In it, he delves more deeply into the idea of natural law—that there are some things that are built into the universe, and into our very being, that can never be erased, no matter how hard some people try to do so. That natural law he calls the Tao, and it comes directly from the hand of God.
Lewis describes a book in his own time that exemplifies the desire to replace natural law with something new. He says the impulse behind this is to scrap traditional views of morality and insert “new” ones into society. A certain “set” of people are actively attempting to undermine all that we naturally know to be true, but he calls them out for their hypocrisy:
Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who “debunk” traditional or (as they would say) “sentimental” values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.
In other words, they have a predetermined idea that their values are better, they need to be the new values of society, and they have no desire to really examine them—to expose them to the same debunking they have applied to traditional values.
They think they are being original and that they are establishing a whole new order of things. Lewis says they are grossly mistaken:
The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.
Ouch. They aren’t as original as they claim to be. In fact, they are setting the stage for their own destruction by throwing out natural law.
I love Lewis’s direct response to those who proclaim they are the ones with “open” minds, and everyone else devoted to “old” ideas of morality are backward:
An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose.
If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao.
Any attempt to throw out the natural law God has instituted will result in the destruction of all things. That’s the bottom line. In our society today, the trend is toward tossing out all traditional morality; we are seeing the effects—the beginnings of total destruction of the society.
Lewis may have written this in the 1940s, but his comments couldn’t be more relevant today.