
round.  A Christian  society  is not going to arrive until most of us really
want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.  I
may repeat "Do as you would be done by"  till I am black in the  face, but I
cannot really carry it out till I love  my neighbour as myself: and I cannot
learn to love my  neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot
learn to love God except by learning  to obey Him. And so,  as I warned you,
we are driven on to  something more inward -driven on from social matters to
religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.

 

 

 

 

A discussion of morality between man and man and what a society would be like if it were completely Christian.

  1. Lewis states that Christ did not preach anything new in regards to morality. The real job of every moral teacher is...?
  2. Why can Christianity not have a political program to apply the golden rule to a particular society at a particular time?
  3. "The Church ought to give us a lead" is a legitimate statement if by Church we mean...?
  4. Lewis speculates that if we were to visit a Christian society, we would come away with a curious impression. What is this curious impression?
  5. Lewis states that three great civilizations have condemned the very thing we have based ours on. What were the three civilizations and what is the thing they have condemned?
  6. Lewis states that charity (giving to the poor) is an essential part of Christianity. How can we gage our level of charity according to Lewis?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. ... Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that. ... The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk. The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program for applying 'Do as you would be done by' to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

What do we mean by The Church ought to take the lead in making a "Christian society?"

  • The right ways:
    • Christians with the talents to be economists and statesmen should be Christ-centered economists and statesmen.
    • We should all use the gifts and talents we have in a Christ-centered way to benefit and lead all of society.
  • The wrong way
    • It's not up to the preachers and clergy.
    • Clergy should not be presenting a political program. They should be tending to the needs of the flock.
    • A 'bench of bishops' producing "Christian" novels and plays in their spare time would result in some of the worst novels and plays. Those should be produced by novelists and dramatists who are gifted and Christ-centered in their work.
  • The New Testament gives us an idea of what a fully Christian society would look like:
    • Economically "Leftist"
      • no passengers or parasites
      • no production of "silly luxuries" and "sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them."
      • "no 'swank' or 'side,' no putting on airs."
      • generous
    • Socially "Puritan"
      • Family-oriented, ceremonial, aristocratic
      • obedience and respect toward government/magistrates, children to parents, wives to husbands (doh!)
    • Cheerful (!)
      • full of singing and rejoicing
      • full of music and dancing
      • anxiety and worry would be regarded as wrong. (!)
      • courteous
      • no busybodies or gossip. (!)
    • 'Usury' -- no lending of money at interest... which is what our entire economic system is based on. (!)
      • Moses, Aristotle and Christians (Bible authors) all condemn it.
      • This is a real problem, and easily rationalized by modern Christians.... is that rationalization right? lewis even squirms around on this point.
    • Every one must work (!)
      • "Let the thief steal no more, but rather let him be industrious, making an honest living with his own hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need." (Ephesians 4:27-29 (Amplified Bible))
      • Be generous
      • I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,' if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of 'charities' in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear--fear of insecurity.

Lewis ventures to speculate on the readers reaction, and I'm inclined to agree with him... because he pretty much nailed my reaction....

Most of us are not really approaching. the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or--a Judge. ... A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat 'Do as you would he done by' till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And. so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward--driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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