Archive for August, 2010
XFiles Weekend: On the morality of burning witches

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 2, “Some Objections”)

This week we wrap up Chapter 2 of Mere Christianity with Lewis’ somewhat feeble attempt to address the morality of witch-burning. Until a few centuries ago, it was a rather popular practice among Christians, and—well, let’s let Lewis speak for himself.

I have met people who exaggerate the differences [between different moralities], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, ‘Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?’ But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did—if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did?

This is an amazing apologetic. Notice, he’s not quite arguing that Christians were doing the right thing by burning witches. He merely wishes to argue that we have made scientific progress, rather than moral progress, in ceasing to put witches to death. He ends Chapter 2 with the observation, “You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.” He’s neither justifying nor accusing the witch-burners; he’s merely arguing that we today are no better, because we would burn witches too, if we thought they were real.

Sadly, he got that part exactly right, at least as far as believers are concerned. There are Christian evangelists in Africa today who are spreading witch rumors and inciting people to violence against them, just like in the Old Days. Women and even children are dying, or being savagely tortured and/or driven from their villages, because Christians believe that “these filthy quislings” deserve it. Lewis is exactly right in saying that this morality shows no signs of being any better than that of the 17th century witch burners.

But let’s look at Lewis’ underlying assumption. He’s taking it for granted that everyone would agree that, if you believe in witches, the Right thing to do is to put them to death. He assumes that obviously real witchcraft would deserve the death penalty, and that this is true even today, even for believers like himself. Sure, there’s no such thing as a real witch, but if there were, why then fetch the rope and kindling boys! And be quick about it!

I’m going to disagree with Lewis on two counts. First of all, a civilized and just society should never penalize anyone for being the wrong thing. Justice, including the death penalty, must be limited to punishing people for doing the wrong thing. If a real witch used supernatural powers to murder someone, then society ought to accuse her of the murder, prove her guilty of the murder, and then punish her for the murder—not for being a witch. If she used magic to make it foggy so no one would see her flying around on her broomstick, you don’t burn her for being a witch, and you certainly don’t demand a death penalty for making it foggy at night, even if she really and truly did bring bad weather by magic.

The second and larger point centers around that crucial word “believe.” Lewis’ argument goes like this: We don’t kill witches because we don’t believe there are any. If we did believe they existed, then surely (or at least, Lewis is sure) we ought to agree with putting them to death. See anything missing in that line of thought?

What’s missing, obviously, is any consideration of the question of whether or not our beliefs were actually correct. The witch-burners of 17th century England believed they were putting real witches to death. According to Real Morality, was it Right for them to do so? That was the specific question that was asked of Prof. Lewis, and that is the specific question which he adroitly side-stepped and never answered. Yes, yes, it’s true that we now know there are no witches, but that means we also know that the people who got burned at the stake were, in fact, innocent. What does Real Morality say about murdering innocent victims on account of Christian beliefs, Professor Lewis? Professor Lewis?

Granted, this is an especially tricky question and it’s not surprising that Lewis would prefer to avoid it, because once you realize that Christian beliefs led to the murder of large numbers of innocent victims, the moral question becomes, “Who led the murderers to believe in killing witches?” Take a wild guess what the answer is.

Exodus 22:18 — Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Yup. We could also add the Old Testament prophets who praised King Saul for putting to death all the witches in Israel (except the famous witch at Endor). Even the New Testament lists witchcraft among the acts of the sinful nature. Christians believed in witches, and in killing witches, because the Bible taught these things as though they were true. Now the moral question becomes, “If you believe God’s Word, and act on it, are you morally guilty, or does the guilt belong to God?” If we know that the Bible can be wrong about life-and-death issues, can Real Morality ever allow us to act as though Scripture must necessarily be true?

Remember, too, that the witch-burners typically were not relying on the Scriptures alone. They first “obtained” a confession from the accused witch, and then executed her. Perhaps we should ask Prof. Lewis about the morality of using torture to elicit confessions from the accused? Assuming he gave a similar answer, he might say something like “if we really thought they were Al Qaeda supporters witches, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved torture, then these filthy quislings did?” Once again, though, the justification is based on our own (possibly erroneous) belief, rather than the wrongdoing (if any) of the accused.

This is the problem with faith-based moralities, with moralities that are based on some unseen and unverifiable list of Rights and Wrongs. It’s too easy to punish people because of certain wrong beliefs on our part rather than any wrong behavior on theirs. And it keeps coming back to haunt us. Christians tortured suspected witches in the 17th century, but oh yes, we know better than that now, because there are no witches. But did we really learn, or are we just using the same 17th century moral rationalizations today, now that we want to hurt those we suspect of being terrorists?

And of course, Christians today are literally killing “witches” once again, in Africa, with support from American churches. And it all comes back to their failure to make significant moral progress since the 17th century. To be fair, the Bible does make it hard to advance beyond that point. How can one Bible-believing Christian credibly tell another Bible-believing Christian not to believe the clear teaching of the Bible, and not to obey its clear commandments? There’s just not a lot of room to maneuver without exposing certain doubts about the believability of the Bible.

This puts Lewis in an even more insecure position, morally speaking, because not only does he fail to condemn witch-burning on moral grounds, but he does acknowledge that “God’s Word” is wrong about witches being real. That means the Scripture is factually wrong about at least some life-and-death moral issues. Lewis’ purported and invisible Real Morality thus becomes a standard that we cannot obtain even by divine revelation. Lewis claims that we all know we fail to keep this Moral Law, but how could we know whether we’re keeping it or not, if even the Bible itself cannot reliably tell us what it is?

All that Lewis has left, in the end, is some kind of subjective, mystical perception of Right and Wrong, an inner sense that boils down to “whatever seems right in my own eyes.” It’s dressed a little fancier, and it’s a bit pretentious, in that it presents itself as something engraved on our heart by God Himself, but bereft of both a real-world standard of morality and a reliable Scriptural standard, it’s the only standard he has left. The believer has no alternative but to accept his own personal opinions of right and wrong as the sole measure of Real Morality.

