Mere Christianity – Book III – Chapter 3 (“Social Morality”)



Picking back up my notes for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”…

Notes & Quotes

1. Christ did not preach a brand new morality

“The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right… As Dr. Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed'”

2. Christianity is not a political programme

(a) It is not a detailed set of rules

“…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”

(b) It is, instead, meant to act as a guide

“It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life…”

4. It is up to every Christian to bring the Golden Rule to his/her domain of responsibility and excellence

“…when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians – those who happen to have the right talents – should be economists and statesmen…[and] be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action.

…Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists – not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time”

5. The New Testament hints at what a fully Christian society would be like

(a) It seems to be an odd mix

“We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced,’ but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic”

(b) Few of us would like everything

“Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing… every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity”

6. Greek, Jewish and Early Christian communities rejected usury

“…the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages… told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest – what we call investment – is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong…”

7. Charity is essential

“Charity – giving to the poor – is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns”

(a) Some may advocate for producing a society which doesn’t need charity

“They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce that kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality”

(b) We should probably give more than we do

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare… If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small”

(c) Fear of insecurity is our greatest obstacle

“…the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear-fear of insecurity… Sometimes…we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help”

8. We approach this question badly

(a) Some thing it is too far to the left, some to the right

“My guess is that there are some Leftist people among them who are very angry that it has not gone further in that direction, and some people of an opposite sort who are angry because they think it has gone much too far”

(b) We’re seeking validation, not understanding

“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”

(c) It begins with me

“I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward -driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home”

Discussion Questions

1. Did Christ teach a new morality?

2. How does Christianity relate to politics? What does Christianity give us and what does it not give us?

3. How does Jack envisage the making of a Christian society?

4. What hints does the New Testament give us about a Christian society?

5. What is Jack’s concern about usury?

6. What advice does he have for us about charity?

7. How will most people react to this chapter?

C.S. Lewis Doodle

No doodle!

Mere Christianity – Book III – Chapter 2 (“The ‘Cardinal Virtues'”)


Picking back up my notes for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”…

Notes & Quotes

1. We may speak of Christian morality in terms of the seven virtues

(b) Three are called “Theological” virtues

“…as a rule, only Christians know about [these]…”

(a) Four are called “Cardinal” virtues

“…all civilised people recognise [these]… It comes from a Latin word meaning “the hinge of a door…they are, as we should say, ‘pivotal'”

(i) Prudence

“Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it”

Some think that prudence isn’t really a virtue and that it’s okay to be a foolish and childish, but…

(a) Christ wants us to grow

“Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence… He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.

He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have”

(b) Christianity is an education in itself

“Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan* was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world”

* John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

(ii) Temperance

“Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further”

(a) Temperance, or even abstinence, does not mean the thing is bad in and of itself

“…An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons-marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning”

(b) We should not think that temperance is restricted to drink

“One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as “intemperate” as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals”

(iii) Justice

“It is the old name for everything we should now call “fairness”; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life”

(iv) Fortitude 

“And Fortitude includes both kinds of courage-the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that “sticks it” under pain. “Guts” is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practise any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play”

2. There is a difference between an individual act and a character

“Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is the man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on… In the same way a man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of ‘virtue'”

If we think only of particular actions, embrace three wrong ideas:

(a) How and why don’t matter

“…whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a “virtue,” and it is this quality or character that really matters”

(b) God cares more about rules

“We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort”

(c) Virtues are only for this life

“Now it is quite true that there will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here… if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a “Heaven” for them…”

Discussion Questions

1. What are the “Cardinal Virtues”?

2. What is the difference between the “Cardinal” and “Theological” virtues?

3. Why might some Christians not think that prudence is a virtue?

4. Why is it dangerous to restrict “temperance” to “drink” and “teetotalism”?

5. What is the difference between acts and character? How might we go wrong if we think more about acts than character?

C.S. Lewis Doodle

No doodle!

Wise Words on Wednesday: The Texting High


“…a girl who has seven different guys she texts in order to be emotionally filled up, to mask her insecurities, her feelings of worthlessness or of being alone. The women tell me that the sensation and surge of worth and fulfillment they get from seeing their phone light up with an incoming text is intoxicating. The words of endearment or desire are like a drug – addictive, always leaving you wanting more”

– Sarah Swafford, Emotional Virtue

Mere Christianity – Book III – Chapter 1 (“The Three Parts of Morality”)



Picking back up my notes for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”…

Notes & Quotes

1. Many people think of morality as something which interferes, particularly with our enjoyment.

(a) However, morality is there for our own good.

“…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”

(b) What might initially seem right to us will cause problems.

“When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, ‘No, don’t do it like that,’ because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work”

2. Some people prefer to talk about “ideals” and “idealism” rather than “rules” and “obedience”.

(a) However, it is misleading to call moral perfection an ideal because it implies that it’s a private taste and therefore not binding on all

“When a man says that a certain woman…is ‘his ideal’ he does not mean…that everyone else ought to have the same ideal. In such matters we are entitled to have different tastes and, therefore, different ideals”

(b) It could lead to pride…

“It might lead you to become a prig and to think you were rather a special person who deserved to be congratulated on his ‘idealism'”

(c) …and this is as foolish as being congratulated in trying to not make a mistake in your arithmetic

“…you might just as well expect to be congratulated because, whenever you do a sum, you try to get it quite right. To be sure, perfect arithmetic is ‘an ideal’; you will certainly make some mistakes in some calculations. But there is nothing very fine about trying to be quite accurate at each step in each sum.

