Mere Christianity | Book III, Chapter 3

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book III | Christian Behavior
Chapter 3 | “Social Morality”

In the first book, Lewis made the case for a Moral Law that we fail to keep and which is evidence of God.

In the second book, Lewis explained the various ideas people hold about God and why he understands the Biblical view to be the correct one.

At that point Mere Christianity was largely about what Christians think. Here in the third book, Lewis is talking about morality, what Christians do. I’ve noticed that this part of the book becomes a little more uncomfortable, as Lewis addresses our actions.

There’s so much in Mere Christianity that is memorable and quotable and I’m still thinking about a line from the previous chapter: “You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.” We want people to behave a certain way but simply creating a rule doesn’t make anyone do anything. We are often at the mercy of people who do whatever they want. Where do we go from there? That brings us to Chapter 3, “Social Morality.”

Question: What is “the first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man?”

Answer: Christianity does not offer a “brand new morality.” When Jesus said to do to others as you want them to do to you, he was “summing up . . . what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right.” Lewis says this is what “great moral teachers” do. They don’t invent something, but call us back “to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.”

Q: What is the second thing Lewis wants us to get clear about?

A. Christianity doesn’t have and doesn’t say it has “a detailed political program for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment.” Christianity “is meant for all men at all times” and “the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.” Lewis adds “that is not how Christianity works.” Christianity says to feed the hungry and doesn’t give cooking lessons. It directs us “to the right jobs” and gives us the power of a new life to do those jobs.

Q: How does Lewis respond to the statement that “The Church ought to give us a lead”?

A. It depends on what you mean. Lewis thinks ordinary Christians with the right gifting should be in, for example, economics and politics leading other Christians to put “Do to others as you would have them do to you” into practice. What Lewis does not think should happen is that religious leaders should be putting out a political program. That is not their training or their gifting. Lewis insists that the ordinary Christian is responsible to put Christian principles into practice in their area of expertise.

Q. Does the New Testament give us any hints of what a Christian society would look like?

A. It would celebrate hard work and everyone would be working to produce necessary things. As Lewis puts it, “There will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them.” And so Society would appear to be somewhat “Leftist.” At the same time, it would also promote “obedience (and outward marks of respect)” to leaders. And it would “be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong.” Manners are an important part of Christianity because they go to treating others with respect.

Q. What impressions would we get from such a society?

A. Economically it would look socialistic, but relationships would look “ceremonious and aristocratic.” Lewis thinks none of us would like all of it. “If Christianity is the total plan for the human machine,” unfortunately “we have all departed from that total plan in different ways.” Our tendency would be to make society look how we would want it to look, giving us the situation where “people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.”

Q. What major piece of advice does our modern economic system ignore?

A. Lewis points out that “the ancient heathen Greeks” and “the Jews in the Old Testament” and “the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages” all taught and agree that you should not “lend money at interest.” The term for this is “usury” and our modern society not only ignores this advice, it has built the entire system on its practice. Lewis doesn’t say if this is right or wrong. He says this is why we need a Christian economist. But Lewis notes, “I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing in which we have based our whole life.”

Q. What does Christian morality say about Charity—“giving to the poor”?

A. For the Christian, work gives us the ability “to give to those in need.” This “is an essential part of Christian morality” as evidenced by “the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats.” We might prefer to have “a society in which there were no poor to give to,” but in the meantime, that is no excuse not to give.

There is no rule for how much we ought to give, but Lewis says we should “give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

Lewis concludes his discussion of charity by noting there are “particular cases of distress” among friends, relatives, and co-workers that “may demand much more.” We need to be careful of both the “fear of insecurity” on the one hand, and pride on the other, that keeps us from helping “those who really need our help.”

Q. How does Lewis think this chapter will land on people?

A. He’s pretty sure no one is going to be happy. Those on the Left would think he needs to go further that way and those on the Right would think he has gone too far.

Q. What is “the real snag in all this drawing up of blueprints for a Christian society.”

A. This is another one of those quotable lines—and a convicting one: “Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party.” The great need in terms of a Christian society is for us to “really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.”

“Do unto others” requires me to love my neighbor as myself. I cannot do that unless I love God. I can only learn to love God by obeying Him. Something needs to happen on the inside.

A Christian is a person who by grace acknowledges Jesus as Lord and is transformed by that declaration. May we be those transformed people.






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