Maybe that’s why Lewis is so popular: he gives people a way to view their own personal morality as “coincidentally” being the same as Universal Moral Law, thus allowing them the pleasures of self-righteousness without the burden of having to live by someone else’s rules. Not a terribly high-quality ethic, but damn clever marketing, eh? No wonder so many modern apologists choose him as their patron saint.

Modifying Reality Through Our Subjective Perceptions

When one looks to the present-day scientific community, he or she sees an almost maniacal desire for objective answers to its questions. Scientists want absolutely no bias in their results and therefore will act as if they are completely detached from any matter at hand, in order to gain the most objective answers. What they do not realize, is that by this very sort of action on their part, they are having subjective perceptions unconsciously. They are deducing that their intentions, beliefs, and state of consciousness have no effect on whatever aspect of reality they are studying. Their very belief in their own consciousness not having an effect on the matter at hand has an effect on the matter at hand. Results and answers will be skewed in a particular direction. In fact, entire new aspects of reality will arise that provide answers, but such answers are on a lower level of truth and reality than in actuality.

As a friend had recently mused, “I think it was Francis Bacon who said Nature is to be tortured so she will yield her secrets. However, my understanding is that torture does not produce reliable information”. This is indeed true and demonstrates that although present-day scientists may find an answer to a question/problem/situation, it may not reflect the highest level of truth to the answer. Consider the discovery of the particle and the wave. It is a phenomenal discovery, considering its implications. However, the discovery that matter can exist either as a particle or wave is like receiving two contradictory answers to the question at hand. With such ultra-violent experiments today such as those occurring within the particle collider at CERN, it comes to question whether the manner in which these answers are being received has any effect on the answer received. We are such a young species within this vast universe and so it would be highly irrational to create within ourselves such pride as to think that we have certainty in anything concerning the existence, the nature of reality, and other things–even if we do receive some sort of results.

We are modifying reality unconsciously through our subjective perceptions that we mistakingly believe to be objective. It is a mystery of existence as to whether we are able, or ever will be able, to ever experience the objective primary reality within the dimensions of space and time and beyond. All that cannot be quantified cannot be understood with attempted quantification. Science is a road to knowledge, but it is not the highest road. There are roads that hold less bias and that are more Whole-oriented rather than part-focused. These paths towards truth will be traversed soon enough, and humanity should not be shamed that it is unable to get answers to questions that have been tormenting it for ages.  We will learn that which we wonder about as soon as we evolve and shift our consciousness to levels where the doors to those mysteries are open for questions to go through and receive their companion answers. By understanding our unconscious influence of reality through what we believe to be unbiased objectivity, we can realize that having an open mind concerning possibilities in reality is a necessary component of who we are. We cannot let our pride get the best of us, or else the answers will keep their distance until we are ready to minimize those egoistic expressions.

XFiles Weekend: Math and Morality

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 2, “Some Objections”)

According to C. S. Lewis, “the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in” lies in assuming the existence of a natural Law of Morality. This isn’t just some arbitrary, human legislated regulation either. It’s a real Law of Nature that defines a real standard of Right and Wrong—a standard, moreover, that we all fall short of.

This week, Lewis looks at one last objection to that premise.

Other people wrote to me saying, ‘Isn’t what you call the Moral Law just a social convention, something that is put into us by education?’ I think there is a misunderstanding here… We all learned the multiplication table at school. A child who grew up alone on a desert island would not know it. But surely it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention, something human beings have made up for themselves and might have made different if they had liked?

He also compares it to which side of the road we drive on, which (unlike math) is a convention. In America, we drive on the right-hand side of the road; in England, on the left. There’s no natural law that says things have to be that way, and we might just as easily have decided on different conventions. So the question is, when we learn morality, are we learning about a pre-existing law, as in mathematics, or about a mere convention, as in driving?

Lewis, not surprisingly, favors the former, and he gives us two reasons.

His first reason will probably sound familiar:

The first is, as I said in the first chapter, that though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great—not nearly so great as most people imaging—and you can recognize the same law running through them all, whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road or the kind of clothes people wear, may differ to any extent.

That’s a rather un-mathematical assessment. “Not very great”? In whose opinion? It seems to me that that the kind of morality that condones selling your daughters for sexual purposes, mutilating the genitals of babies, and committing acts of genocide, is very different from the kind of morality that finds these things abhorrent. But have I disproved Lewis’ point? We can’t really say, because he hasn’t really given us any objective guidelines for measuring the amount of difference between two moralities, let alone setting a specific point at which the difference would be great enough to falsify his claim. All Lewis is really saying is, “I know moral conventions are different in different times and cultures, and I hereby declare those differences irrelevant.” This is one avenue of investigation that he simply filters out.

What he ought to have noticed, had he been willing to look, is that our moral standards are not merely different today than they were in ancient times, they’re better. We’ve improved, to some extent, on the morality of our forefathers. We’ve even improved on God’s morality (which may explain some of Lewis’ reluctance to probe too deeply into this part of the evidence).

As I’ve said before, morality is rooted in our perception of the likely outcomes of different behaviors. As we live and learn, and as our society gradually acquires the collective experience of its members, we get better at understanding how some behaviors that originally seemed like a good idea (e.g. slavery) are actually more detrimental than beneficial. As a species, we’re a bit thick. It can take centuries of painful experience to convince us that we really don’t like the consequences of certain previously-sanctioned behaviors. But we do learn from those consequences, eventually. And that accumulated experience becomes our new and improved morality.

Thus, it’s not because we’re being guided by the timeless wisdom of the Ten Commandments or some other mystical list of simple rules. Experience itself is teaching us. And sometimes, what it teaches us is that certain situations don’t have a simple, clear-cut distinction between right and wrong. Sometimes you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Other times, the right solution requires making an exception to the so-called “Moral Law.” Not everyone is going to feel right about making such exceptions, especially if they buy what Lewis is selling here. Belief in a Moral Law can prevent you from doing the right thing, and can drive you to do the wrong thing. Thus, secular morality is better than the kind of superstitious morality Lewis wants us to believe in.

