C.S. Lewis in his opening to the book Mere Christianity gives several examples of the statements when hear when someone is arguing. ‘How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ – ‘That’s my seat, I was there first’ – ‘Leave him alone he isn’t doing you any harm’ – ‘Why should you shove in first?’ – ‘Give me a bit of you orange, I gave you a bit of mine’ – ‘Come on you promised’, are the type of statements we would not be surprised to hear during a dispute.[1] What interested Lewis is that those participating in a dispute seem to be appealing to a standard of good human behavior which they expect their opponent to know about.

But is this a reasonable assumption? Do you human beings really recognize an objective standard of good human behavior applicable to all humanity throughout all human history? Many people try to reject the idea of objective, transcendent ethics but they often betray themselves in their own behavior. According to C.S. Lewis, “Whenever you find man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair before you can say Jack Robinson.”[2] This is the absurdity that arises when we don’t recognize objective moral duties and values. We lay blame at the immoral actions of others all while denying the existence of a moral standard.  Furthermore, we readily recognize systematically killing 6 million Jews is really wrong. Purposely flying planes into a building full of innocent people is really wrong. Indiscriminately opening fire in a school of young children is really wrong. In fact the highly secular New York Times claimed that the tragic events of September 11, 2001 call out for “a transcendent moral standard.”[3]

It seems to avoid the absurdity of indifference to tragic evil events we must accept that there is a real standard for Right and Wrong. This standard was called the Law of Nature by ancient western philosophers. Today the title Laws of Nature are more in reference to scientific laws like gravity. What the ancients meant was not scientific laws but the moral laws that govern human interaction. Today it is best known as the Law of Human Nature. The Laws of Nature and those of Human Nature are similar in that they dictate the proper behavior of their subject. There is a critical difference however. Nature always obeys the Laws of Nature, the Laws of Human Nature act more like suggestions because Human beings are able to act against them. The Laws of Human Nature are like a message we receive telling us how we ought to act. We may or may not yield to the message but we know that messages only come from a messenger, that suggestions only come from a suggester and that laws come from a law giver. So what we find inside ourselves and assume to be found inside of all others are messages from a moral law giver, “urging us to do right and making us feel responsible and uncomfortable when we do wrong.”[4] This messenger, this mind, this person behind the moral imperatives of all humanity is what we recognize as God.

When we reflect upon this even deeper it becomes clear that for the moral and ethical values to have any worth there must be a person behind the moral standard by which we judge all human activity. Feelings of responsibility and guilt when falling short of the standard are only appropriate if there is a person to which we are responsible. Feelings of being approved and gratitude when the law is kept are only appropriate if there is a person to which those can be expressed. Additionally, all law and justice are lost if there is not a person that presides over all human action.

The UN in 1948 drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution declared the “inherent dignity” and “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” The declaration goes on to state, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” When asked to explain the foundational basis for the declaration’s language one of the writers responded, “We agree on the rights, providing we are not asked why. With the why the dispute begins.”[5] The universal why is a question that must be answered for every law. Without God the question of ‘why’ looms ominously threatening to destroy any adherence to legal regulation. Atheist lawyer Arthur Leff recognized all law collapses into arbitrary arrangements, none of which can survive the taunt, “But says who?” For Leff only God can survive the “cosmic says who?” To quote Leff, “…no person, no combination of people, no document however hollowed by time, no process, no premise, nothing is equivalent to an actual God in this central function as the unexaminable examiner of good and evil. The so called death of God turns out not to have been just His funeral, it also seems to have affected the total elimination of any coherent or even more than momentarily convincing ethical or legal system…” Leff is arguing to the logical conclusion that without God there is no objective moral authority to serve as the basis for normative law or pronouncements of justice.

Leff continues, “All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves, and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things stand now, everything is up for grabs.

Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. Those who stood up and died resisting Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot —and General Custer too— have earned salvation. Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned. There is in the world such a thing as evil. [All together now:] Sez who? God help us. [6]

Ironically an atheist laywer in a paper where his aim is to ground law in human will ends said paper in a plea for God’s help.

______

[1] C S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality, harpercollins ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 3.

[2] ibid, 6.

[3] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 18.

[4] C S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality, harpercollins ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 18.

[5] Paul Copan and Chad Meister, eds., Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 127.

[6] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 354.

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