Christian Ethics - Lesson 5

The Virtue Ethic of C.S. Lewis

Dr. Nash reviews C.S. Lewis's views on biblical, Christian, and mere ethics and presents Lewis's analogy of morality being like a fleet of ships, where three conditions must be met for the fleet to successfully fulfill its task: every individual ship must be running properly, the relations between ships must be proper and orderly, and the fleet must be heading towards the right port of call.

Ronald Nash
Christian Ethics
Lesson 5
Watching Now
The Virtue Ethic of C.S. Lewis

Philosophical Ethics

Part 4


I. The Virtue Ethic of C. S. Lewis

A. Analogy about the Moral Life

1. Morality compared to a fleet of ships

2. Three conditions for a successful voyage

a. Every ship must run properly.

i. Analogous to individual lives

ii. Virtue and commandments

b. Relations between ships must be in proper order.

i. Analogous to relationships with others

ii. Love

c. The fleet must be headed for the right destination.

i. Analogous to a society

ii. Vision

B. View of God

1. View of God effects moral life

2. Three views of God

a. Pantheism

i. No distinction between God and the world

ii. Problems with pantheism

b. Dualistic System

i. Two basic principles: good and evil

ii. Problems with dualism

c. Ethical Monism

C. Rebuttal to Ethical Relativism

D. Order of the Universe

1. Physical Order

2. Moral Order

3. Natural Law

  • Gain insights into philosophical ethics and Christian responses, and the Christian role in society regarding the state, justice, economics, and education.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Nash introduces you to the concept of hedonism, which is an example of a consequentialist ethic. He reviews non-hedonistic consequentialist philosophies, psychological hedonism, and ethical hedonism.
  • This lesson introduces you to the theory of deontological ethics and Emmanuel Conte. You will learn that the deontological ethic judges morality by examining the nature of actions and the will of agents rather than goals achieved.
  • In this lesson you will learn about the system of ethics that focuses on virtue and introduces the Four Cardinal Virtues, which are temperance, wisdom, justice, and courage, and emphasizes the importance of being the right kind of person who possesses the traits of character, and C.S. Lewis's book "Christianity" provides an informative treatment of the Four Cardinal Virtues and the Three Theological Virtues.
  • You will gain insight into C.S. Lewis's views on Christian ethics and the morality analogy he presents, where morality is like a fleet of ships that must fulfill three conditions to succeed: every ship must run properly, the relations between ships must be proper and orderly, and the fleet must head to the right destination.
  • You will learn about the importance of distinguishing between society and the state. Society is a voluntary organization of people, while the state is the group of people who claim a monopoly on the use of coercive force within a geographic boundary. By understanding this difference, you can prevent the government from interfering with your voluntary associations.
  • You will gain an understanding of how the professor's theory of the state in Social Justice in the Christian Church aligns with the New Testament. He explains that the state is a God-ordained institution to check against sin, and he is a moderate anti-statist who recognizes the need for government but also the inherent evil in any concentration of human power. The New Testament recognizes constraints upon governmental power, and Revelation 13 is an example of how the state can symbolize anti-Christian government. The lesson also discusses the concept of justice and how it is often invoked without a clear understanding, suggesting that Christians should study ancient Greece for a better comprehension of the term.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the evangelical civil war that happened 20 years ago, learn about its early stages recorded by Clark Penick, understand the harmful effects of left-wing evangelicalism, and see how many evangelicals on the left became enamored with their own self-virtue in what they thought was a crusade to help the poor.
  • By studying this lesson, you will gain insight into the major differences between capitalism, socialism, and interventionism. You will learn that interventionism is often responsible for economic crises that are attributed to capitalism. You will also learn about the overlapping and continuum nature of economic systems and the gray area where an economic system may be viewed as socialism or interventionism.
