Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 1 (Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe; Chapter 1 (The Law of Human Nature)

Lewis' Natural Law

In Book 1, Chapter 1 Lewis discusses very briefly (a 'mere' four pages) his views on Natural Law.  While I am not one to argue with Lewis (the man was brilliant), and I acknowledge he does an adequate job presenting the topic of Natural Law, there are a few points of his which I would care to clarify.

Lewis first begins with an example of two people arguing.  He states that when two such people argue over matters of broken promises, due reciprocity, or rights (basically, matters of justice ), they are actually appealing to some sort of "unspoken" but commonly understood code of behavior. A Law of Behavior.  In fact, he states that the act of quarreling in itself, being an attempt to prove the other wrong, is evidence of an underlying knowledge of right and wrong--an element of NL.

Here lies my first contention with Lewis.  Perhaps it's just my postmodern upbringing, but I don't feel that Lewis does an adequate job in "proving" Natural Law.  Please, don't misunderstand, I am an advocate for NL, and whole-heartedly believe in its existence, but to merely use the example of arguing as substantial evidence is not enough, any relativist could say, "well just because I think I'm right and he's wrong doesn't mean that there is an absoluteness in it, just that we hold differing opinions or different truths".  But perhaps relativism wasn't quite as big of a problem in Lewis' days as it is now.  Or perhaps Lewis isn't going to try to twist your arm to believe--he'll give you the evidence and if you accept it great, if not, your loss.  Relativism itself is a rather absurd paradigm, seldom worth attacking.  Perhaps Lewis felt the same.

My next disagreement with Lewis arises from his definition of Natural Law.  He states the law is "Human Nature", because 1) humans alone are subject to it, 2) It is the only law which humans can choose to disobey, and 3) it is inherently known by humans as part of their nature.  The first point is where I disagree--Lewis is not clear enough here. Natural Law is not something that occurs "willy-nilly", but rather is the rational being's participation in divine law (Aquinas).  Hence, Angels and Demons are also subject to NL.  That fact however, is not really important.  What is important is that Lewis seems to glance over the fact that Natural Law comes from God, and is the means by which we are guided to our natural end.  Yes, it is, in a sense, a system of ethics or morality, but more importantly, it is the manifestation of our relationship with an infinite being and our thirst for Him.  I support the other two claims of Lewis concerning definition of Natural Law.

Lewis ends by claiming two simple points.  1) We know the Law, and 2) We do not obey the law.  These are simple statements with profound complications.  Implied by these two statements is the fall and the human condition, nearly half of salvation history condensed into one idea--we know, yet we do not obey.  It is perhaps this idea that will aid Lewis in his future arguments, and it is this idea that rings most true in this entire chapter.

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