The morality of today’s culture is a funny thing; one minute everyone is free to live however they see fit, and then in the blink of an eye someone is guilty of an egregious moral sin. I don’t think it would be out of line to say that our culture is suffering from a severe case of schizophrenia. Someone can say “No one can tell me how to live or what to think,” and then point the finger and say “You should live and think this way,” and never see what they have just done. All of a sudden, they have made themselves a judge while condemning others for judging them in some way. Cultural morality is a funny thing, indeed!
If morality is based on the individual, then no one can condemn someone else; if morality is based on society, then one society cannot condemn another society; if morality is based on government, then one government cannot condemn another government. The only way we can call something absolutely right or wrong is if there is an absolute right and wrong outside of ourselves, and, believe it or not, that is exactly what we appeal to every day.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis discusses what he calls “the Law of Human Nature.” This is his equivalent of what we might call the “Universal Moral Law.” In his discussion, he brilliantly brings forward two examples that point to a universal moral law written into our very being: fairness and excuses.
Lewis explains fairness as such: “But the most remarkable thing is this. Whenever you find a 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.” Sometimes this takes on the form of hypocrisy, justifying a behavior we like while condemning others for doing the same thing. Fairness might be passed off as subjective when it benefits us, but it becomes absolute when we feel we have been treated unfairly. However, subjective fairness is unlivable because everyone will be appealing to as many different standards as there are cases. The question is: Which standard is correct?
As he moves through this topic, Lewis touches on another example showing the reality of a real Right and Wrong: “If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations.” We should ask ourselves a very important question: Why do we make excuses? What is the point if everyone is free to live out his or her own morality?
We find within ourselves a pull, and this pull tells us that there is a certain way we should conduct ourselves, and it is there despite what society or human law tells us. In fact, society and human law have simply reiterated what this pull is already telling us, that there is a Right and Wrong, and we should live a certain way. Everywhere in the world we find people appealing to a standard beyond themselves for fairness, and we all make excuses when we know we have broken that standard.
A couple of final questions:
What would you say to a society who thought it good to throw children under five-years-old into a fire?
What would you think of a culture who always excused the criminal and punished the victim?
Is it unfair just because that’s how you personally feel, or are those situations evil and unfair for everyone everywhere?
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. (New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 6.