Oops, he overheard us, and now he’s going to use this argument against us.

The other reason is this. When you think about these differences between the morality of one people and another, do you think that the morality of one people is ever better or worse than that of another? Have any of the changes been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality… The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

Rather fascinating, isn’t it? Lewis has very nearly declared that Christian morality is not Real Morality, and can thus be improved upon. A fairly obvious observation for anyone versed in real-world secular morality, but a fairly astonishing conclusion for Lewis to come to, given that Mere Christianity attempts to use this idea of Moral Law to prove the existence of a divine Law Giver. I can’t help but think that Lewis would object here, and would try to deny that Christian morality is different from Real Morality, but that’s the thrust of his argument. Otherwise, how could you ever compare Christian morality to any other morality (even Nazi morality!) and say that it was better? His whole point is that for one thing to be better, it must be different from the standard it’s being measured by.

The other possibility would be that he is merely playing devil’s advocate: “If you think that one morality is better than another, then you must think there is some Real standard of morality.” In 0ther words, he’s not agreeing that he thinks we’ve made moral progress, or that one morality can be better than another, he’s just saying if all y’all liberal types want to say that, then you have to agree that Moral Law really exists. Pretty clever, except that this argument implies that Christian morality cannot be any better than Nazi morality. Oops.

The problem here (besides the above) is that Lewis completely overlooks the fact that anyone who compares one morality to another is inevitably going to favor whichever morality is most like his own. Let’s take, for example, the question of gay marriage. Is it moral to allow it? Is it moral to forbid it? There are, within the Christian faith, within even the conservative, evangelical Christian faith, those whose morality would give an answer that was the exact opposite of what the rest of their fellow believers would say. Never mind secular versus pious; within Christian morality itself, there are questions for which you get opposite answers at the same time, depending on which Christian you ask.

This is how we know Lewis’ so-called Moral Law is not a natural law like the laws of mathematics. The question “What is 2 x 12?” does not give different real-world answers depending on who you ask: two dozen eggs is 24 eggs, just like two dozen homeopaths are 24 quacks. Count ‘em: the laws of multiplication are laws because they give the same answers to the same questions, no matter who does the asking or the answering. And, more importantly, you can check the answers, and determine whether or not the first person came up with the right number. There’s a consistent real-world referent for your answer, and that’s how we know Real Multiplication exists.

Lewis’ alleged Law of Human Nature doesn’t work that way. For instance, the obvious retort to gay Christian morality is to deny that gay Christian morality is Real True Christian Morality™—which is an easy claim to make, but how are we going to check your answers? Lewis believes in a “real Right,” meaning an invisible, mystical standard defining Right and Wrong for all circumstances, but we don’t have a written copy of that standard, nor can we determine it experimentally UNLESS we abandon Lewis’ superstitious and imaginary Law in favor of a secular morality based on a practical consideration of behaviors and consequences. The “Moral Law” approach, by itself, cannot tell you when your moral standards are wrong; it merely encourages you to look down on the morality of others.

Thus, there are (at least) two different moralities: a real-world, secular morality that needs no God, and a superstitious and subjective morality that tries to give God credit for moral answers that are secretly being borrowed from the secular kind. Because the superstitious morality often resorts to secular morality, the two moralities have a certain amount of overlap. Where they don’t overlap, as in the case of circumcision or gay marriage for instance, the superstitious morality is wrong, meaning it promotes as “good” things that have bad consequences, and forbids as “bad” things that have good consequences (or at least neutral ones).

The big difference between secular morality and superstitious morality is that the superstitious moralist has no consistent real-world referent for his moral answers (unless he resorts to secular morality). Thus, as I mentioned above, if you ask a superstitious moralist to compare two moralities, he has no choice but to favor whichever one is most like his own. We don’t have a copy of The Divine List of Do’s and Don’ts (if it were even possible for such a thing to exist), and without resorting to secular morality, he can only judge by whatever seems right in his own eyes. That’s why Lewis’ mathematical corollary fails, and why even Christian morality can give opposite answers to the same question depending on which Christian you ask.

Secular morality, by contrast, does not have this problem, because it’s based on a secular consideration of real-world consequences. Granted, the answers won’t always be easy, and some problems may not have any Right answers at all. The answers you do get, however, have the benefit of being based on real-world truth, rather than on subjective assumptions about what God’s preferences ought to be. That’s important, because when your morality is not based on real-world truth, moral issues boil down to “might makes right,” and you end up with the majority ganging up on minorities and oppressing them, as is being done right now to gays.

In summary then, and contrary to Lewis’ eloquent and misguided rhetoric, we can compare morality with mathematics and clearly see that morality (as Lewis envisions it) is not some kind of natural law that always gives the same answers to the same questions. There is more than one Morality, with the secular one being far better than the other. The alternative, advocated by Lewis, is to take the results of secular morality (e.g. “murder is wrong”), superstitiously ascribe them to an invisible magical Law Giver, and then sweep in a bunch of arbitrary, prejudiced, and self-serving “moral Rights” that end up harming people (especially minorities). This is detrimental to society as a whole, not just to the victims, and therefore it is, in secular terms, immoral.

Next week: Witches (see Servants of Satan, Burning). Stay tuned.

The Conscious and Intentional Evolution of Human Consciousness

There is a profound shift in consciousness occurring. This shift is part of the intentional evolution of human consciousness by members of the human race far and wide across this planet we call Earth. By being mindful of our thoughts, we are able to shape our reality in a number of different ways. The Buddha said that “we are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” Such statements reflect the reality of focused and intentional thoughts shaping the reality in which we find ourselves in on a daily basis. They display the power of one’s consciousness in the assisting of the overall evolution of the transpersonal consciousness of humanity. When the Buddha also stated that everything that we are is the result of the thought-forms we have created and projected, one thing he showed us was that we have the ability to continue our evolution, both personal and transpersonal, until we become fully enlightened and Self-realized. By being mindful of what thought-forms we create, we are able to become an integral part of the evolution of the interconnected transpersonal consciousness of humanity.