  • This lesson discusses the decline of old liberation theology and how some of its proponents are now advocating for capitalism and democracy as being what the poor of the third world need, and presents shocking quotations from individuals characterized as evangelical, such as Jose Marquez Bonino, who promotes Marxism and praises tyrants like Castro and Mao Tse tung, as well as material about the three major kinds of Marxism that have existed in the world.
  • This lesson will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of interventionism and its role in the Great Depression, including the fact that blaming capitalism for the depression is based on four myths, and that interventionism actually deepens recessions by disguising the information produced by a market economy.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the crisis facing American education, as highlighted by Alan Blum's book The Closing of the American Heart and the author's complementary book. The focus is on the importance of values, standards, and morality in education, and the need to reopen the American heart to reopen the American mind. The lesson introduces the three kinds of illiteracy currently affecting Americans at every level of the educational process, with a particular emphasis on functional illiteracy, which refers to the inability to read, write, or use numbers well enough to get along in society.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about the incompetency of public school teachers in America, caused by academically weak students being attracted to the profession, lack of content courses in their college curriculum, unimpressive and radical left-winged professional educationists, and the National Education Association being an enemy of America's young people, with four essential steps to improve education, including getting a clear focus on the educational role of the family, increasing local control of education, changing the curriculum to prepare students for life after school, and changing teacher education programs.
  • Gain knowledge of the difference between the biblical ethic and other philosophical systems. Though it may seem simple, it is an underlying system that can lead to complex issues. The divinely revealed scriptures are the starting point for moral reflection, but not a ready-made answer. Some New Testament commandments are archaic or obsolete, and many modern moral problems are not discussed in the Bible.
  • You will gain insight into the pro-life stance and be equipped to inform others. Christians need not be timid about talking about these issues.
  • This lesson explores the arguments and counterarguments surrounding abortion, arguing for caution and conservatism in ending any life, emphasizing the need to balance the right of the mother with the rights of the infant, and briefly touching on the issue of rape and how it complicates the matter.
  • As you go through the lesson, you will learn about infanticide and euthanasia, and how the disrespect for unborn human life has led to an increase in cases of infanticide, along with some suggestions for what Christians should do in the case of children born with life-threatening handicaps.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the five major passages of Scripture related to homosexuality, including different interpretations of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and concludes that the Bible clearly condemns homosexual activity.
  • This lesson explores the topic of capital punishment in the context of Christian beliefs, arguing for consistency and emphasizing the need to view Old Testament laws in the context of specific situations that are no longer applicable.
  • This lesson discusses the three approaches to war and peace and distinguishes between principled pacifists and hypocritical, unprincipled pacifists, who are members of the political left and denounce American military actions but support violent revolutionary organizations.
  • You will gain an understanding of the growing issue of divorce and remarriage within the church, the responsibilities of Christian leaders in addressing it, and the need for Christians to think through what the Scripture teaches on these matters and formulate principles that will guide their thinking and conduct.
  • This lesson provides insight into how responsible Christians can make ethical decisions about birth control, considering the importance of intention, distinguishing between ethically acceptable and unacceptable forms of birth control, and emphasizing the importance of wise and careful means in achieving family planning goals.

