Since the horrific killing of George Floyd, the moral outrage in our nation is palpable. Moral consensus, however, is not.
While some cry out against violence by police, others cry out against violence against police. Systemic racism is either the most important problem we face, some say, or it doesn’t exist at all, others say. We must defund the police, according to some, and we must support the police, according to others.
Certainly, the debates over what exactly is wrong with this world and what must be done to fix it will continue. In the meantime, we ought not miss what the moral outrage, even when wrongly conceived or violently expressed, reveals about who we are and the kind of world we live in.
In his discussion of morality and the meaning of the universe in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observed that humans are irrepressibly moral creatures. We believe that there is such a thing in the world as justice. That we protest when we see behavior we believe to be unjust, especially when directed at us, reveals that we believe there is a way the world should be. “A man does not call a line crooked,” Lewis wrote, “unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
But where does even that idea of a moral straight line, of justice and morality, come from? Why do we even think in terms of justice and morality in the first place? Any naturalistic worldview, built on atheism and concluding the world is merely a product of natural causes and forces, cannot explain the existence of justice and morality.
In fact, not only does such a world not offer any grounding for the very ideas of justice and morality, but it can’t explain why we would think in those terms. “If the whole universe has no meaning,” Lewis wrote, “we should never have found out that it has no meaning; just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
But not only do we clearly believe that justice and morality exist in the world, and that we can know what is just and right, we think others should know it too. Lewis unpacks this brilliantly:
“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him, he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson.”
The protesting and rioting and angry social media posting and breathless news reporting run the gamut of helpful to unhelpful, righteous anger to unrighteous opportunism. And yet, we are seeing across the nation and around the world, a fundamental feature of humankind and the world we live in. There is an expectation that such a thing as justice exists, and that it should be done.
Clearly, this reveals the silliness and bankruptcy of moral relativism, in which every act is simply a matter of preference and convenience. You’ll never see anyone taking to the streets carrying signs that say, “End police brutality. It’s inconvenient.”
Lewis concludes his discussion of the moral law by wrestling with the desire we hold for a world in which justice is actually done, in which no one is ever murdered and in which racism and violence against innocents are unthinkable. Our ability to imagine this world in which ...