Every manifestation of the infinite Consciousness that comprises the totality of reality goes through its evolutionary process. In the domain of human consciousness, there is an evolution that can be seen as well. One must only compare the human being from 10,000 years ago (from limited archeological records) with the human being today and see that the higher levels of consciousness, which became accessible after basic physiological and psychological needs were satisfied, were being experienced more and more as the human race moved into the future. Higher states of consciousness that had interconnectedness and oneness as their base are being experienced by more people, more frequently, and more intensely than in times past. With the consciousness revolution of the 1960s being a sort of quantum leap in this evolution of human consciousness, we have been able to make incredible strides towards the fulfilling of a supramental transformation of humanity. By experiencing more of the higher states of consciousness with more frequency and with more intensity, we are able to make personal progress in our shifting of consciousness, which in turn helps in the shifting of the global consciousness. This shift is part of the evolutionary process of consciousness transformation.

The heart feelings of happiness, empathy, and compassion are enhanced in many ways. One of these is through the spiritual practices such as meditation that connect us to something greater than ourselves. Another is the heart connection with others, close friendships within and outside the family. Yet another is the gathering with others with relative frequency for uplifting purposes such as social causes. Living a heart-centered life helps with the shift in consciousness necessary for the conscious and intentional evolution of human consciousness, as a whole. As the shift continues and people experience greater stress, over-stimulation, overload, stress-induced physical and mental health problems, the importance of a shift toward heart-based living increases. One could say that given the brilliance of Reality, the framework mechanisms for the evolution of the various manifestations of Consciousness created themselves in such a way that the aspects of reality known as interconnectedness and oneness were stressed as being of the utmost importance, for the good of the Supermind as a whole. With high importance placed on these elements of Reality, it was as if a direction was installed into the evolutionary processes towards expressions of consciousness that underlined and stressed the importance of them. This direction is the heart-centered approach to life.

The heart-based way of living takes into account that all is One and that subsequently we are One. This interconnected aspect of consciousness increases the feelings of empathy, compassion, and love among humans part of this consciousness matrix. It was mentioned earlier that it seems as if the process of evolution itself, initiated and formulated by whatever mechanisms of Reality began it all, are focused and directed towards strengthening and intensifying the aspects of reality we have come to know as interconnectedness and oneness. Evidence of this can be seen in many places. One such place is in the sphere of incoherence and coherence.

Incoherence, such as when a person feels stress, overwhelm, anxiety, uncertainty and fear, generates chaotic and incoherent signals in the heart that go to the brain/mind and trigger stressful responses. The heart and brain fall out of alignment and as a result the solutions to personal or world problems are not readily found. In the dense dimensions, these negative emotions are registered in the heart and brain’s electromagnetic fields and generate a global stress and incoherence wave that radiates outward into those around us and to those all over the world. Stress and incoherence are intensified by catalysts such as instant mass media reports of negative situations such as natural disasters, social upheaval, economic turmoil, etc. Incoherence brings about negative results and because of this, demonstrates that the opposite, that being coherence, is what the process of consciousness evolution prefers, and indeed this is seen to be so.

When a person feels genuine hope, care and compassion, his or her heart sends out harmonious and coherent signals to the brain/mind, replacing feelings of separateness and solitude with a sense of connectedness and oneness. The heart and brain are aligned and in sync. There is harmony. The higher cortical functions are enhanced, facilitating objective, sober assessment and intuitive perception. A person is able to perceive more wholeness, and solutions to problems become more apparent. On a collective level, positive emotions such as hope, will, care, compassion and appreciation generate a global coherence wave whose electromagnetic field goes out into those around us and all over the world. The intentional increasing of the heart-mind alignment and the focusing on a heart-centered way of life have the potential to create a global coherence wave to facilitate new solutions for the problems and issues that the world as a whole faces today.

There is an evolution of the global consciousness of humanity occurring as this is being written. Those things that bring us closer to realizing the intrinsically deep connection between all manifestations of Consciousness within reality are consequently the same things that nudge us forward, as a collective consciousness, towards a supramental transformation unlike any ever seen in human history. A heart-based life with the projection and expression of positive emotions such as compassion, love, and empathy is a way of life that not only brings about more coherence within one’s life, but also one that brings humanity as a whole that farther down the road of a positively progressive evolution of consciousness. With the conscious and intentional evolution of human consciousness that comes about with a shift towards such a way of life, everybody wins. All benefit. We are in this together and whatever one of us does, affects the other. It is in each one of our own best interests that everyone else makes the shift to such an approach to life. Do we wish to see a bright future or a kind of dystopia? The choice is ours. Life a heart-based life and see the vectors of human becoming flower into spectacular wonders.

XFiles Weekend: Morality is not a law

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 2, “Some Objections”)

Last week, Lewis tried to convince us that morality is not merely some kind of herd instinct, which is partly true. Unfortunately, he was not able to discern the true role of instinct in human morality because he’s limited by the preconceived conclusion that he’d like to drive us to. He’s not trying to understand how psychological and sociological factors influence our moral thinking, he’s merely trying to make morality sound mysterious and unexplainable so that he can superstitiously give God credit for it.

These same constraints limit his arguments this week, as he proposes two more answers to the “morality as a herd instinct” objection.

Another way of seeing that the Moral Law is not simply one of our instincts is this. If two instincts are in conflict, and there is nothing in a creature’s mind except those two instincts, obviously the stronger of the two must win. But at those moments when we are most conscious of the Moral Law, it usually seems to be telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses… And surely it often tells us to try and make the right impulse stronger than it naturally is? I mean, we often feel it our duty to stimulate the herd instinct, by waking up our imaginations and arousing our pity and so on, so as to get up enough steam for doing the right thing. But clearly we are not acting from instinct when we set about making an instinct stronger than it is.

This, sad to say, is not C. S. Lewis at his finest. While he was undoubtedly a fine scholar, and probably not consciously attempting to mislead anyone, it must be said that this particular argument presents us with observations so subjective and distorted as to be deceptive. Like all half-truths, there are elements of it that do reflect a certain real-world experience, but without giving us a complete or accurate picture.