Theoretical and theological basis for Christians  living an ethical life.

Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Ethics
The Virtue Ethic of C.S. Lewis
Lesson Transcript


Let's begin to move to a few comments about some important things that C.S. Lewis says about the biblical ethic, the Christian ethic, and mere Christianity. I have already commented about some of these things, for example, in my discussion of Aristotle and Aristotle's analysis of moral virtue, I told you that there are seven great chapters in C.S. Lewis where he talks about the cardinal virtues and the moral virtues. In fact, you know, as I said last week, those seven chapters in C.S. Lewis could be seven sermons by the time this course is over. All of you are going to have a year's worth of preaching. You know, you're going to have at least 50 sermons. But somewhere in the middle of mere Christianity, Lewis presents a very interesting analogy. It's a very helpful analogy about the moral life. I found it so helpful that I once gave it to a Rotary Club somewhere. They asked me to speak on some subject, and that seemed to be something that would be appropriate. But I always use it in Russia as part of my introduction to the Christian Ethic. C.S. Lewis compares morality to a fleet of ships, to a fleet of ships. Here they are. Let's say there are three dozen ships that are sailing from some port to another across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, Lewis says in order for this fleet to fulfill its task successfully, three conditions must be met and the three conditions that must be met in the case of the fleet of ships must also be met. In the case of individual and public morality, the first condition is every ship itself must be running properly. Must be running smoothly. If one or more of the ships breaks down, the successful completion of the fleet's task will be jeopardized. Now, what is this analogous to in the in the account of the moral life that we've been examining with you? I think it's this that every individual person must be certain that his or her life is being lived in accordance with the will of God. Actually, this in this first point we're talking about virtue. The fact that each individual person, each individual Christian within a society must be morally virtuous, must have the proper dispositions. I think it also tells us that there must be a recognition of the proper commandments. The laws that apply to us. So each individual ship must be shipshape. Secondly, the relations between the ships must be proper and orderly. Imagine a fleet in which ships are free to move in any direction they want. Well, you're quickly going to have collisions. You may have ships badly damaged. You may have ships sinking. Now, this gets us beyond individual morality. What goes on within each individual ship to the more to the more general matter of our relationships with other human beings. This would get us to the second table of the law that you and I must not only have the proper virtues, but you and I must be living our lives in such a way that we reflect a love for other people, that we do not kill, that we do not steal, that we do not lie, and so on. That we do not take advantage of other people. Then there's a third point that emerges from Lewis's analogy, and that's this Even if you have a fleet where every individual ship is tiptop, even if you have a fleet where every ship is proceeding in its assigned pre assigned course, things can go wrong If the fleet is not heading towards the right port of call, the whole fleet must be heading in the right destination. Imagine a fleet that leaves New York City heading for London and everything goes smoothly. No clerk crashes, no collisions, no breakdowns, everything goes smoothly, but the fleet ends up in Bermuda instead of. Or the Azores instead of London. You've got to know that you're heading for the right destination, and you've got to make sure that you reach that destination. Now, the relevance of that issue for Russia is this you must, you know, we say to these Russian people, what are your national objectives? What is your vision for your society? And the answer is we don't have one. We don't know where we're going. Well, then you shouldn't be surprised when you fail to get there. Shouldn't be surprised at all. Well, anyway, there's some there's some good stuff there in Lewis. So I hope that you'll pay attention to that. Next point from C.S. Lewis. He talks about the importance of our view of God. These are v the moral law. You'll find this all in the first 20 pages of mere Christianity. Lewis says ideas have consequences. And in order to have a proper understanding of the moral life and the moral law, you had better have a proper understanding of God. Because if your idea of God is messed up, you can't possibly have a proper idea of the moral life or the moral law. Now, what Lewis does in this chapter is contrast three views of God. In fact, he says some things in this chapter that I've never read anywhere else. They're rather simple points, which is, I guess, one of the reasons I'm recommending them to you. The first view of God that Lewis talks about is pantheism. Now, what is pantheism? Well, in a general sense, it is a view of God that refuses that fails to see any distinction at all between God and the world. That equates God with the world. You will find pantheism on display in many of the Eastern religions. You will certainly find it on display in in the in the major form of New Age ideology. Why is a pantheistic view of God inconsistent out of sorts with a proper view of the moral law? Here's Lewis's answer. A God like this, a God who is essentially indistinguishable from the world, is beyond good and evil. A pantheistic God is beyond good and evil. If you are a pantheistic, you cannot give content any content at all to the word good or to the word evil, because in a pantheistic universe, everything gets blurred together. Everything gets mixed up together, which is one of the basic lines of attack that you should be ready to make with regard to New Age people. New Age propagandists can never take a stand and say, with respect to anything, this is good or this is evil. It all depends on how you look at it. Within within the context of a whole. Anything could be evil, anything could be good. Good and evil tend to become person relevant. All right. In order for you to live in a universe in which there really is objective goodness and objective evil, God must be divorced from the physical universe, so you can't get an ethic from a pantheistic system. The second view of God that Lois presents is a dualistic system. A dualistic system is one in which there are two basic principles in the universe. There is a good principal light, and there is an evil principal darkness. In the ancient world, St Augustine, for about ten years of his life, followed a dualistic system like this. It was called Manichean ism. Later in history, out of Persia or Iran, came a system known as Zoroastrianism. Again, two gods who existed eternally. Two gods who were equal in power. One of those gods was good. The God of light. One of those gods was darkness. This was during these years in Augustine's