Mere Christianity is divided into four books. The first one consists of five chapters and is a logical argument from morality for the existence of God. We’ll begin with chapter one today.
Remember two bits of background. First, that each chapter began as a short talk on BBC radio. Second, that Lewis himself made the journey to Christian faith from the position of being a committed atheist. He first convert to theism (belief in god), then a little later to Christianity, which was in his early 30s. These talks are given in the early to mid 1940s when Lewis is himself in his early 40s. So he has made this precise faith journey only ten years or so removed from contending for the faith in the radio talks that would become the classic book.
This is just to say that Lewis knows what it means not to believe from experience, and relatively recent experience at that, at the time of these talks. So he takes nothing for granted and assumes he must start at belief’s ground floor.
In chapter 1, Lewis is making two points to begin advancing his case, which he summarizes at the end of the chapter:
- “First, human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way”
- “Secondly, that they do not in fact behave that way”
The first point claims that a standard for human behavior exists, what Lewis calls “the Moral Law.”
This is demonstrated when persons argue. We argue based on the premise that we are nearer to, or aligned with, the True Standard than the other person. We assume that someone or something is acting as the judge between the two of us as to what the right really is. We do not assume that “might makes right,” that is, if I can whip you physically or intellectually or emotionally, that I get to create the Standard (popularly stated, “the one with the gold makes the rules”).
And he buttresses that claim by pointing out that some persons claims to disagree that there is a universal Moral Law, disbelieving in a “real Right and Wrong.” But try lying to him, or treating him unfairly. You’ll soon see what he really believes about a real right and wrong.
The second point claims that the Moral Law, though universally acknowledged, is not universally followed.
The Moral Law may be just as universal as the Law of Gravity, but is a description of what we know we ought to do, not a description of what we do.
A stone doesn’t have to think about and then obey the Law of Gravity. The “Law” of Gravity simply describes what a stone does when you hold it in the air and let go. But the “Moral Law,” which Lewis also calls the “Law of Decent Behavior,” makes claims on our behavior that we choose to obey or not.
And we find that none of us obeys perfectly. Even looking only at my standards for myself, I don’t measure up.
Lewis states: “These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”