According to Lewis, if you see a man drowning, your instinct for self preservation is stronger than the herd instinct calling you to rescue him. Then, some magical Moral Law “speaks” to you and tells you that you ought to make your weaker instinct stronger, until you are willing to help. Indeed, in this portrayal, Lewis gives “Moral Law” many of the same behaviors and personal traits as are traditionally ascribed to the Holy Spirit—a polytheism as ironic as it is inadvertent.

This is nothing more than plain old ordinary superstition: seeing something you don’t understand and giving credit to some magical, supernatural cause (he even personified it for us!). But it’s really not that hard to understand. We see imminent tragedy unfolding in front of us, and we’re distressed by our inability to do more to help. We desperately want to believe that there is something more we could do to help, but that’s just a kind of psychological denial of our own weakness and limitations. Sometimes we experience a misplaced and irrational sense of guilt, the feeling Lewis describes as the “Moral Law…telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses.” It’s not really that some anthropomorphic principle was telling us we should have helped, we’re just suffering from feelings of inadequacy, sublimated as guilt.

Notice, too, that Lewis arbitrarily designates the helpful impulse as being always weaker than the instinct for self preservation. Read the stories of any number of dramatic rescues, though, and you’ll see that this simply isn’t so. Often, the instinct of self-preservation does not manifest itself at all, or does so very weakly. Then again, remember that when we read the stories of how people reacted to incipient disaster, we only get to read the stories of the survivors—those whose survival instinct kicked in soon enough to let them live to tell their tales. Our sample is necessarily biased against those whose helpful instinct overruled the dictates of self-preservation.

Now granted, I too am oversimplifying a complex psychological phenomenon. There are other factors involved as well, like social status, family ties, personality traits, and so on. The main point I want to make here is that Lewis’ appeal to superstition is fundamentally hostile to finding a practical and accurate understanding of what is really going on in the mind of a person making a split-second life-or-death decision about whether to risk himself for the sake of another. Understanding how it really works means we have one less excuse for appealing to the magical/supernatural alternative. Lewis’ argument works best in the absence of any useful understanding of the truth. But let’s move on.

Here is a third way of seeing it. If the Moral Law was one of our instincts, we ought to be able to point to some one impulse inside us which was always what we call ‘good,’ always in agreement with the rule of right behaviour. But you cannot. There is none of our impulses which the Moral Law may not sometimes tell us to suppress, and none which it may not sometimes tell us to encourage.

Lewis puts his finger squarely on the central flaw in his whole thesis, and doesn’t realize he’s done it. He cites sex, maternal love, patriotism, and “fighting instinct” as things that are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and he says this goes to show that instinct doesn’t always get the right answer. He’s still laboring under the misapprehension that there will necessarily always be a right answer, known to the Moral Law, against which we can measure our natural impulses.

The reason why instinct cannot be trusted to always give the morally “correct” answer is because there is no moral rule, or law, that is always right under all circumstances. You cannot say, for example, that one should always be patriotic and defend one’s country. That would be a moral law that you could apply to a variety of circumstances, and sometimes the outcome would be desirable, and sometimes not. Sometimes it might even lead to an outcome that one group would find desirable while another would not. And each would declare that Moral Law confirmed their opinion about whether the patriotism was “right” or “wrong,” morally speaking.

Instinct is merely a pattern of behavior. If the world were such an uncomplicated and reliable place that it were possible to write down a Moral Law that would infallibly dictate the best possible behavior under all possible circumstances, then there’s no particular reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t develop moral instincts to fit the same pattern. As Lewis himself observes, that’s not possible, because the morality of an action depends on the circumstances in which it takes place. The same action, taking place in different circumstances, can lead to different consequences. What was good in one situation might be the worst possible thing in another.

Lewis actually makes a statement that is quite profound, once you strip it from his superstitious presuppositions and consider it in the light of real-world morality:

Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another.

That’s a brilliant insight, and only Lewis’ Christian faith prevents him from realizing what he has stumbled across. An impulse—an intention to behave in a certain way—is not right or wrong in and of itself. That is, there is no universal rule that says “these kinds of impulses are always moral and those are always immoral.” Morality is a question of what kind of consequences will result from a particular course of action in a particular set of circumstances. That’s not the kind of problem that can be reduced to a manageable number of applicable Laws: either there will be some circumstances that the Law does not cover (meaning the “Law” will not always be right), or else it will have to enumerate every possible combination of circumstances, resulting in a virtually limitless list of special cases so picky that none of them would be suitable as a general guideline for human behavior.

Laws are, by nature, simplified rules that make certain assumptions about the circumstances under which they will be applied. These assumptions won’t always be correct, because no simple description can cover all possible circumstances. That’s why we have courts, and judges, and pardons and so on. Laws are inherently imperfect, and thus there can be no Perfect Law. As Lewis observes (without quite realizing the implications), “the point is of great practical consequence.”

The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.

As history has shown time and time again, that includes the common superstitious impulse that tells us we ought to obey God and His so-called Moral Law. An impulse is just an intention to act, and there is no law, no rule of how to act, that always prescribes the right thing under every possible circumstance. This is a brilliant insight from one of the most brilliant and famous authors in modern Western Christianity. It is really a shame that his faith won’t let him see the truth he has discovered.

XFiles Weekend: Armchair hero?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 2, “Some Objections”)

In Chapter 1, C. S. Lewis introduced two ideas that (he claims) “are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” These two ideas are (a) that there is a universal Moral Law defining right and wrong, which we somehow inherently know, and (b) that we do not obey this law. Unfortunately, these two ideas are not themselves the product of clear thinking, and indeed are a rather biased and superstitious failure to understand human morals realistically. There is no singular universal Moral Law by which we all make moral judgments; rather, we judge right and wrong based on how we feel about the outcome. This fundamental disconnect between theory and reality has already bubbled to the surface in a number of inconsistencies between what Lewis claims and what we find through even a trivial examination of the real-world facts.

