Friday, 26 October 2007

Excerpts from C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity

Lacking any writing that I feel that I can publish here--I do have some writing, but due to the theoretical possibility of publishing it in print, I'll avoid posting it here--I will post assorted excerpts from Mere Christianity to keep whatever readers I have entertained until I manage to scratch something together.

As a sidebar: recall the time period in which Lewis was writing. I most certainly do not agree with some of the things Lewis says, especially regarding gender equality or same-sex issues. However, that does not change the basis of the arguments I quote here.

From Book Three: Christian Behaviour, Chapter 4: Morality and Psychoanalysis

"When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is that act of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the raw material of his choice. Now this raw material may be of two kinds. Either it may be what we would call normal: it may consist of the sort of feelings that are common to all men. Or else it may consist of quite unnatural feelings due to things that have gone wrong in his subconscious. Thus fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind: an irrational fear of cats or spiders would be an example of the second kind. The desire of a man for a woman would be of the first kind: the perverted desire of a man for a man would be of the second. Now what psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings, that is, to give the man better raw material for his acts of choice; morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves.

"Put it this way. Imagine three men who go to a war. One has the ordinary natural fear of danger that any man has and he subdues it by moral effort and becomes a brave man. Let us suppose that the other two have, as a result of things in their subconscious, exaggerated, irrational fears, which no amount of moral effort can do anything about. Now suppose that a psychoanalyst comes along and cures these two: that is, he puts them back in the position of the first man. Well it is just then that the psychoanalytical problem is over and the moral problem begins. Because, now that they are cured, these two men might take quite different lines. The first might say, 'Thank goodness I've got rid of all those doo-dahs. Now at last I can do what I always wanted to do--my duty to my country.' But the other might say, 'Well, I'm very glad that I now feel moderately cool under fire, but, of course, that doesn't alter the fact that I'll still jolly well determined to look after Number One and let the other chap do the dangerous job whenever I can. Indeed one of the good things about feeling less frightened is that I can now look after myself much more efficiently and can be much cleverer at hiding the fact from others.' Now this difference is a purely moral one and psychoanalysis cannot do anything about it. However much you improve the man's raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing morality is concerned with.

"The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathelogical horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good readon, it is quite possible that in God's eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown winning the V.C. When a man who had been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God's eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend."

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1952.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin