Tuesday, January 18, 2011

C. S. Lewis and Pacifism

In Faith and Freedom: Christian Ethics in a Pluralist Culture, David Neville critiques C. S. Lewis' essay "Why I Am Not A Pacifist." Among his many astute observations, I found this one particularly pointed and profoundly true.

"2.2 Intuition. Lewis is brief on this point:

'There is no question of discussion once we have found it; there is only the danger of mistaking for an intuition something which is really a conclusion and therefore needs argument. We want something which no good man has ever disputed; we are in search of a platitude. The relevant intuition seems to be that love is good and hatred bad, or that helping is good and harming bad (41).'

This seems unobjectionable, but Christian pacifists are not so concerned to act in accordance with indisputable and generally accepted moral principles as to heed one who revealed what God is like (Jn 1:18) and whose life patterned a way to be followed (Mk 10:42-45). Christian faith implies distinctive moral commitments that are never simply or obviously compatible with what 'no good man has ever disputed'. By seeking to base his argument on a universal ethical principle such as beneficence or nonmaleficence, which is in any case problematic, Lewis inevitably restricts the teaching and example of Jesus to a subordinate role in moral deliberation." (p. 209-210)

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