In Chapter 2, Lewis acknowledges some of these difficulties and attempts to either refute or discredit them. As we shall see, though, his attempts to reduce his troubles only adds to them. As the good fairy told Pinocchio, once you tell a lie, it grows and grows until it’s as plain as the nose on your face—even when you sincerely believe the lie because you first deceived yourself.

Lewis begins his response by suggesting that “a good many people find it difficult to understand just what this Law of Human Nature, or Moral Law, or Rule of Decent Behavior is.” Notice, he doesn’t credit them with having reasonable objections, or with having raised valid points about possible weaknesses in his hypothesis. He declares that they “find it difficult to understand” the concept he calls Moral Law. In other words, we’re starting from the assumption that these objections are not problems with his theory, they’re some kind of failure on the part of his critics.

For example, some people wrote to me saying, ‘Isn’t what you call the Moral Law simply our herd instinct and hasn’t it been developed just like all our other instincts?’ Now I do not deny that we may have a herd instinct: but that is not what I mean by the Moral Law. We all know what it feels like to be prompted by instinct… It means that you feel a strong want or desire to act in a certain way… But feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not. Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger. You will probably feel two desires—one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation). But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away. Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, cannot itself be either of them. You might as well say that the sheet of music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one note on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes on the keyboard. The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts are merely the keys.

Let’s be clear about one thing from the outset: there is no Moral Rule that says that whenever you hear a cry for help, the Right Thing To Do is to suppress your instinctive desire for self-preservation, and to put yourself into danger. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, and sometimes that exactly the wrong thing to do. Ask any fire fighter who has seen co-workers endangered by family members rushing into the flames to seek a missing child. Ask the child who safely escaped, only to lose the parent that ran into the flaming home not knowing where the child was. The rightness or wrongness of the behavior is determined by the consequences of that behavior, not by some arbitrary rule that declares “Thus always shalt thou do.” There is no one rule that applies to all circumstances, and each decision must be weighed in light of its probable outcomes.

I suspect that when Lewis first developed this argument, he had never had any personal experiences that involved hearing a cry for help and putting himself in danger in order to come to someone’s aid. There’s something of the armchair hero in his dispassionate description of a person hearing a cry, experiencing Impulse 1, followed by Impulse 2, followed by a consideration of which moral principles to apply to the conflicting impulses in order to decide a final course of action. Contrast this with any number of true-life stories in which real people responded instantly and instinctively, in the heat of the moment, without taking the slightest thought for their own safety and well-being (and sometimes with disastrous results, as in the parent rushing back into the burning home). Lewis’ version doesn’t sound terribly implausible in and of itself, but real life nevertheless frequently begs to differ.

Another flaw in this argument is that it falls short of actually proving his point. Even if we allow that some 3rd-party agency is helping to arbitrate between two conflicting instincts, this would not necessarily imply that the arbiter was some kind of universal Moral Law. A far better explanation would be to say that one instinct is simply stronger than the other, so no rational evaluation of moral principles is necessary. And should the erstwhile hero happen to be sufficiently self-possessed to consider the implications before acting, it makes more sense to say that he bases his decision on the expected outcomes, rather than on knowing that Moral Code Section 79 Article 132 A stroke 17 applies to this exact circumstance.

Lewis is telling a superficially plausible tale consistent with the point he’s trying to make, but it does not bear up under scrutiny. Even if we leave the hero himself out of the picture, and just ask ourselves how hindsight decides which decision ought to have been more morally correct, the Moral Law explanation falls short of the “expected outcomes” explanation. We don’t really have any way to know what such a Law ought to prescribe, other than to consider the consequences of the actions. Thus, by assuming the existence of a Moral Law, we have learned nothing that we can’t discover by considering the outcomes apart from any such Law. All we accomplish by appealing to a Moral Law is making a concession to superstition, and manufacturing an excuse for inserting God into a picture that doesn’t really contain Him.

But let’s take a step back. Lewis’ point is that instinct is not enough to explain human moral behavior. Despite his flawed example and superstitious “explanation,” that’s a partially correct observation. Instincts contribute to how we feel about certain types of outcome, and not uncommonly contribute quite strong feelings. The tiger that ate Golg yesterday is going to be hungry again tomorrow, and when he comes back to our tribe, Golg won’t be there to help us defend ourselves. The tribe that runs towards the tiger when Golg cries out for help, is the tribe that faces less danger in the long term. The tribe that laughs and says, “Sucks to be you, Golg!” is the tribe whose gene pool is going to run dry when the tiger picks them off one by one.

That’s why we see “defend the herd” instincts in non-human species—creatures not made in the image of God and not subject to any particular “Moral Law” written on their hearts and souls. Evolution is capable of producing some quite sophisticated and even altruistic behaviors, purely from the ongoing experience of a collection of genes distributed in a pool of social individuals, human or not. Thus, while social instincts are not sufficient to explain all human moral behavior, they’re more than adequate to produce a lot of the behaviors, priorities, and decisions that Lewis would like to ascribe to some sort of invisible, magical Moral Law.

The flaws in Lewis’ rebuttal are not fatal to his argument, but they do provide us with a good illustration of the ways in which his superstitions get in the way of clear thinking. Human instincts are not passive keys, to be played or not played according to some kind of celestial sheet music. They’re spontaneous and motivational, driving our decisions, not responding to them. Lewis realizes this, I’m sure, but his superstitions constrain him, and he ends up with a flawed and inaccurate analogy. Instead of defending his arguments, he ends up highlighting the discrepancies between the way things really are and the way he thinks things ought to be. It sticks out like Pinocchio’s nose, but unlike the wooden boy, Lewis seems completely unperturbed. It’s part of what makes him so popular, in certain circles anyway.

