Wednesday, June 15, 2011
What Morality is About
As soon as I saw the chapter title, I knew I was in trouble.
We’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. And here came the chapter entitled “Social Morality.” I’m not exactly sure why Lewis referred to it as “social” morality, but today we would be more likely to call it cultural morality.
He’s talking about the Culture Wars. And especially those wars as fought out not by the Christians and the pagans” but among the people who call themselves Christians. In other words, us. We allowed, and sometimes enthusiastically embraced, our particular political leanings of left and right and adapted our Christian beliefs to make them fir our political beliefs. But it wasn’t our Christian beliefs that needed the adapting.
The Culture Wars raged in the 1990s, as more conservative Christians and non-Christians alike began to react and respond to the sense that something was slipping away. The “Evangelical Right” began to exercise political muscle, and eventually helped elect George W. Bush, and elect him twice. What the Evangelical Right didn’t know was that it had been played by the President’s political advisors, at least according to some of the people actually involved in the Administration’s faith-based initiatives.
There was a lesson here, for all of us. It’s not that politics and religion don’t mix. It’s more that politics isn’t the point, or that politics is the wrong point.
Lewis says it this way making several general points:
First, he says, Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. He actually preached the brand old morality.
Second, Christianity “has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment.” And that’s because Christianity is meant for all men at all times. It doesn’t not have a political program for America in 2011 (and especially 2012). If it did, it would only apply to that year and that time, and not to anything else.
Third, the Greeks, the Jews and the Christians all taught against the lending of money at interest. Guess which economic system could not function without the lending of money at interest? Yes, ours.
And fourth, Christian charity – giving to the poor – is as important as it ever was. That we have tacitly accepted the massive takeover of this responsibility by the government at all levels may be one of the signal failures of the church in the pat two and current generations. Why is the fraud and waste so phenomenal in health, welfare and poverty programs (not to mention education)? Because the church – and I mean us – abdicated our responsibility. The surprise is that any of the programs even function at all.
And this, Lewis says, is what it must come down to: we cannot follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) until we love our neighbors as ourselves. And we can’t love our neighbors until we learn to love God. And the only way we have to learn to love God is to obey him.
Social morality is really about individual faith, obedience and love. It always has been.
To see more posts on this chpater of Mere Christianity, please visit Sarah Salter’s blog, Living Between the Lines.