by Louis Markos
Lewis wants his theology to have practical uses. In discussing Charity in Mere Christianity, he says: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did…. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him” (p. 116). The reverse, he says, is also true. “The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them; afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them” (p. 117). Why would behavior influence feeling in this way? Why would pretending to feel something lead to actually feeling it? Do you think this principle applies both to individuals and, as Lewis implies, to larger political groups and nations? Have you ever witnessed or experienced this phenomenon yourself?
In addition to being a great apologist, philosopher, and theologian, Lewis was a very fine ethicist who, like Aquinas before him, had a gift for borrowing ideas from Aristotle and presenting them in a way that is both compatible with Christianity and accessible to a wider audience. We acquire virtues, argues Aristotle in Book II, Chapter 1 of The Nicomachean Ethics, by practicing them. Just as we “become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre,” so “we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” Virtue, that is to say, is not an emotion but a quality of character gained by practicing just actions. Thus, a brave man is not someone who feels brave but who acts bravely even when he is afraid.