The law of nature

Nowadays when we talk of the laws of nature we usually mean things like gravidtation or heredity or the laws of chemistry, but when the older thinkers called the law of right and wrong the law of nature, they really meant the law of human nature. The idea was that just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law, with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obeye the law of human nature, or to disobeye it.

… He cannot disobeye those laws which he shares with other things, but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobeye if he chooses. This law was called the law of nature because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. C.S. Lewis i Mere Christianity

If I have understood C. S. Lewis correctly, his point is that everyone has the law of nature, but that no one obeys it. I think he’s on to something there. We expect a certain behavior from others, and get irritated if they fail us, but we aren’t doing much better ourselves. Personally I frequently feel tired and/or angry, and this interfers and makes things worse. After a while I can usually think straight and see that other people get tired too, but initially I don’t always allow for that.

This argument can be used for most things, and C.S. Lewis must have had the evil Nazi regime in mind, as this book was published in 1952 and was based on radio talks he did on BBC between 1942 and 1944. I don’t think the slave owners in the US for example (1619-1865) could argue that they didn’t know what they were doing. Nor do I think the Germans could say the same in 1945, or the European countries that have committed major atrocities in their former colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Those who have supported 100 years of communism in Russia can hardly declare themselves innocent. The same could be said for the people involved in wrongdoings committed by Norwegian authorities (such as lobotomizing and sterilizing travellers/minority group in Norway, assimilation of the Samis etc). They were all well aware of the fact that they broke the human law of nature. Everyone knows what is right, but we frequently choose to do what we know is wrong.

the judas kiss
The Judas Kiss (Mark 14:45) by Gustave Doré. Judas kisses Jesus in order to betray him to the guards.
Wikimedia Commons

I came to think of this after some comments that had crossed the Atlantic between me and Heather, known as the blogger Where Grace Abounds. I asked her about Judas from the Bible, and she asked whether Jean Calvin’s philosophy (predestination) had influenced christians in Norway. This is her latest comment:

Judas is an enigma, isn’t he?

Perhaps it is possible that he was both selected by God and that he chose the role he played.

I’m not sure why a betrayal was incorporated into the plan, but it was prophesied in Psalm 41:9 and Jesus referenced it in John 13:18. So, in a sense, it was necessary for someone to fill the part in order to fulfill everything God predicted would happen.

But I don’t believe that Judas was forced to do anything against his own will. It appears that his love of money was stronger than any affection he may have had for Jesus.

Do Norwegian believers struggle to reconcile the concepts of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

It wasn’t that easy giving a quick answer, but I have been pondering the subject today. We have free will. That’s one of the things that separates us from other animals, we can choose a moral or decent behavior. It was perhaps God’s desire that Judas would play a role in the execution of Jesus, but we are not mindless zombies. Even if God, contrary to expectations, had executed a vicious plan, where Judas was supposed to betray Jesus and then be left to deal with this himself, Judas had still a choice.

The law of right and wrong is not one we think much about, and we are not willing to admit that we constantly violate this law. Perhaps the fact that we try so hard not to talk about it suggest that we do feel an obligation to obeye it?  We just choose not to do it. This is the free will, but if you use this free will to become a Christian, I do believe you have some obligations. The moral law is perhaps not as strong as the physical laws of nature, but I think it still commits. This view has been in sharp decline in recent years, however. We may be fighting a losing battle, but it is a battle we must fight against ourselves. I wonder if this is what the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen meant when he said that “to live is to fight with the trolls in the vault of your heart and brain” (my own translation and may not do justice to a great writer).

Part of what‘s wrong in the world today is prejudice against Christians. We have been through a development in Norway that many other countries have completed a long time ago, and a couple of years ago parliament changed the constitution. This supposedly separated state and church, but in my opinion we have something worse. The government still finances what it calls the people’s church and the priests are still government employees, but there is an increased expectation that what the majority of the people think is right, should be the church doctrine.