It would be idiotic not to try; for every mistake is going to cause you trouble later on. In the same way every moral failure is going to cause trouble, probably to others and certainly to yourself. By talking about rules and obedience instead of “ideals” and ‘idealism’ we help to remind ourselves of these facts”

3. Morality can be expressed in the metaphor of a fleet of ships

(a) The ships must have internal integrity and external integrity in relation to one another

“The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order

…you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order they will not be able to avoid collisions”

(c) Additionally, the final destination is fundamentally important

“…however well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta”

4. An alternative metaphor is that of a musical band

“…think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get a good result, you need two things. Each player’s individual instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so as to combine with all the others.

…The instruments might be all in tune and might all come in at the right moment, but even so the performance would not be a success if they had been engaged to provide dance music and actually played nothing but Dead Marches”

5. We may therefore conclude that morality concerns three things:

(a) Exterior: Social relations with other humans

(b) Interior: The harmonising of the interior life

(c) Teleological: In relation to the purpose of man and his creator

6. When speaking about morality, modernity tends to ignore the last two

“When people say in the newspapers that we are striving for Christian moral standards, they usually mean that we are striving for kindness and fair play between nations, and classes, and individuals; that is, they are thinking only of the first thing”

(a) It is quite natural to focus on the first one because its effects are obvious and there is general agreement

“…the results of bad morality in that sphere are so obvious and press on us every day: war and poverty and graft and lies and shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is very little disagreement about morality”

(b) However, we can’t stop there…

“Unless we go on to the second thing-the tidying up inside each human being-we are only deceiving ourselves.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them?”

(c) We must consider the individual’s morality (the “second thing”) because we rely upon it

“…nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly

It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual”

(d) We must also consider our purpose (the “third thing”)…

“…religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet: if they are false, quite a different set”

(i) …because the answer to this question may reveal responsibilities 

“…If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself”

(ii) …and because it makes a difference whether we live forever

“…there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever”

(A) Moral Trajectory

“Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be”

(B) The individual and society

“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment”

7. Jack is going to assume the Christian point of view moving forward

“For the rest of this book I am going to assume the Christian point of view, and look at the whole picture as it will be if Christianity is true”

Discussion Questions

1. How do many people view morality? How does Jack present it?

2. Why should we not be surprised when we find that morality “interferes”?

3. What is the problem with talking about morals as “ideals”?

4. What are the two metaphors Jack uses to explain the different components of morality?

5. What are these three parts of morality? Around which parts are there consensus?

6. What can we not just stop at inter-personal morality? Why does interior morality matter? What are the consequences for society?

7. Why does it matter if we live forever?

C.S. Lewis Doodle

Music Monday: At the cross

Today’s song is “At the cross” by Chris Tomlin:

There’s a place where mercy reigns and never dies
There’s a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood, Comes flowing down

At the cross, at the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You, I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red, and my sin washed white
I owe all to You, I owe all to You Jesus

There’s a place where sin and shame are powerless
Where my heart has peace with God and forgiveness
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood
Comes flowing down

Here my hope is found, here on holy ground
Here I bow down, here I bow down
Here arms open wide, here You save my life
Here I bow down, here I bow

Islam and violence

I’ve had an interest in Islam for quite some time now. Particularly during the weeks when I was reading through the Qur’an, I would regularly have people ask me about the relationship between Islam and violence.

Given that tomorrow is the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I thought it appropriate to post this debate between Robert Spence and Dr. James White, which I think brings up most of the major points which have to be considered in relation to this question:

Pregnant, Christian and unmarried


A while ago I read an article about an eighteen-year-old girl who attended a small, private Christian school here in the USA. Despite being President of the Student Council and an Honours student with a 4.0 average, Maddi Runkles was removed from the Council and banned from “walking” in her graduation ceremony. The reason for this punishment was that she had become pregnant…

While it is understandable that the school felt the need to do something to make it clear that Maddi’s actions did not align with the behaviour expected by the school, I think the school’s response was extremely poor. Yes, it causes scandal when Christians don’t live up to Christian morality, but I think it causes even more harm when we teach the world that Christians think appearances matter more and that it’s better to sweep our faults under the rug.

You see, when Maddi became pregnant, she had a choice. She could either face her parents, go through the physical and emotional strains of pregnancy, deal with the critical looks from her teachers, the gossip from her classmates (under the guise of “prayerful concern”) and the mocking recriminations from those she had ever tried to evangelize….or she could have had an abortion. Would she have received the same punishment, I wonder, had it been discovered that she’d had an abortion?

Regardless of how pro-life Maddi was up until this point in her life, I have no doubt that, upon finding out she was pregnant, abortion looked like an extremely tempting option. One short appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic and the “problem” would go away… Yet, thank God, she didn’t do this. In the choice between life and death, she chose life. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 54% of women who receive abortions identify as Christians. Especially in light of this, Maddi’s school should have been falling over themselves to support her in her decision to keep her baby and walk this difficult road.

As a friend of mine commented, Catholics can confess the worst possible sins to a priest in private, but then publicly walk towards the altar at Mass to receive the Eucharist…something which we can only ever do through the grace and mercy of the Lord.

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