CS Lewis on Moral Objectives

CS Lewis
CS Lewis

The belief that morals are grounded in a transcendent source (God) is something worth fighting for, if you understand what author CS Lewis was trying to communicate. Lewis conveyed in his writings that if subjectivism, the belief that morals are based on personal feelings or opinions, is left unchecked it tends toward evil. This is a pervasive theme Lewis dealt with, according to Dr. Jerry Root, a world-renowned expert on CS Lewis and professor at Wheaton College, who held a seminar recently at Biola University.

Root noted how Lewis would depict evil characters seeking to conform the world to their wishes (subjectivism), like Jadis, the white witch of Narnia. Many historic persons already have tried unsuccessfully to do this: Hitler, Stalin, even ISIS. When morality is merely a man-made, there is no higher power to appeal to, as it seeks to shape reality to make it fit its preconceived notions. Objectivism, where moral laws are transcendent coming from God’s laws (as spelled out in the Ten Commandments, for example), tends toward the overall good of society, based in objective reality.

Lewis leads readers to recognize these truths, and when reading his works, one can use Lewis as a sort of “spectacle” to see God’s plans more clearly. His stories help to take our eyes off of ourselves and see reality. However, this can be a tricky thing, Root explained, since “reality is iconoclastic.” This means reality tends to challenge our cherished beliefs or institutions, which Lewis mastered by storytelling.

Lewis explored how humanity is caught between two cities: the city where we’re born, and the city yet to be. He considered the world of play, when as children we pretend as a signal of a deeper longing to leave this world and go to another place. Our imaginations help to incarnate these longings, which hints of a desire unfulfilled.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series, Lewis showed how characters broke out of the “dungeon of self.” Root explained that Eustace was a dragon at heart, and literally transformed into a dragon only to realize that is exactly how he is—a tyrannical, fire-breathing brat! He eventually broke free of this self (the dragon), and was changed from a bratty, self-entitled boy into a young man of true integrity.

Lewis was an expert in the art of rhetoric and used this persuasive writing style to help readers grasp an echo of a longing that can only be rooted to God. He showed that beauty can breakthrough to a man, making sense out of life—that there is a purpose for it. These breakthroughs, however, can have a kind of arbitrariness to them—what awakens one may not awaken another. This is clearly worked out in many of Lewis’ stories, from Till We Have Faces, to The Great Divorce, showing how there are moments of regeneration sprinkled throughout our lives.

Lewis’ own personal moment of regeneration came from his brother’s simple toy garden. It was his first experience of beauty, he writes, and wonder was awakened by this shadow box his brother created. This simple act of beauty spawned the beginning of many glorious themes! Lewis often played out this theme to show how our eyes need to be opened to beauty, to longing, to a desire for joy.

These desires awaken the question: a desire for what? Lewis shows these moments can awaken us to the awareness of God. He captures a theme of how we’re living in a dark room, a very broken place, and then moments of regeneration emerge that turn the lights on so we can see more clearly. It’s similar to a “mirror moment,” like when Eustice saw himself as a dragon instead of a boy.

This is the kind of poetic imagery Lewis is famous for, and one in which we can grasp the romantic aspects of faith combined with reason. He helps readers appreciate that beauty is rooted in objective reality, not in a subjective self-reference or feelings (we can’t judge truth from looking inward). However, God allows free will that can cause misjudgment to occur in His ordered world, but this doesn’t implicate God. “God knows how to exploit evils for His own good,” Lewis said. Although God did not create evil, He sometimes uses suffering to improve character.

This improved character should then show others how God uses these moments to make us aware of that unmet longing, the desire for joy that only God can fulfill. It’s the romantic aspects of faith (the heart) combined with reason (the mind) that weaves stories together in Lewis’ exquisitely told tales. Anyone serious about reaching today’s culture for Christ in apologetics, or otherwise, would do well spending some time drifting into the imagination of CS Lewis, where he connects readers to the longings of the human heart to find ultimate fulfillment in God.

CS Lewis acknowledged that only God has perfect knowledge, setting objective moral standards within His laws to help protect us from evil that subjective morality could create. To keep evil at bay, objective morality needs to be the ruler by which we guide society, or else we could end up ‘under the spell’ of a corrupt leader.