life. This was his way of solving the problem of evil. Why do human beings do evil? Answer They are. They are tempted and seduced by the evil God. What happens when we do good? We are simply following the lead of the good God. Now, here is Lewis's answer to why dualism cannot provide a proper foundation for a moral philosophy. It's really a very simple, he asks. He invites us to ask a very simple question. If you are a dualist, how do you know which of your two gods is the good one? And how do you know which of your two gods is the evil one? That's a simple question, but it's death to dualism. If there is no principle, if there is nothing higher than these two gods who are coequal co eternal, there is no real way to tell which of them is the good. Maybe Satan is the good God. Now, for those of you who've just tuned in the TV tape, I did precede that. So catch the turn back and get the full context. But if there are two gods, how do you know that Satan's the bad guy? How do you know that lust and stealing and anger and vengeance and violence are bad? Maybe they're good. Whew. That would be interesting. Maybe love and patience and temperance. Maybe those things are the real evils in the world. There are lots of people who would sign up for a church that taught that the church of the two principals. Actually, there are churches that teach this in Palo Alto, California. There's a Gnostic church. I've gone by it several times. I always toot my horn. Ancient Gnostics, ancient and modern gnostics teach this as well. Here's Lewis's point. Whether you're a dualist or not, in your heart of hearts, you know that love is good and violence is evil. You know that kindness is good and torture is evil. All things being equal, we know which things are good. Now, the only way you can know that in a dualistic system, Lewis says, Here's the good God. Here's the evil God. The only way you can know which of these two principles is good is if there is a higher principle. If you judge both the God of light and the God of darkness. But notice, once you introduce a higher principle, you have abandoned dualism in favor of ethical monism. You see that? So pantheism is ruled out of court because it's God is beyond good and evil. The dualistic system is ruled out of court because you can never you can never adequately explain why. You can never avoid arbitrariness. Sooner or later. Right. Thinking people are going to have to retreat to a kind of ethical monism, which is the third point, which is to say that there is only one supreme being and he is good, preeminently good, unqualified, utterly good. And everything else that exists in the universe that is evil is simply a perversion or a corruption of his preeminent goodness. There's an interesting discussion in the first chapter or two of mere Christianity in which Lewis gives us, I think, a very helpful form of rebuttal to ethical relativism. Whenever I talk to my Russian audiences about ethical relativism, I give them two or three ways in which they can know that ethical relativism is false. But one of those ways is this I say pick somebody, you know, who is an ethical relativist and simply follow them around for a day or two. Don't let them know you're following, but just do that. And what you'll find is that person who claims to be an ethical relativist will turn out to be an absolutist all kinds of times. Watch him get on a bus where there's only one empty seat and watch somebody shove him aside and take that seat and then observe how your friend behaves. He will start arguing. He will say you had no right to take that seat. What you did was wrong. Lewis has a marvelous way of taking ordinary human experiences, like experiences in which people disagree and point out how those situations point irrevocably to the existence of a higher moral law. Whenever two people are arguing and one person is saying to the other, what you did was wrong, very seldom does the other person say it wasn't wrong. He tries to show that they're taking a seat wrongfully or lying or stealing would be wrong. But that's not what he did in that circumstance. Whenever two people agree, one of them never says, and I'm quoting here from Lewis, some of you know what's coming whenever two people disagree. The one person never says, to hell with your standard. Rather, he tries to show that his action really didn't violate that standard. There seems to be an implicit understanding that the standard exists and what it is. Now, the last point from Lewis that we look at appears all yeah, I guess in the first third of the book near Christianity. Lewis says We live in a universe of order. Now, of course, the physical order of the universe is readily available to all of us. We see it on every on every hand. And not only do we see observe the physical order of the universe, but we recognize that we we violate that physical order at our own jeopardy. Whenever we violate the physical order of the universe, we risk we take risks insofar as we wish to achieve well-being in life. We had better observe the laws of health, the laws of science. Otherwise, we're going to suffer. We're going to suffer from bad health. We're going to suffer. I mean, you walk out of you walk over a cliff, you walk in front of a truck, you don't eat proper you don't observe proper nutrition in your eating habits. You're going to suffer. Likewise, Lewis says, there is a moral order to the universe. And if you violate the moral order to the universe, you're going to suffer as well. It only it may take longer for that suffering to become apparent. If you jump out of a ten story window, the suffering will hit you pretty quickly. If you violate the moral law. You may have to wait ten, 20, 30 years. You might wait until the day you die, but you're going to be you're going to be paying yourself back for disobedience to the moral law, whether you're always conscious of it or not. Now, these are important points to make to people. Again, I say to you, if you're in a situation where you've got to talk about an abject Christian morality to a culture that hasn't thought about this, and I don't care whether that culture is in the middle of Australia or the Indian subcontinent or Africa or Moscow, Russia, you want you just don't want to stand there and thump the Bible, you want to plot, you want to make connection with what general revelation and what is already telling people. People know that stealing and killing and lying, that reporting your innocent neighbor to the to the secret police, they know that these things stink morally. They know what it is to feel guilt in those situations. You want them to realize that the moral principles of Scripture are the moral principles of the universe that we do not have here some idiosyncratic cult or sect that we are trying to impose. We are rather trying to help them understand their true standing in the universe. And the technical name for that is natural law. We're trying to help them realize that there is a natural law, and if they want to achieve true well-being as human beings, they'd better they'd better get in touch with God's moral law. And of course, in order to fulfill it, they'd better get in touch with conversion and regeneration as well.