• Nathan Robinson

Christian Behavior Excerpt from CS Lewis

Morality seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called harmonizing the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole, what man was made for; i.e. what course the whole fleet ought to be on, or what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play. Modern people are nearly always thinking about the first thing and forgetting the other two. When people say in the news that we are fighting for their moral standards, they usually mean that we are fighting for kindness and fair play between nations, classes, and individuals; that is, they’re thinking only of the first thing.

When someone says, “It can’t be wrong because it doesn’t do anyone else any harm,” he’s thinking only of the first thing. He’s thinking it doesn't matter what his ship is like inside provided that he doesn’t run into the next ship. And it’s quite natural, when we start thinking about morality, to begin with the first thing, with social relations. For one thing, the results of bad morality in that sphere are so obvious and press on us every day: wars, poverty, corruption, shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is little disagreement about morality. Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and king and helpful to one another. But though natural to begin there, if our thinking stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go to the second thing – the tidying up inside each human being – we are only deceiving ourselves.

What’s the good of telling ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions, if in fact, they’re such old tubs they can’t be steered at all? What’s the good of rules for social behavior if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? All our thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realize that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It’s easy enough to remove certain types of corruption or bullying under the present system. But as long as people are twisters or bullies, they will find a new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You can’t make men good by law; and without good men you can’t have a good society. That’s why we must go on to the second thing: morality inside the individual.

To be continued next week!



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