Cause for Concern


I have long been fascinated by the prospect that there exists a higher power, or dominant rule, to which all human beings are subject. This higher power exists whether or not we believe in it, and it provides us with what some have called the Natural Law, or the Moral Law. It is - as C.S. Lewis writes - a real law, which we did not invent, which we find pressing down on all human beings, that provides us with a conscience and a greater moral good. Now this is interesting, and we could certainly spend an entire night debating whether this greater moral directive was discovered, or merely taught; but I think there is something even more interesting going on here.

Take for instance the following fictional example, which I think will help us see the point I am trying to make. Let's say that I am debating whether or not Moral Code A is better than Moral Code B. Moral Code A seems so wonderful and awe inspiring. I believe it represents one of the high points in the history of the human race, and the people group that acted according to this code were simply wonderful and awe inspiring (I told you it was a fictional example!). Now the dreadful Moral Code B, by contrast, is truly despicable. It's practitioners were brutal and malevolent, and if followed to its logical conclusion - Moral Code B will land just about anyone in jail. Yes, Moral Code B is in fact detestable in my sight.

The question is then, what am I using in order to judge both of these sets of moralities? Maybe it is their intrinsic value. Both of these moral codes have a certain set of inexorable traits that cannot be divorced from either of them. Fine then. They are each very different based on those individual traits existing within them. But what causes me to pass a judgement on either of them regarding these traits, and in turn causing me to prefer one over the other? How do I gauge whether or not each trait is - in and of itself - good or bad? Where do I get my definitions of good and bad so I am able to apply them?

Maybe aside from intrinsic value then, it is personal experience. I am bringing my own personal experience to the situation (and surely this is true), and I am deciding that Moral Code A is superb because of the things which I have gone through in my own life. Because of my own hardships, relationships, education, income level, and a host of other demographics, I have made my choice that Code A is great, and Code B detestable. But the question remains: what causes me to think (or more to the point - know) that all of my personal experiences have been accurately assessed in order to bring me to the point where I can judge these 2 sets of moral codes? How do I know it isn't simply emotion, or that the emotion I am using is based on any kind of real good, or real bad? Couldn't it be that I am simply "preferring" Code A based on what I like and don't like? If so, if this is really all there is to it, then we are no longer discussing good and evil. These terms have been replaced by "I prefer" and "I don't prefer." But we know there is something more than this going on when we compare 2 items like this. There is an "ought" and an "ought not", and this is much more important than whether or not I simply like or dislike something.

Finally, maybe I am judging these 2 sets of moral codes based on their end results. Who cares what the individual dictates of these codes are, as long as the end result yields an outcome desirable to me. The means justify the ends. If it works, then go with it. Maybe I am betting on Moral Code A because its practitioners all seem to end up rich, or happy, or both rich AND happy. Again we are stuck, however. What is it that tells me being rich (for example) is the best thing to attain regarding a moral code? My personal experience? We have just been down that route. The intrinsic "value" of being rich? How do I assign goodness or badness to this value? How do I decide that it is intrinsically good? Don't lottery winners often lose their friends, happiness, and entire fortune in no time flat?

Here is what I think can be the only realistic way to compare, judge, or make an assessment on anything. We must take into account that in order to compare Code A with Code B, there must exist something else over and above these 2 codes. If I think A is far superior to B, then that thing which I am using to judge A and B MUST be DIFFERENT than either of them. If you maintain that it is simply personal experience, or education, or expertise that enables you to make an accurate judgement, then you are still caught in the trap of judging 2 or more propositions by factors which may be contained within those propositions. And you have not accurately judged anything, much less judged them well. You have only given a preference.

Or look at it this way through the eyes of C.S. Lewis on page 38 of Mere Christianity, "My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line... If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. "Dark" would be a word without meaning."

But "Dark" in fact does have meaning. What was Lewis using here to define good and bad? He was in fact pointing out that certain something which exists over and above any 2 or more propositions that you are comparing and thinking about. Good and Bad in fact, have a higher Governor to which we appeal when attempting to use them to judge or compare anything. In other words, when we talk about Moral Code A being better than Code B - we are appealing to a higher standard of truth with which to make that assessment. And to make matters worse, most of us do this automatically... and in so doing; take this amazing discovery for granted. The fact that none of us could accurately or logically judge anything without first appealing to this higher standard/power/truth (whatever you want to call it) is stunning.

Very well, I think I have belaboured the point long enough. The fact of the matter is that we have cause for concern if we think that we have come into any degree of knowledge or superior education souley of our own accord. There is something, I'm afraid, to which we all must appeal whenever we argue, compare, judge, or even think about any 2 or more ideas. This something seems to be at the heart of everything, and if we drill down far enough (as we have taken the time to do in this post) we usually eventually stumble onto it.

Lewis tells us this also, "We have to take reality as it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be like or what we should have expected it to be like." If we look deep enough, I think we can see that this reality encompasses a higher Truth that exists and helps govern our thoughts and rational brains. Now we could stop here and simply throw up our hands and say, "well, okay, maybe there is some force or guiding flow... but that's all." We would be missing the point of course. This higher truth is God. It always has been. That it took 10 paragraphs to get here was only because this truth is so obvious we usually overlook it.

I will close with a story that professed Christian author and speaker Ravi Zecharias tells. He was taking questions after one of his talks at a college campus, and a man stood up and yelled out that he thought everything in the universe was pointless and meaningless. Ravi responded simply by saying that "if there were truly no meaning, then what you just said was meaningless." The man's statement contained meaning of course. He was relating his opinion that all things considered, he cannot find anything worthy of meaning in this universe. This is a statement of enormous meaning, and we all know it. The man had compared multiple propositions and probably made countless judgements along the road to his opinion that everything is meaningless. In short, God's higher standard of truth allowed this angry and depressed young man to speak out and deny God Himself. We must be careful that we don't do the same.


* The majority of this argument was taken from the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Though I mentioned him several times in the above article, I wanted to be clear to the reader that if they have further questions on this idea, they can (and should) read the entire book.


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Comments

  1. As always, my friend, your exploration into Christianity is never ending and inspiring. I think you have done what I couldn't when reading Mere Christianity. The meaning behind the "leap", that we discussed, C.S Lewis took to the assumption of a moral code was lost to me as a comparison against a third variable. I also think you have hit the nail on the head about the decisions we constantly make about whether or not to accept certain truths about this ultimate good. I fear we get caught up in a never ending attempt to make ourselves feel good about ourselves by comparing ourselves to a greater evil and thereby proving that "we could be worse". Unfortunately, this realization in itself isn't enough to change our behaviors. We've definitely learned to protect our fragile egos and shaky visions of self-worth by finding the greater evil.

    I find it interesting, as well, how even the truest Christians I know tend to dwell on this greater evil as the plague it is. Is it because the greater good is so difficult to reach and even comprehend? I wonder.

    Good stuff sir. Keep up the good work. I saw the previous topic but I can't get drawn in by your dangerously addictive insight. :) <'))><

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