C.S. Lewis and the Poison of Subjectivism

 

There are many claims out there like “you can’t bring the bible into the courthouse” or “don’t push your religious morality on me” that I hear often. As a Christian I am not allowed to bring the bible to bear on the morality of our country. However, most interestingly, I, and other religions, are the only people who have the right to do so. If you are an atheist, or if you do not claim some religion as your own, then it is actually you who have no right to bring your morality to bear on the country. Why do I say this? For the simple reason that your morality is groundless. C.S. Lewis is a great thinker and provides a great logical understanding of why those who reject objective morality (a transcendent morality founded in an ultimate being) and believe in subjective morality (morality that is formed by culture or your own opinions and feelings) are being illogical and don’t even understand their own position. I think this has great relevance for us today as we attempt to deal with the great moral revolution that is taking place.

I have to say I agree with him, but mostly in saying that these people don’t even understand that in rejecting morality founded in God, they have just destroyed morality! At least, morality as they claim it to be. They don’t want the morality of the bible, but they also realize that there are certain things that are inherently right or wrong; they are left in some weird middle position where they are neither atheist nor theist, they are just irrational.

If you think I am wrong then please show me how, but you must ask this one question as you read. “If morality depends upon me for its source, then if I say that my morality is better than others, aren’t I saying I am better than them? If that is the case, then unless I have a standard that transcends me, I don’t have much to offer in talk about morality”

C.S. Lewis

The Poison of Subjectivism

“To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.

But if this is so, then we might have been conditioned to feel otherwise. ‘Perhaps’, thinks the reformer or the educational expert, ‘it would be better if we were. Let us improve our morality.’ Out of this apparently innocent idea comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes. Everyone is indignant when he hears the Germans define justice as that which is to the interest of the Third Reich. But it is not always remembered that this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good, over-arching Germans, Japanese and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring. For the same reason it is useless to compare the moral ideas of one age with those of another: progress and decadence are alike meaningless words.

All this is so obvious that it amounts to an identical proposition. But how little it is now understood can be gauged from the procedure of the moral reformer who, after saying that ‘good’ means ‘what we are conditioned to like’ goes on cheerfully to consider whether it might be ‘better’ that we should be conditioned to like something else. What in Heaven’s names does he mean by ‘better’?

He usually has at the back of his mind the notion that if he throws over traditional judgement of value, he will find something else, something more ‘real’ or ‘solid’ on which to base a new scheme of values. He will say, for example, ‘We must abandon irrational taboos and base our values on the good of the community’—as if the maxim ‘Thou shalt promote the good for the community’ were anything more than a polysyllabic variant of ‘Do as you would be done by’ which has itself no other basis than the old universal value judgement he claims to be rejecting. Or he will endeavour to base his values on biology and tell us that we must act thus and thus for the preservation of our species. Apparently he does not anticipate the question, ‘Why should the species be preserved?’ He takes it for granted that it should, because he is really relying on traditional judgements of value. If he were starting, as he pretends, with a clean slate, he could never reach this principle. Sometimes he tries to do so by falling back on ‘instinct’. ‘We have an instinct to preserve our species’, he may say. But have we? And if we have, who told us that we must obey our instincts? And why should we obey this instinct in the teeth of many others which conflict with the preservation of the species? The reformer knows that some instincts are to be obeyed more than others only because he is judging instincts by a standard, and the standard is, once more, the traditional morality which he claims to be superseding. The instincts themselves obviously cannot furnish us with grounds for grading the instincts in a hierarchy. If you do not bring a knowledge of their comparative respectability to your study of them, you can never derive it from them.

This whole attempt to jettison traditional values as something subjective and to substitute a new scheme of values for them is wrong. It is like trying to lift yourself by your own coat collar.”

Lewis, C.S. The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational. 1993. Print.

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