Insights with Superpowers

Rendering to Caesar that Which Belongs to God

There is therefore this analogy between the claims of our religion and the claims of the war: neither of them, for most of us, will simply cancel or remove from the slate the merely human life which we were leading before we entered them.  But they will operate in this way for different reasons.  The war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object and, therefore, intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of a human soul.  In order to avoid misunderstanding I must here make a few distinctions.  I believe our case to be, as human causes go, very righteous, and I therefore believe it to be a duty to participate in this war.  And every duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute.  Thus we may have a duty to rescue a drowning man and, perhaps, if we live on a dangerous coast, to learn lifesaving so as to be ready for any drowning man when he turns up.  It may be our duty to lose our own lives in saving him.  But if anyone devoted himself to lifesaving in the sense of giving it his total attention – so that he thought ansd spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim – he would be a monomaniac.  The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for.  It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind.  A man may have to die for our country, but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country.  He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party , or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: Himself.


– Taken from C.S. Lewis’ Essay Learning in War-Time as found in The Weight of Glory


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