Tuesday, November 8, 2011

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. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right."

Is it that it's 'what's right' or that it's what is beneficial to society? I guess it boils down to whether or not you think that there is some outside force a God or gods or divine what-have-you that set down rules. If you do, then it's 'what's right' because that outside force has said it is. And if you don't, then it can be best seen as the natural progression and expression of human nature. That we perceive the 'Golden Rule' as good because it presents the greatest benefits and opportunities for continuation of the species.

Lewis goes on to state that Christianity tells you general principles but not how to apply them in specifics. For instance, it tells you to feed the hungry but doesn't teach you how to cook. "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." This, he says, is the reason why the Church (meaning Christians, not a specific denomination like Roman Catholicism or Baptist or Pentecostal or...etc.) does not (or should not) set out to produce a program for running the world.

"And 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 that all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting `Do as you would be done by' into action."

This is where he looses me. I agree with his point that the Church should not be trying to be a political entity. Religion and politics don't mix well in that fashion. My problem comes when he says that 'all economists and statesmen should be Christians'. I know that he's saying this is what people *ought* to be thinking when they say that they want the Church to get involved in politics, though he knows it's not what they're thinking but I'm thinking that since he says this is what they should be thinking that it is his thinking. So he thinks that all politicians, etc. should be Christian. Expand on that and that means he thinks that everyone should be Christian. Which is the goal of Christianity, sure. But it's not practical. It's not going to *happen* and it bothers me, this desire to see everyone in power as a Christian. I don't think that one group should have exclusive control over anything by virtue of simply being 'x'.

Or, well, not in the secular sphere at any rate. There's always an exception, isn't there? For instance, the board of a church should be made up of people who are all members of that church. Therefore making them, in theory, all Christians. Similarly for a mosque or a synagogue.

Shush. I never promised consistency.

"the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no `swank' or `side', no putting on airs."

I think I must have missed this part of the New Testament. Where does it say that? And if it does, isn't this a contradiction to the commands for charity? It reminds me of this one scene from The Help. Hildy's maid is asking her for a loan. I believe it was for $60, $70. Small enough. It was all she needed to be able to send both of her sons to college. And Hildy spouted some crap about a 'true Christian' not giving handouts to people who could help themselves and that she wouldn't be doing any favors by loaning that money.

Where's the line? If both commands are contained in the Bible, how do you tell who you're *commanded* to give charity to and who you shouldn't give charity to because they're lazy sods who don't belong in a 'Christian nation'?

Lewis mentions that the ancient Greeks, the Old Testament Jews and the Christian teachers of the Middle Ages all told us not to lend money at interest. I'm not sure *why* he chooses to mention this, really. I'm not sure if he means it as a condemnation of the current economic system or not. But he mentions it and points out that our entire economy is based on doing the opposite of what these three civilizations told us to do. Also, Islam forbids interest. But he doesn't mention that. Perhaps he doesn't view them as as 'great' as the other groups? I don't know.

Then at the end he speaks of Charity.

"In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason `in order that he may have something to give to those in need'. Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality"

So...I still question where the line is. How do you know when to give charity, the essential if not lynch pin portion of Christian morality? Or am I missing something? It's entirely possible. I'm not a Bible scholar unlike some people!


  1. Oh, lots of interesting topics here! I'll try to come back later and delve into them more if I can. Andrew has surgery this morning so I am a bit pressed for time. I have to be there since he will be put to sleep.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I think that is actually pretty consistent! :D It just means that the board/government/whatever of any group should be representative of the whole group - no more and no less. Just like someone who's not a member of the church shouldn't be on the board for it, someone who's not a citizen of a country shouldn't be elected to public office and make laws for it. And just like government shouldn't be limited to Christians because the whole country is not Christian, a church board shouldn't be limited to a sub-group such as by race, gender, job, etc.

    The bit about not eating unless you've worked actually is "Biblical," in the sense that it's mentioned at least once. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) It's also supported by Paul's whole ministry, which is what he's talking about in that passage as an example. He traveled around and worked when he got to a place, but (I think) only asked for food and housing as payment. He was earning his keep by serving as part of the community.

    It's not a commandment against charity, because even feeding Paul that way could be seen as "charity." In a Christian society, ideally, the plan seems to be that no one would go hungry and need charity, because the community takes care of each other and shares what they have. So even if you don't have a job that society as a whole considers valuable and pays you for, if you work to help the community, the community feeds and clothes you.

    But obviously, as you note, there's more to it than that. We don't live in that sort of community (at least, most don't), and so people can't just take a verse or passage out of the Bible and say that because it worked for them it exactly applies in the same way today. You have to think through it and evaluate what the community was actually getting at and trying to live out, and how to make that work today. In a society where it's hard to get ahead and make a good living without college, and where those who don't get those good jobs won't be looked after, giving someone a loan to help them through college isn't throwing away money, it's making an investment in the community. A statement such as the one Hildy (a character in the book/movie?) makes is just ignorant - the system is not actually set up to allow people to help themselves. We just tell ourselves that so we don't have to deal with caring for each other and inconveniencing ourselves the way the early Church did. I don't know what can be done about that, given that our current system is so different and it is hard to apply those concepts (not to mention the fact that its Christian source will make some non-Christians defensive off the bat and not interested in applying them, which is sad because it they are good ones sometimes), but I think it's something that we could all learn from.

    (AW! My word verification is "squee"! It knows me!)

  3. Susanne,

    Hey, how's Andrew doing anyway? I hope his hand is healing well and he's not in too much pain!

  4. sanil,

    Okay, as long as it makes sense to someone who's not me we'll call it consistent!

    Oooh...good. See, Lewis doesn't include references, probably because the book was originally a series of radio shows so I couldn't just go look it up to see what he was talking about. And I'm not as well versed in the Bible as you or Susanne or probably a million other people so I couldn't recall reading anything along those lines off the top of my head. Part of that is probably that the emphasis is put so much (in sermons and books) on giving charity so that's what really sticks in the front of the mind.

    I agree with everything you wrote, so *thumbs up*. :)

    And yes, Hildy's a character from The Help.


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