As a society we seem to be locked into an elite thinking. Some talk about conspiracies, and maybe it is, but in a more sober language we can say that we are being ruled by an economic, political and religious elite. These relatively few inividuals are not aware of our challenges and probably don’t care either. They live so far removed from the rest of us that they don’t understand.

It’s easy to say that everything was better before. Many things are of course much better today, mostly if we think materialistically. We have more things that make our lives easier, entertainment has better quality and we have more food, but I still think we have lost something along the way, and it’s not just because we live virtual lives. I am the last of three children mom got in the 1960s (1963, 1965 and 1968). We were poor, but I don’t think I’m romanticizing too much if I contend that there was more solidarity before, that I showed more solidarity myself. I have never been good at expressing it, and I probably do it to a lesser extent than ever. I feel like a pretty selfish Christian because I don’t pay much attention to other people. This is perhaps an influence of the spirit of the age (not sure this expression is used in English). We are still poor and being poor isn’t any easier compared to when I was growing up in the 70s. It might even be more dangerous because many pull the ladder up as they climb themselves. It makes me a little sad thinking back on a childhood that could have been much better, but in some ways that lost world is also more appealing.

We are hardly as members of society predestined to become civilized people. There is nothing in our DNA that makes us good citizens. The western civilization we have developed must be taught and learned for each new generation, and if the transfer of knowledge is broken in only one generation, we regress to savages again. I think I’ve read somewhere about a theory stating that we are one generation from being savages. We can lose everything quickly. We may not lose everything, but quite a bit. I find it strange that many have turned their backs on Christendom and no one seems to realize that it was Christianity that built many of the values we are living by today. I believe Christianity is still  the best tool we have to counteract the danger of regression.

Christians have lived very well together with secular people in society, but now we see a growing conflict. The secular want to distinguish themselves from Christians. They don’t want to live in the same society, and they often use rowdy methods. These stories frequently appear in media. Many believe that priests that don’t feel comfortable wedding gay couples should get fired. Many believe that doctors that don’t prevent women from getting an abortion, but don’t want to refer them themselves, has no future as a doctor. There’s been cases where people have been forced to remove a necklace with a cross because this is a violation of the no “expressions of religion in the public sphere-law.” They have removed crosses from burial chapels because that will offend atheists, and atheists are so angry that they almost foam at the mouth when they talk to Christians. It’s not enough for them to choose to ignore religion anymore. They are determined to attack those of us who make a different choice.

Christianity disappears. Morality disappears. We regress to savages. There is indeed a risk of regression. That is why it is important for parents to learn, not only to learn a profession and the skills they need themselves, but to transfer something to the next generation. The strange thing is that when atheists attack Christianity they like to show what the church has done in the past, and there is no doubt that it has made many mistakes. That is precisely what I mean by moral law. Christians who don’t follow the law of God, can’t really represent God. If atheists were to subject themselves to the same standard, they couldn’t exclude people like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedung when they summarize what atheism can offer. In both cases the human free will has been used to break the moral law that C. S. Lewis called the law of nature.

Open Doors monitors persecution of Christians worldwide. It is on the increase where you’d expect it, but also elsewhere. It is also difficult being a Christian in Europe and the USA. One of the reasons is the many opinons that wouldn’t get you any friends, but bad representatives of God is not helping. Maybe we need to do damage control? When there’s a scandal and a politician or some public person have done something wrong (stolen money, sex scandal etc), the best strategy seems to be to communicate with the outside world. Denying everything isn’t necessarily the best approach if you are clearly guilty.

I think one of the problems with the Catholic method is that they tend to hide the criminals, and stop talking. The victims have only the whole church (or God) organization to aim their anger at, no individual. This is how many churches respond, also when the scandal is smaller. Even when we don’t have these evil men among us, maybe we ought to admit our wrongdoings, flaws? In short, we need more honesty. Everyone seem to focus on how easy and painfree life will be when you join a church. I think life will be better for many people, if they get enough support from their fellow believers, but this is often exaggerated. That’s how it feels like for me at least, but I have to admit I have some issues.

