LewMere 10-04-055

Mere Christianity



C. S. Lewis

HarperCollins, 1952, 227 pp.   ISBN 0-06-065292-6



C. S. Lewis, an English Professor at Oxford, was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century and perhaps the most influential Christian writer of his day.  His explanation of Christianity has been instrumental in many coming to faith.  The book was originally a series of lectures broadcast on the BBC. 


It is very interesting to read apologetics written in the 1950s.  It gives a window into the culture and worldview of those times.  For example it was universally assumed that there is such a thing as truth and that some things are right and others are wrong.     


Book One: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

1.  The Law of Human Nature

Everyone has heard people quarrelling.  “Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.  And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are….” (4)  This was called the “Law of Nature” because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it.  The fact that people make excuses is one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature.  “If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?”  Human beings all over the earth have this curious idea that they ought to behave in certain ways and they can’t get rid of it.  And they in fact do not behave in that way.  They know the Law of Nature and they break it.  These are foundational facts of our universe.  (8)


2.  Some Objections

Some things we learn from others are mere conventions and others are real truths.  The moral ideas among societies are much more alike than different and you can recognize the same law running through them all.  It makes no sense to say one morality is just as good as another.  We all believe some moralities are better.  And as soon as you say one is better than another, you are suggesting a standard, that one more nearly conforms to that standard than another, admitting there is such a thing as a real Right. 


3.  The Reality of the Law

“The very idea of something being imperfect, of its not being what it ought to be, has certain consequences.  If you take a thing like a stone or a tree, it is what it is and there seems no sense in saying it ought to have been otherwise. …  The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean ‘what Nature, in fact, does’.  But if you turn to the Law of Human Nature, the Law of Decent Behaviour, it is a different matter.  That law certainly does not mean ‘what human beings, in fact, do’; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely. … In other words, when you are dealing with humans, something else comes in above and beyond the actual facts. …  Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing—a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.” (16-20)


4.  What Lies Behind the Law

There are two views about what the universe is and how it came about.  The materialist view says it just happens to exist and it always has, sort of by a fluke.  Nobody knows why.  The religious view says there is Something behind the universe, more like a mind than anything else.  It is conscious and has purposes and prefers one thing to another.  You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense.  Science describes how things behave.  But why the universe is here at all and whether there is anything behind the things science observes is not a scientific question.  “If there is ‘Something Behind’, then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.” (23) 


“There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation.  That one thing is Man.  We do not merely observe men, we are men.  In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know.  And because of that, we know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey.” (23) 


“If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.  The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.  And this is just what we do find inside ourselves. ...Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.” (24)


5.  We Have Cause to be Uneasy

“We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody.  One is the universe He has made. …  The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds.  … Now from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.” (29-30)   


Book Two: What Christians Believe

1.  The Rival Conceptions of God

“Being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong.  As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.” (35) 


“Atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, 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.” (39) [C. S. Lewis was an atheist before he became a Christian.]


2.  The Invasion

“What is the problem?  A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless.  There are only two views that face all the facts.  One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been.” (42)


“Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war.  But it does not think this is a war between independent powers.  It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.  Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (45-46)


3.  The Shocking Alternative

“Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World.” (47)  Free will is what has made evil possible.  Why, then, did God give them free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.  A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.”  “If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.” (48)


“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact.  That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. … What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” (49) 


“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.” (50)


“Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God.  He claims to forgive sins.  He says He has always existed.  He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. … what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.  Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic.    Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.” (51-2) 


4. The Perfect Penitent

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.” (54)  “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself.  That is the formula.  That is Christianity.  That is what has to be believed.” (55)


“In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. … This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance.  Now repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.  It means killing a part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”  This is a description of what going back to Him is like.  (56-7)


5. The Practical Conclusion

“People often ask when the next step in evolution—the step to something beyond man—will happen.  But in the Christian view, it has happened already.  In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.” (60)


“But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him.  He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us….” (63)


“But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does.  When that happens, it is the end of the world.  When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.” (65)


“Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.  God is holding back to give us that chance.  It will not last forever.  We must take it or leave it.” (65)


Book Three: Christian Behaviour

1.  The Three Parts of Morality

“In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine.  Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine.” (69)


“You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.” (73)  “If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.” (74) 


2.  The ‘Cardinal Virtues’ – Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude

Prudence means practical common sense.  God wants everyone to use what sense they have.  Temperance mans going to the right length and no further in regard to all pleasures.  Justice is the old name for fairness, including honesty, give and take, truthfulness and keeping promises.  Fortitude means sticking it out under pain, just plain old fashioned guts.


3.  Social Morality

The Golden Rule sums it up.  The ancient heathen Greeks, the Jews of the Old Testament, and the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages all told us not to lend money at interest—and this is the basis of our whole economic system! (85)


“Charity—giving to the poor-is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns.” (86)


4.  Morality and Psychoanalysis

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions.  God judges them by their moral choices. … That is why Christians are told not to judge.  We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material.  But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.” (91) 


“And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself.  To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power.  To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” (92)


“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.  When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.  A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. …  Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” (93)


5.  Sexual Morality

“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.  There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’” (95)


6.  Christian Marriage

A man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism.  This is simply a fact, like a lock and its key are one mechanism.  We are made to be combined together in pairs.  Divorce is like cutting up a living body, a kind of surgical operation.  Justice includes the keeping of promises, including the solemn promise to stick together until death.  The promise, made in love, is still in effect until death, even if I cease to be “in love.” (105-107)


7.  Forgiveness

Hate the sin but love the sinner.  It sounds crazy, but I never have the slightest difficulty applying it to myself.  “In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.” (117)   


8.  The Great Sin

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else: and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”  Pride or Self-conceit.  “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”  (123)  Power is what pride really enjoys.  Pride is competitive by its nature.  “It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”  Pride always means enmity—it is enmity, and not only enmity with man but to God.  “As long as you are proud you cannot know God.” (124) 


“It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life.”  “For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” (125)  “…if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble….” (127)  The first step to acquire humility is to realize you are proud.


9.  Charity

Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense.’  This not an emotion but “that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people. …our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves.  It means that we wish our own good.”  “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.” (130-31)


“Good and evil both increase at compound interest.  That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.  The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.  An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” (132)


10.  Hope

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” (134) 


“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world. …  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (136-37) 


11. Faith

“…make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. … We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.  Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind.  It must be fed.  And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument?  Do not most people simply drift away?” (141)


Book Four: Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity




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