Monday, August 23, 2010

Why we make excuses for our bad behaviour

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. If there are any exceptions among you, I apologise to them. They had much better read some other book, for nothing I am going to say concerns them. And now, turning to the ordinary human beings who are left:

I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day,teenager-parent-yelling we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money—the one you have almost forgotten—came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done—well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it—and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, this edition: 2001) 7-8.


  1. "There may be all sorts of excuses for us." I tell you, Jack was brilliant! We all do this, don't we? We get mad at the guy who suddenly makes a lane change in front of us on the 401, but a few minutes later we realize we're about to miss our exit so we make a sudden lane change!

    But the very fact that we try to excuse our own bad behaviour requires not only that we believe in a moral law but that the person we're trying to convince also believes that moral law.

    If morality was entirely relative as is commonly believed, then there would be no basis for trying to makes excuses for our own bad behaviour. But we do it all the time! Therefore, we all have an innate awareness of some higher moral law.

    Cool stuff, isn't it?

  2. Oh yeah, as you can see I changed the look and design of the blog yet again. There were some quirks to the last design that were driving me crazy, plus it just seemed a little too busy. So I've tried to go back to something a little more simple.

    Feedback appreciated. Let me know what you think. And let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see on the Mere C.S. Lewis blog. I'm trying to include high quality links for Lewis and a few other things of interest (like the countdown for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Go ahead and tell me what you think...