Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 3: “Social Morality”

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. … Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that. … The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk. The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. 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, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

What do we mean by The Church ought to take the lead in making a “Christian society?”

  • The right ways:
    • Christians with the talents to be economists and statesmen should be Christ-centered economists and statesmen.
    • We should all use the gifts and talents we have in a Christ-centered way to benefit and lead all of society.
  • The wrong way
    • It’s not up to the preachers and clergy.
    • Clergy should not be presenting a political program. They should be tending to the needs of the flock.
    • A ‘bench of bishops’ producing “Christian” novels and plays in their spare time would result in some of the worst novels and plays. Those should be produced by novelists and dramatists who are gifted and Christ-centered in their work.
  • The New Testament gives us an idea of what a fully Christian society would look like:
    • Economically “Leftist”
      • no passengers or parasites
      • no production of “silly luxuries” and “sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them.”
      • “no ‘swank’ or ‘side,’ no putting on airs.”
      • generous
    • Socially “Puritan”
      • Family oriented, ceremonial, aristocratic
      • obedience and respect toward government/magistrates, children to parents, wives to husbands (doh!)
    • Cheerful (!)
      • full of singing and rejoicing
      • full of music and dancing
      • anxiety and worry would be regarded as wrong. (!)
      • courteous
      • no busybodies or gossip. (!)
    • ‘Usury’ — no lending of money at interest… which is what our entire economic system is based on. (!)
      • Moses, Aristotle and Christians (Bible authors) all condemn it.
      • This is a real problem, and easily rationalized by modern Christians…. is that rationalization right? Lewis even squirms around on this point.
    • Every one must work (!)
      • “Let the thief steal no more, but rather let him be industrious, making an honest living with his own hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.” (Ephesians 4:27-29 (Amplified Bible))
      • Be generous
      • 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. In other words,’ if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of ‘charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear–fear of insecurity.

Lewis ventures to speculate on the readers reaction, and I’m inclined to agree with him… because he pretty much nailed my reaction….

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. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or–a Judge. … A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would he 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.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 4: “Morality and Psychoanalysis” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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