Friday, October 13, 2006

Mere, Mere, On The Wall

Years ago while studying Theology at Aldersgate College, one of my textbooks was C.S. Lewis' masterpiece Mere Christianity. I recalled this book with fondness, and have wanted to pick it up again for some time.

I found it online for cheap cheap cheap and couldn't resist, and for the last few weeks I've been picking away at it. (It's hard to make time to read when you've got to balance family, work, faith, prayer, and that confounded pastime: blogging).

In going over this work and seeing Lewis' absolute perspective on the world, it occurs to me that we've really lost this sense of reality.

I laughed when I watched Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and saw Obi Wan and Anakin, newly turned to the Dark Side, meet and start yelling at each other. Anakin says, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," to which Obi Wan responds, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." And then we have an epic lightsaber battle.

But back up a minute... somebody better tell the Jedi Council: that statement is an absolute one itself. Besides, right before that, Obi Wan tells Anakin, "The Sith are evil!" Sounds pretty absolute to me.

Now, far be it from me, a pasty white computer nerd, to think that Star Wars dictates reality. What interests me about these comments is the fact that Hollywood generated them for our popular consumption. In all likelihood, many focus groups thought the lines were just fine.

But then I'm watching CSI tonight, the episode entitled "Fannysmackin'," and I see the characters talking in the locker room about a gruesome case they just solved. The discussion's theme was how the kids who had committed the murder were utterly remorseless when confronted with their crimes, regardless of how well these kids were raised. Then the main character, Gil Grissom, enters and spews forth some wisdom:

The truth is, a moral compass can only point you in the right direction; it can't make you go there. Our culture preaches that you shouldn't be ashamed of anything you do anymore, and unfortunately this city is built on the principle that there's no such thing as guilt. "Do whatever you want! We won't tell." So without conscience, there's nothing to stop you from killing someone. And evidently, you don't even have to feel bad about it.

I'm amazed that prime time TV allowed such a statement to be carried over the airwaves. The whole argument against the strict rules of the Church (contraception, divorce, sexual morality, etc) is blown away by its logical conclusion. For if we allow any one part of the conscience to be turned off, why should we be stunned when other parts turn off too? If "conscience" is not carefully formed, protected, and applied, it is useless.

Here's what C. S. Lewis has to say:

[Before becoming a Christian] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? [....] Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.

In other words, either there are absolutes, or there is anarchy. I cannot say that something is wrong for me but right for somebody else, for then I have no recourse when others do something to me which I consider wrong but they consider right. If I were to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she is seeking to murder her baby and is putting her soul in jeopardy, then I'd be immediately subjected to a plethora of criticism and labels of intolerance. But if I were to tell the angry mob, "By calling me intolerant you're offending me," they'd respond with, "We won't tolerate intolerance from anybody, bubba! It's one of those things that is never acceptable."

Here's the question, then (and be warned, the answer is what brought me to Catholicism): Who maintains this list of unacceptable things?

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