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C.S. Lewis’ Ethics: Inherent Morality or Religious Conformism?

C.S. Lewis’ Ethics: Inherent Morality or Religious Conformism?
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  Rachel LawrenceST 574 – Theology of C.S. LewisProf. FeldmuthAugust 24 th , 2012 C.S. Lewis’ Ethics: Inherent Morality or Religious Conformism?Plato believed that education should teach humanity to feel pleasure forthe pleasant, liking for the likable, disgust for the disgusting, and hatred for the hateful; in other words, the essence of ethics and the “ought” of human consciousness. Plato was not the first one to assume the philosophicalundertaking of dissecting human morality sans religious association. Heappropriated morality as inherent to humanity on most levels, but sought toinstruct the social decencies that surrounded them. Lewis straddled this lineeven within his faith, associating morality with psychology and humanity beforeany dogma or deity, most especially in his work, Mere Christianity  . Using Plato’s ethical code of humanity while addressing Lewis’ ecumenical coverage of the topic specifically within Mere Christianity;  morality is not necessitated by areligion, dogma, deity, or faith; but instead is inherent to us as humans andonly varies by degree when the aforementioned are introduced. Ethics do notequal religion, nor vice-versa. An act of kindness by an atheist for example, isno less valuable to the beneficiary than one performed by a theist or Christian,  nor is it less inherent or natural to the benefactor because of a lack of marked faith. This  is the key distinction.Within Mere Christianity  , C.S. Lewis spends a great deal of literary timetackling the topic of morality, ethics and their impact upon humanity, ultimatelydeducing it into three distinct parts. Lewis claims there is little to nodisagreement on basic morality throughout humanity, that almost all people atall times have agreed upon the honest and kind treatment of one another, or the Christian’s “Golden Rule” . Based upon this assumption, morality consists of relations between man and man, things or vices inside each man, and relationsbetween man and the power that made him. Lewis stands that the maindilemma falls most consistently within the third part of morality, the relationbetween man and the power that made him, and it is herein the maindifferences between Christian and non-Christian morality are seen. He alsoabruptly holds Christians accountable by claiming that many modernists of thefaith are only preoccupied with the concern of being kind to others andbelieving their morality lies in this alone. Lewis staunchly disagrees with this,and claims that the trinity of morality must be complete for full Christianmorality to exist within the individual at all. ( Mere Christianity  , 69-75)Lewis goes on to allow those of little or no faith to have a window intobasic morality as well, with his writings on the Cardinal Virtues. These are four  of seven humanist virtues that all civilized people must possess, he claims. Hespeaks only of the first four initially as the last three are theological in nature.Prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude are pivotal virtues that must  coexistwith ethics to create morality within an individual. Defined, Lewis seeks torelate to non-Christians alike by stating that morality is inherent, it existed priorto Christ and was only more clearly defined by His coming. Christ did notcome to create a new kind of morality ( Mere Christianity  , 82), but to be a typeof real moral teacher by bringing humanity back to old simple principles whichwe are usually anxious not to observe. Any modern ethical development willalways hold remnants of the archaic Natural Law, for there never has andnever can be a radically new value system. Lewis analogizes this with bringinga horse back to the fence it has refused to jump repetitively. In this way, onemight even see that for the sake of accessibility, Lewis is equating Jesus towhat many other religions see Him as already, a human prophet. It is Lewis’ gift of pure accountability, frank honesty, and blunt scriptural evidence thatcreates a broad readership and base for these necessary dialogues. He seeksto find the common thread, and that is humanism. Lewis’ response to Charles Darwin’s view of morality and natural selection wasan illustration of the Tao, or Natural Law, which is a commonality amongstevery culture with only slight discrepancies. He claims this as the First Principle  of humanity within his work, The Abolition of Man  . The thesis of this being thatnothing ethical or moral within human behavior can be demanded unless it isfirst universally agreed upon, thus making ethics a collective paradigm. “If  nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. If nothing is obligatory for itsown sake, then all conceptions of value crumble. No values are independent of Natural Law. Anything judged to be good is such because of values in the Natural Law. The concept of goodness springs from no other source” ( The Abolition of Man)  . If the Tao did not exist, value judgments could not be madebecause any modernity attempting to do away with traditional morality wouldhave no foundation upon which to create an argument.   This work echoes Plato’s assertion, and Lewis states that although these ethical values areuniversal, they do not develop naturally in children without the aid of propermoral education. Those who lack this humanist education or refuse to adhere to the moral laws are to be referred to as “men without chests”, representative of a dystopian future, as seen illustrated with in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength  .This type of society is ruled by a select few, with no concept of the biblicalfree will bestowed by God.If one were to compare Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Buddha’s Dhammapada  , the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius’ Analects  , Plato’s Dialogue s, andthe Proverbs of Solomon; profound underlying philosophical similarities would  prove unarguable… however their basis would be in ethics, not religion. To beconcise, everyone has an ethic, not everyone has a religion. Ethics may be acentrifugal part of any religion, but it is not the entire substance, motivation,nor meaning . Lewis states, “Christianity is not a system of man’s search forGod but a story of God’s search for man. True religion is like a cloud of  incense wafting up from special spirits into the nostrils of a waiting God, but like a Father’s hand thrust downw ard to rescue the fallen ” . From here comes the question and issue of universalism within Lewis’ ethics. Does God “save” those who know not of Him or His Christian morality? Lewis utilizes his fiction to illustrate this topic within the last book of  Narnia, inthis example; a faith is not necessary for salvation, only goodness, ethics andinstinctual morality. A young boy named Emeth, having grown up in anoppressive and isolated country, was raised to worship a false god named Tash.Despite this oblivious wrong, Emeth was an honorable man who soughtrighteousness in all his actions. Finding himself in front of Aslan, his responsewas one of reverence despite his upbringing. Aslan counts all Emeth’s actionsunto Tash unto him instead, and allowed Emeth into His kingdom. Confused, Emeth asked why he had been bestowed such grace. Aslan explained, “I take to me the services which thou has done to him, for I and he are of suchdifferent kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none
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