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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Right and Wrong As a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis


Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning to the Universe does the most important thing a title should do: convey substance at a glance in an interesting, engaging way.  Mere Christianity consists of four books:
  • Book 1.  Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe 
  • Book 2.  What Christians Believe 
  • Book 3.  Christian Behaviour 
  • Book 4.  Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
The Context of World War
Since each book grew out of a series of wartime radio broadcasts, that first one was all important for catching and holding attention.  It succeeded.  Actually, that is an understatement: "RAF [Royal Air Force] officer John Lawler was in the officers' mess when someone had ordered a drink.  The radio was on and Lewis came on the air as the barman was about to hand the drink back.  'Suddenly everyone just froze listening to this extraordinary voice.  And what he had to say.  And finally they end up and there was the barman with his arm still up there and the other man still waiting for his drink.  And they all forgot it, so riveting was that'" (C.S. Lewis in a Time of War by Justin Phillips, a BBC journalist here citing an interview).  The officer, the bartender, and everyone else in that room had their priorities right.

So what does Lewis say in Book 1, Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature? "Every one has heard people quarreling.... They say things like this: 'How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?''That's my seat, I was there first''Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm''Why should you shove in first?''Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine''Come on, you promised.'  People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups."

"Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him.  He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about.... Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.... No sense trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are.... When the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong 'the Law of Nature', they really meant the Law of Human Nature ... but a man could choose either to obey ... or disobey it," unlike other laws of nature, such as gravity.





"Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.  He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, 'It's not fair!'... We are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong.  People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.... My next point: None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. ... [We] know the Law of Nature; [we] break it.  These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in."  My sister got as far as that concluding paragraph and said, "I see where the author is going and I do NOT want to go there!"  That was around 1980, however, and I gave her another copy of Mere Christianity fairly recently that she graciously received so am hopeful that she (and many others) will go on the full journey to a joyful end.

Highlights from chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature, book 1: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Click here for a clear view of how this chapter relates to the whole book.

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