will and reason
I’ve been asked by a couple of students this semester why they need to follow Jesus. Isn’t it enough to live a moral life? That’s what religion is all about, right? No. This is why.
No. I don’t think sin is completely accounted for by faulty reasoning nor that it can be completely cured by re-education. That view . . . overlook[s] the (to me) obviously central fact that our will is not necessarily determined by our reason. If it were, then, as you say, what are called ‘sins’ would be not sins at all but only mistakes, and would require not repentances but merely correction.
But surely daily experience shows that it is just not so. A man’s reason sees perfectly clearly that the resulting discomfort and inconvenience will far outweigh the pleasure of the ten minutes in bed. Yet he stays in bed: not at all because his reason is deceived but because desire is stronger than reason. A woman knows that the sharp ‘last word’ in an argument will produce a serious quarrel which was the very thing she had intended to avoid when the argument began and which may permanently destroy her happiness. Yet she says it: not at all because her reason is deceived but because the desire to score a point is at the moment stronger than her reason. People – you and I among them – constantly choose between two courses of action the one which we know to be the worse: because, at the moment, we prefer the gratification of our anger, lust, sloth, greed, vanity, curiosity or cowardice, not only to the known will of God but even to what we know will make for our own real comfort and security. If you don’t recognise this, then I must solemnly assure you that either [you] are an angel, or else are still living in ‘a fool’s paradise’: a world of illusion. From C. S. Lewis | Yours, Jack
This is Romans 7, Lewis style. Just as an external law, though given by God, was not our solution, so too reason and moral law fall short. In fact, as N. T. Wright points out, Paul is subtly hinting that Torah alone will get you no further than the level of a moral pagan philosopher. It is our will that needs fixing, and we cannot do that on our own, because any attempt would be an act of will, and that is precisely the problem.
It’s good to know that philosophy is catching up. According to a recent op-ed in the NY Times, this is the view now shared by many psychologists and moral philosophers.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.
In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.” From NYTimes | The End of Philosophy
The article goes on to blame our condition on completely natural causes, and ultimately admits that this leaves much unanswered regarding human experiences of awe, transcendence, and the pursuit of good as an end and not a means. Of course, were there a good God in whose image we were created, much might begin to make sense. Were there a God who directly intervened to put right that thing in us which we ourselves cannot fix, there might even be a solution.
So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins (Romans 8:3).
Related link.: My stuff on Romans 7