There is however a problem with solidarity among Christans as well. The government is increasingly becoming less reliable in the welfare state too. This isn’t just related to the separation of church and state. The church used to handle many of these jobs. They helped parents raising the children to becoming good citizens. There are many examples of parents asking the authorites for help, with the result that the Child Welfare Service take the children. That’s the help they offer.

Where is the solidarity? Is it gone in the church as well?

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7 thoughts on “The law of nature

  1. Thank you for taking the time to translate this one. It was quite thought provoking, actually. I’d like to comment, but you said on you other site that you believe you are on shaky ground, here.
    Can you explain why you hold this opinion?

    Also, as my comments tend to be rather lengthy, would you welcome such feedback on this particular article?

    1. I guess I lack the confidence, but in this post I made some pretty bold statements for someone who is very lay, even for a layperson. At the same time I don’t think I was being completely unreasonable.

      It’ll be interesting to read what you think about this.

    2. I guess I lack the confidence…

      Ah. I can definitely identify with this statement.
      You did well, I think, for one who would admit to a lack of certainty.

      Although raised as a Christian, and taught a strong sense of morality, I would not have been able to defend my belief until five or six years ago. God sometimes has a way of dramatically altering the course we set for ourselves.

      Hopefully, I will be able to return later with a few thoughts on your post.

  2. If I have understood C. S. Lewis correctly, his point is that everyone has the law of nature, but that no one obeys it. I think he’s on to something there. We expect a certain behavior from others, and get irritated if they fail us, but we aren’t doing much better ourselves.

    This is a good observation. I believe you can find the scriptural foundation for this statement in Romans chapters 1-2. I’ve been fascinated by the first chapter for years, as the apostle asserts that all of the evil things people do are a direct result of a human lack of acknowledgment of God’s existence and an associated refusal to show gratitude to Him.

    The Genesis 1 account reveals that man was made in God’s image, so there is something about the human intellect which was meant to reflect God’s nature.
    The apostle Paul wrote that when people “forget” God, He allows them to go their own ignorant way. But you probably have noticed that they think they are actually quite wise and advanced to have “evolved” beyond the need for religious restrictions. At the end of Romans 1, you will find a list of the types of wicked activities the darkened human mind will produce. And, then Paul said that those who willfully do such things not only know it is wrong, but even approve of others who do them.

    This would be a reflection of the decline into savagery, which you referenced.

    Romans 2 addresses the fact that we all have a sort of moral compass which we readily will use to measure others, while excusing our own faults. It’s a form of hypocrisy which Christians need to guard against.

    Romans 3 touches on the problems we see within religious organizations (ie the Jews of the 1st century, today’s Church). When we say that we know and love God, yet disregard the instructions He has given us, then we cannot expect anything from non-believers but skepticism and words of contempt. They feel justified in their unbelief because God’s people are not living as though we believe in His existence.

    I believe James 4:1-7 also addresses many of the unpleasant issues we see in the church. Pride, greed, and forgetfulness in seeking godly wisdom. These things create a state of disorder, and a weakened, impotent Church will have little positive effect on any culture.

    Persecution is a difficult reality, as the spirit of the world has always opposed the Spirit of God. Those who remain in unbelief will tend to foam when interacting with true believers. Sadly, they often cite the activity of hypocrites to rationalize their own bad behavior.

    Many of your thoughts here are quite reasonable. If you don’t mind receiving a suggestion, I would encourage you to take some time to study the passages I mentioned and ask God to help you sort through your perspective. Some things may not hold true, but much of it will.

    Even a layperson may have confidence in his position, if he is willing to ask God for guidance 🙂

    1. Thank you. I’m going to take a couple of days break from blogging so that I can do some reading. I’m going to reflect on the verses you mentioned. There is a question I have been thinking about that I may work on this weekend. Where should our loyalties lie? Is it right to be patriotic if this violates what we know is God’s will?

      The way I’m thinking at the moment is that I would never encorage people to break the law or start working against the government, but that doesn’t mean I want to volunteer my help, to help the progress of evil.

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