C.S Lewis "Mere Christianity" is a book worth it's weight in gold. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, the way to read a book is simliar to eating. You benefit more from it when after reading, you put it aside and "chew" on it.
I was chewing on Lewis arguments in the book and was struck how it corresponds with reality:
The news channel "Headlines today" was full of debates between Chetan Bhagat, the author of a book and Bollywood movie producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Chetan was claiming that he deserves recognizition for the story, which he is being denied. Apparently, he mentioned this on his blog and the rest took off from there.
There is clearly a moral dilemma here. But one thing to notice is that by the very act of writing about it on his blog, Chetan is appealing to a common morality which we all have. This is the morality which Lewis speaks of in his book. Another common place I can see Lewis argument is:
A person takes your seat in the queue, you protest that you came first.
This and many other instances in daily life indicate that we can argue or appeal based on the understanding that the listener shares a common morality - sense of justice in this example.
Now, it may be argued that this differs from culture to culture. For example, in the West, it may considered modest for women to wear a skirt, but not expose the midriff, but in India, the sari may worn without it being considered immodest.
The answer to this is that standards like modesty and courage cut across borders, even if the codes may be different. There is no culture, as Lewis argues (and Peter Kreeft in his book "Handbook of Christian Apologetics"), which patronizes immodesty or cowardice.
Origin of standardsSo far we have seen that there is a common Moral Law, though moral practices differ. But where do these standards come from?
It cannot come from matter, since matter cannot think, cannot hold two ideas side by side and compare them. It needs a mind to weigh and judge one as better than the other.
It cannot come from the individual, since it is something Universal and does not differ from person to person. We are bound by the Moral Law. We know it to be right and try to explain ourselves when questioned.
If someone asked me why I have taken the place in the queue, I'd give an explanation based on some reason because I feel bound to justify myself.
Therefore, this Moral Law cannot come from the individual.
It may be claimed that this comes from society. Well, if that were true, then what is society? A nation, or ethnic / religious group? Whichever kind of group it may refer to, how can the collection of individuals be right about something which the individual cannot? Society cannot be a source of the Moral Law because it is a Universal Law which consists not of codes of conduct, but underlying principles. Behaviour and dress codes differ across societies, but the underlying principles like courage and modesty do not.
The only possible answer is that they come from something higher than us. This something must have a mind to think of conduct. This something with a mind that is greater than us is perfectly compatible with the Christian concept of God. He is a good God, and a law giver. He loves good and despises evil.
There can be another view here. One may claim the common standards of morality come from one's conscience. But where does conscience get its authority? The possible alternative sources of this authority - matter, the individual and society do not satisfy for the same reasons that they do not satisfy as an explanation for the origin of the Moral Law.
Conscience cannot get it's authority from matter because that would require a mind. Without a mind, moral possibilities cannot be weighed and judged.
Neither can the authority of conscience come from the individual. I cannot bind myself with a law I have invented. If I do, I can quite easily release myself.
Society cannot, either, be the source of the authority of conscience, because:
1. Society is just a collection of individuals. Surely number does not make something right.
2. There are rebel reformers who oppose prevalent social evils, what about reformers who oppose the accepted view.
The Good Law-giver greater than us
Peter Kreeft mentions these in his Moral Argument and Argument from Conscience. And he quite rightly points out that this is only a small portion of what Christians believe as God. A Good Law-giver is still a long way off from the Christian God, but it is certainly compatible with Him, while materialistic view of the Universe does not explain either the origin of the Moral Law or the source of the authority of Conscience.
Finally, whether you are a believer looking for wisdom and clarity, or an agnostic or atheist open to the truth, "Mere Christianity" is one book that would figure on my list "books to read before you die". Still, I rate the "Handbook of Christian Apologetics" as a the best book on Apologetics I have read. A true gem, and it gets my ten on ten.