Class Warfare Blog

April 7, 2021

The Moral Law of Right and Wong

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 11:15 am
Tags: , ,

I am re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and now that I am better educated, it resonates differently from when I first read it. I just started but Professor Lewis, one of my all-time favorite authors, starts by advancing the idea of moral laws. (You can guess where he is going with this, but I haven’t re-read that far, so I will not comment on that.)

What I will comment on is where we learned the vast majority of the moral and fairness rules that we abide by now. We learned them by interacting with others, almost always this was when we were young and playing a lot.

I remember playing touch football and arguing about something vehemently after every other play. I remember a playmate, named Peter, who was not a gifted athlete by a real asset to our team. Peter was Arguer in Chief. I can see him still, in my mind’s eye, bending forward from the waist, arms extended backward and screaming loudly, so much so that his face turned red. A fearsome sight was Peter in full throat and, I suspect, the reason we won many, many arguments when Peter was . . . deployed.

In schoolyard and community playgrounds, hordes of kids were left to work things out on their own. And we did. And we learned that many things are negotiable, few things are absolutes and our moralities reflect that. For example, if Christians really believed in Christian morality, why would one ever commit a crime? Either they thought they could negotiate their way out (get forgiveness by confessing, etc.) or they felt those rules didn’t apply to them, because a life sentence in the Lake of Fire seems like something to be avoided in the extreme.

Remember the book “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—Look.”
―Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Obviously for most of us, religious indoctrination has barely begun by the time we exit kindergarten (many evangelicals actually are at full throttle at this stage with children’s books, Noah’s Ark toys, etc. but they are in the minority in this).

Clearly, we learned much of this through interacting with other children. Teachers general teach “moral lessons” when there is a context, typically a dispute, that needs to be settled. Since the tykes are both upset, they soak up the lesson quite well, onlookers as well as they probably prefer not to get in the teacher’s crosshairs for doing something “wrong.”

So, Lewis’s “Natural Law of Right and Wrong” need no gods to prop it up. It is negotiated over and over by children in communities with some direction from adults who learned the same lessons, the same way.

This is also, by the way, why “remote learning” is not a good idea as a general method for educating youths. Education is a social process in which people learn how to work with, from, or just in the presence of others. The illusion that it is a process of acquiring factual knowledge needs to be buried, more than six feet deep. (It is, of course, a zombie idea that seems not to die.) This is exposed, if it really needs to be, by intellectuals who look down their noses at manual arts training courses (learning how to care for hair, weld, fix cars, build with wood, etc.) Those courses involve the actual transmission of knowledge and physical skills and, if one believed that education were a transmission of knowledge, should be held in higher esteem than those course that only provided abstract mental ideas, like mathematics.

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