Christians believe that there is ultimate goodness, but not ultimate badness. Badness from our view is but a corruption of that which was once good. We must have some standard of what good is, so we can measure whether a thing is good or bad. Even the Prince of Darkness is not intrinsically evil, but fell from glory.
We as human persons are endowed with free will: God has bestowed that upon us. Love demands freedom, it is relational. We can choose to do a thing, good or bad, through unfettered choice. The Devil taught that man could be like gods separate from God Himself.
Men tend to judge others by selfish standards. But most believe that there are certain ‘Laws of Nature’ that determine whether an act is just, regardless of whether it brings a certain individual pleasure. These behaviors are obvious to most, even all. Some societies may feel that it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife. But who would agree that a man should be able to have any woman at any time?
Selfishness has never been admired in any culture: we must not live a life of putting one’s self first. A man might claim that there is no absolute right or wrong, but that same man will cry foul if he feels slighted by another. Our culture has done a poor job at keeping this Law of Nature. And if we don’t believe in a Law of Nature, why do we spend so much time defending our behaviors?
Morality is not like the school monitor who is trying to uncover whether a student is having fun and then stopping it–as if the point is to put an end to fun and enjoyment. “Moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Below are views of morality from three sources:
Morality (running that machine effectively) according to C.S. Lewis is generally concerned with three truths:
- Fair Play among individuals
- Harmonizing the things inside an individual
- The purpose of human life as a whole; What was man made for, and as a collective, what course should the whole of humanity be on?
Men often make moral defenses using the first point while neglecting the two proceeding. A person who says that a behavior cannot be wrong because it doesn’t hurt anybody else is only thinking of that first truth.
The signers of our Declaration of Independence uniformly agreed that a people should hold four virtues:
- Prudence–discerning good vs evil
- Justice–balance: to give each man his due
- Fortitude–perseverance no matter the consequence
- Temperance–using the created order for good
St. Paul teaches three key virtues for Christians:
Mankind has a long, tumultuous history of chasing happiness apart from that ultimate goodness: God. A life without that intrinsic ‘yardstick’ leads to a macabre existence of turmoil that has been proven by so many failed attempts in human history: greed, poverty, trenchant ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, and slavery. Societies have tried to create that human utopia void of God, leading themselves into an ultimate conflagration. This mistaken zeal perpetrated the most atrocious of crimes recorded in human history.
Many Christians now claim that Faith is all that truly matters, while others say only actions matter. C.S. Lewis compares this to trying to determine which blade on a pair of scissors is most important. If our faith does not lead us to action, then we have no faith at all. Faith without action is but an intellectual acceptance of a theory about God.
Ultimate good is in God. We live our virtues through our relationship with Him. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ( Ephesians 2:10)
I’ll end with one of my favorite teachings of St. Paul:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do: and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
*Essay relies heavily on excerpts from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and a lecture by Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College on 1/9/2009. Bible Quotes are RSV 1978