Gathering of the Vibes: A Convergence of Peace, Love, and Happiness

Hidden within the city of Bridgeport, CT right on the Long Island Sound is a festival that comes around once a year that is filled with positive energy and merrymaking. This festival is Gathering of the Vibes. For four days, it is a coming together of 15,000-25,000 people with the intent of pursuing happiness, spreading good vibes, and enjoying music. Since 1996, Vibes has been paying homage to the Grateful Dead by having artists and bands that reflect similar musical styles and harmonic expressions, as well as the Dead themselves. Keeping a focus on grassroots, the festival has vendors that sell their hand-made wares and crafts (among other things), which helps give it a very non-commercial flavor. As at the Rainbow Family Gathering, there is a meditation on peace at the main stage led by Woodstock icon Wavy Gravy, which is a beautiful demonstration that a music and arts festival can not only be a place where people can come to enjoy music, but also be a tool and catalyst for world peace.

This year’s Gathering of the Vibes was held in Seaside Park, which is situated right on the Long Island Sound in the city of Bridgeport, CT. Upon driving into the city, I wondered where could there be a peaceful music festival in such a big city. It turned out that there is a park right by the ocean and this location was quite a beautiful place for a gathering of this kind.The weather was all sunshine and a small cloud here and there, adding to the wonderful feeling of serenity I felt in my being when entering the festival. There was relaxing music by Galactic playing and reverie was something I saw everywhere. Hula-hoops, bubbles, and tie die were everywhere I looked. A higher state of consciousness permeated this gathering…feelings and expressions of peace, love, and happiness. Meeting new people and making friends was an effortless and enjoyable process. There were so many incredible individuals at the festival. Some drove down from nearby Woodstock while others came all the way from California, where the festival was originally located. So many people from so many places converged in harmonic resonance with each other because of the focus being on the unifying states of consciousness. Being in such an elevated group consciousness has the ability to lift you up and enhance your sense of connectedness with others. It is a beautiful experience that everyone should have at least one time in their lives.

Since this festival is centered around the Grateful Dead, there is a sort of intimate connection with the 1960s consciousness revolution in that the Dead had started giving the gift of music to others back in 1964 in California when they called themselves the Warlocks. The Dead have an incredibly close-knit community that feels very unified to the point that they will travel great distances or even travel wherever the group goes to perform. Since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, who was essentially the leader of the band, the group known as Phish kept the strong unified community sense alive and includes many of those who adored the Grateful Dead. You will perhaps see more tie-dye at this festival than at any other event. It is a surreal explosion of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet that makes one feel an exhilarated sensation of visual pleasure. Here, it feels as if the 1960s had never ended. All the main elements that existed then are apparent now at this gathering of vibes, as the festival is so aptly named. For those who are gravitated towards the consciousness revolution aspect of the 1960s, this festival is certainly a place that you will want to experience sometime in the future.

Elements of the ego-based levels of consciousness were hardly anywhere to be found. There was plenty of unity-centered acts of conscious expression that I saw, which was quite a comforting element within the people at the festival. People gave both tangibles and intangibles freely and with love. The level of respect was something that is seldom seen. Everyone seemed to be in the same domain of consciousness, since harmony was a pervasive feeling I experienced all throughout the festival. Human beings acted as human beings…with empathy, compassion, and sincerity. Serenity and tranquility guided people in the way in which they presented themselves. There seemed to be no rush to get anywhere by anyone. Time ran as slow as molasses and what an enjoyable experience that was…to have one of the major elements of control loosen its grip on us.

Although it is a 4 day festival, I was only able to stay for two of the days and so I did not get a chance to experience all that this festival has to offer. However, the elements that I did experience were very pleasing and have persuaded me into going once again next year. Such gatherings of people being connected through the love of music and positivity are something that we should cherish, because they are models which demonstrate that a society based on peace and love is indeed possible, if we truly will it to be. Because of the universal reality of interconnectedness and oneness, we are already halfway to accomplishing such a seemingly-utopic society. All that is missing is the will and determination that such a reality is possible. Fueled by hope, we can make this happen, we can make this dream come true. The next time you are at a festival such as Gathering of the Vibes, become aware of the level of consciousness of all those around you collectively. Imagine this consciousness as being the one that permeates the global consciousness of humanity. The world is our mirror…let us see a reflection of peace, love, and unity so that in the future, this is the reflection all see.

Worship Style

What style of worship should we do? This is where the worship wars have been fought. Do you do traditional worship or contemporary worship? I like what Michael Horton has to say about style:

I resist the labels “traditional worship” and “contemporary worship.” Both terms imply that our worship debates are over no more than whether we will dig in our heels or catch up with the times. Our concern, rather, should be to center our services on God—on his speech and action in saving us.Michael Horton, “Beyond Style Wars: Recovering the Substance of Worship” accessed 3/30/10; available from http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH99/NH9904a.html

I like that concept because it places worship exactly where it needs to be, focused on God. There is more to this discussion of traditional or contemporary, but the point here is to reiterate that worship needs to be needs to be God-centered first.

“Many of our communicants were raised in churches that respected the Bible tremendously but were anticreedal, anti-institutional, antiliturgical, and suspicious of sharp doctrinal distinctives. These folks would once have regarded a church like ours as dead and traditional. Having lived through the charismatic Jesus Movement of the 1970s and the market-driven seeker movement of the 1980s and 1990s, many come to us with little doctrinal background.

They stayed with our church because it was strange; it pointed them to another world. They came to us not to have the secular world they inhabited baptized, but to be transformed—even shocked.”Ibid

Reflecting what we see  in Hebrews chapter 12, our worship, no matter the style, should point people to another world. We need a higher view of God; we need a higher view of worship. Let us not simply do happy clappy music. Let us worship God with excellence in such a way that our worship points to another world. But are all questions of traditional or contemporary out of place? Tim Keller comments:

“When we ignore historic tradition we break our solidarity with Christians of the past. Part of the richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people.”Tim Keller, “Evangelistic Worship”; accessed 3/30/10; available from http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/evangelisticworship.pdf

We are part of a very old family. We have an ancient and rich family history. By using God-centered old songs we can keep that solidarity with Christians of the past while singing praises to God. It is a glorification of God that flows from part of who we are as an historic people.
Conversely, we have a large existing family, and it makes sense for us to worship God with a certain amount of the providential cultural flavor that he has blessed us with. If we stay only in the past then we may be wearing blinders to what God is doing in the here and now. We miss that we can add our part of culture to the praise of the universal church in adoration of God alone. In that way God is glorified by people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.

