Thursday, August 19, 2010

We quarrel because we agree on what's right and wrong

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: 'How’d you like it if anyone did the same thing to you?'—'That’s my seat, I was there first'—'Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’—'Why should you shove in first?'2boys-with-orange-wedges —'Give me a hit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine'— 'Come on, you promised.' People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.

   Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saving that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies 'To hell with your standard.' Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no senseShannonWalkleyOrangeGrimace in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are;  just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, this edition: 2001) 3-4.

1 comment:

  1. So begins Lewis's version of the moral argument for God's existence.

    I wrote a lengthy thesis about the moral argument in my theological studies. And though I referred to Lewis back then, I don't think I grasped the sheer brilliance of starting with such a common, everyday starting point: two boys arguing over the last couple wedges of an orange!

    But that is where it starts! We believe in Right and Wrong. Why? Why are even children convinced that some things are right and fair and others are not?

    I remain persuaded that morality exists because there is a Moral Lawgiver. Without God, morality has no basis. But, that's just the point, everyone everywhere will argue for what is fair. So morality does exist, therefore God must exist.

    Love it, still love it! So the next time you see your non-believing friend eating an orange, be sure to take the last wedge. When he says you should not have done that, tell him he can't say that unless he believes in God ;)