XFiles Weekend: Assumptions and consequences

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 1, “The Law of Human Nature”)

Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity sets out to establish what C. S. Lewis calls “two facts” that “are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” We looked at the first of these “facts” last week: the notion that there is some kind of universal Moral Law, aka the Law of (Human) Nature, that dictates the definition of Right and Wrong. According to Lewis, we all know that this Moral Law exists, and we’ve even got some kind of inherent knowledge of what its commandments are. And yet (“fact” number two), we do not do what this Law tells us we should.

We’ll get to the rest of Chapter 1 in a moment, but first let’s note in passing just how far Lewis has already gone astray, due to the preconceived ideas he’s trying to impose on his interpretation of the evidence. Because he’s thinking in terms of divine commandments, he’s already introducing the notion that his so-called Moral Law is not just a description of common patterns of behavior, but is in fact some kind of obligation that each and every individual is somehow responsible to live up to. It’s a subtle little twist, but as he gets into the second part of Chapter 1, we’ll see that this extra little assumption is really a key factor intended to drive us to Lewis’ desired conclusion.

It’s kind of slick, in a way. He directs our attention to certain real-world facts (i.e. the way people judge actions in light of consequences), and then, while our attention is focused on the observations, he slips in a subtle, biased twist that colors our interpretation of these facts. Notice, the extra twist is not part of the observed facts: we don’t observe any Universal Moral Law with any objectively declared principle binding its precepts upon all mankind. This is purely Lewis’ ideology, injecting itself into the argument when it thinks no one is looking. Pretty sneaky, eh?

Before we get to Lewis’ second “fact,” let’s clean up a loose end from last week. Lewis is arguing that there is a universal, and universally-known, Moral Law.

Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.

The problem with these two examples is that neither one is true. There have been and still are cultures and subcultures that admire those who put themselves first (and in fact some of our own celebrities are famous for it). They may not call it “selfishness,” since that’s the term used by people on the receiving end of this kind of behavior, assuming they don’t like it. But the cult of ego has always been a significant part of human society, and forms a large part of the “divine right of kings” mythology that has been popular for so much of human history.

Likewise, the people who “all agree” that you shouldn’t simply take any woman you like are the people who, despite the casual and callous sexism of Lewis’ era, were willing to admit that there is a certain merit to be had in respecting women’s rights. This has not always been a universal condition, and in fact in times of war the idea of “take any woman you like” has been rather popular, to the point that it even became part of the Law of Moses.

What Lewis is referring to is the common assumption that all “right-minded” men have agreed with the things he’s proposing, i.e. everybody whose moral perceptions must be correct because they match Lewis’ standards. He’s not reasoning based on things as they are, he’s simply exercising his own preconceived ideas about the way things ought to be. But like I said, that’s last week’s topic. Let’s move on to this week’s.

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. If there are any exceptions among you, I apologize to them. They had much better read some other book, for nothing I am going to say concerns them. And now, turning to the ordinary human beings who are left:

I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact: the fact that this year, or this month, or more likely, this very day, we have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.

Notice how Lewis’ preconceived ideas about morality inject themselves into his interpretation of the facts. Not only does he believe there is a real Right and Wrong, his argument implicitly assumes that this Moral Law is right about what’s Right and Wrong for everyone, all at the same time. He is assuming, in other words, that there’s always a Right thing we could have done, and that by failing to do it, we have done Wrong.

Sadly, we live in a world where this is not always the case. There are many situations where life gives us, not a choice between Right and Wrong, but a choice between Wrong and Wrong. Two shoppers each have handicapped granddaughters whose heart is set on getting a Groompy doll for Christmas, and there’s only one left. To be generous to the stranger is to add one more heartache to a small child’s life of misery. What’s the “right” thing to do? Or on a more serious note, take certain hot social issues, like abortion. To intentionally kill a healthy human fetus seems Wrong, but to violate a woman’s body via an unwanted pregnancy is also Wrong. What’s the Right answer? There isn’t one, which is why it’s so controversial.

In fact, if we go back to our original understanding of morality, we can see why this situation is more or less inevitable: we all judge Right and Wrong in terms of how we feel about the consequences of our choices. Some choices are easy: if you threaten enough people, they’ll gang up on you and eliminate you as a threat, which you probably won’t like. That’s easy, because there’s a clear difference between the good outcome and the unpleasant one.

But what about situations where all the outcomes are undesirable, albeit in different ways? There is no clear path to the right answer, because there is no right answer. This happens often enough in real life that we can say with reasonable certainty that Lewis’ mythical Moral Law is just that: mythical. We all wish there were always a way out, a right answer that resolves every situation, but there isn’t. Some of us, like Lewis, retreat from this harsh reality by imagining an invisible, universal, and eternal Law that knows all the right answers, even if we don’t. But this kind of fantasy is just wishful thinking, and it’s mere superstition to try and attribute our own moral behavior to this kind of imaginary Law of Nature.

This gives Lewis a significant handicap when it comes to trying to develop an impartial and reasonable system of morality and ethics. Had he begun with an accurate understanding of how we make moral judgments, he would have seen right away that there is no Moral Law that provides consistently Right answers to all human individuals at the same time. It can’t, because our moral judgments are based on consequences, and it’s frequently difficult, if not downright impossible, to find a course of action that produces outcomes that everyone regards as optimal. There’s just too much conflict and competition, and not enough material and social capital to go around.

Lewis has missed this point, which is a real shame because now he’s going to lay what he calls “the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in” without taking this vital element into account. Instead, he’s going to assume that there is always a Right answer, a course of action that we know we ought to do, and yet some mysterious force within each of us magically drives us to choose Wrong instead. Superstition piles up on superstition, and “clear thinking” gets buried at the bottom, unmissed and unlamented.