You voted and I read! Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was the latest book that got sluttified! Thanks so much and I hope you enjoy my thoughts on the subject.
The 20th century was a trying era for persons of religious faith. New scientific discoveries in medicine and the origins of our species were rampant, and brutal world wars made the faithful question God’s goodness.
In this troubled time, C.S. Lewis took it upon himself to offer catharsis for a faith in crisis. His empathetic approach of for the divine, and Christianity’s role in it, it truly remarkable. Lewis was an articulate and vastly intelligent man. Above all that, the reader can tell he truly gives credence to what he says and the cause he supports. As opposed to, say, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Lewis made his case for Christ in a straightforward and relatively succinct (227 pages) enterprise.
“Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also that only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
As a matter of fact, this succinct simplicity is the platform which really makes this book a classic of Evangelical literature. According to wikipedia, Mere Christianity was placed third in Christianity Today’s list of the most influential books amongst evangelicals since 1945. It’s main product is apologetics for the common man— to create condensed coherence in a time of moral mayhem.
“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, the Apostles themselves, who set foot on the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Nevertheless, I get the impression I could write for ages on what I discovered, and a one-time blog review is the bluntest object with which to get a delicate job done. It’s much like emptying partly digested bile in written form, rather than a fully absorbed reflection. Suffice it to say if I am a third of the writer Lewis is one day, I will be a very happy little slut.
Lewis posits his syllibi for faith in three books, which are combined into two sections for the published work we now call Mere Christianity.
The first section The Case for Christianity, Lewis uses to illustrate his conversion to Christianity based on a close dissection of the origins of morality. I was especially fascinated by this bit: how a self-proclaimed former atheist could turn Christian by meditating on the “innate goodness” or human nature which perpetually seeks greater meaning and morality beyond itself. My immediate impulse is skepticism toward how much of an atheist he really was if he could ever re-embrace theism, but then I corrected my thinking by realizing I was falling prey to the very no-true-Scotsman fallacy which I often use to rebuke the theistic types.
“It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.”
It would seem Lewis’ train of thought is thus: we have an innate sense of right and wrong, which could not have been contrived by humans since the same humans often choose to violate it despite their better judgment. Where did this better judgment come from? Why, the same Author who created nature in such perfect, organized structure! Things that are intrinsic to us but not the lesser animals of the earth ipso facto have traces of divine fingerprints left on them. He also makes an elaborate argument about Jesus. Jesus claiming to be God could either be insanity, lies or revelation.
“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 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. He did not intend to.”
I see his point about nature. There have never been more transcendental moments in my life than when I’m surrounded by 360 degrees of the great outdoors. While lost in something so vast, it makes my trivial worries back in the urban grind shrink down to their appropriate size. In my hometown we have beautiful mountains, valleys and river gorges. I love barefoot running, and spend a great deal of my leisure time exploring the little trails and backwoods. However, my opinion diverges from his when it comes to the item of attribution. Why do these bucolic wonders have to be divine? It’s perfect as it is. It doesn’t point towards a Creator; rather, something much cooler. Through scientific discovery we now know how over millions and billions of years, our environment developed into the sustainable, breathtaking work of art it is today.
The second section discusses Christian Behavior and goes into depth on the cardinal virtues, which I had to learn as a young Catholic girl. Prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. And let’s not forget the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. The natural result of embracing our godly morality and goodness is to want to seek its roots. And if we are diligent, we will naturally come to the conclusion that the good God who created us wants us to be happy and know Him more. Together, as one body in the Church, we experience true unity with Him. That’s what it’s all about, according to Lewis. Growing in unity with each other and God through love. It’s a pretty concept. But why does God have to be a part of the equation? Love and unity sounds amazing, but I can’t see the obvious connection to the divine. We seem pretty good on our own, without the religion bit. If anything, trying to ascribe beliefs to the reasons behind this “innate goodness”tarnishes the concept and leads the superstition.
I’ll admit, while I left faith behind and havent looked back, I am writing this post with incense burning and Gregorian chants playing. I really like getting into the mood, you see. The thing about it is, I recognize that a mood is all it is. The chanting of a dead language in beautiful acapello harmony seems to transcend mere human voices and gets me in tune with the dregs and pinnacles of my consciousness alike.
Perhaps my favorite quote from the book was Lewis’ definition of true love; a concept which has long transfixed and terrified me.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I have a strong proclivity to try to do this with my heart, rather than take the risk of loving someone that deeply. I often seek safe deposit boxes for my most valued asset—the ability to love. I second guess my feelings in lieu of my highly logical nature, and shy away from being too vulnerable. But Lewis very articulately explains that letting the heart wither away like this is a worse fate by far. It is far better to give freely of yourself to those who deserve it, than to ration it conservatively in fear of a loss on the investment.
Lastly, I’d like to thank an old childhood Catholic friend for his logical and thorough debates with me over the course of the last week. I’m so used to getting burnt out on arguments which are based on “moral” imperatives that by contrast his level-headed, respectful approach was quite refreshing. I want him to know, while he prefers to stay anonymous, that his encouragement for me to thoroughly research the authors I review as well as the book I’m reading has been immensely helpful. The prospect of researching a man with as extensive a biography as Mr. Lewis was a daunting task, my initial prejudices inhibited my ability to truly dissect this brilliant work.
Any dumbass with a keyboard and a nickel’s worth of snark can pettifog about someone’s book, but it takes real erudition to write a lucid (and useful) review. So, thanks buddy.
But remember, sir : there is nothing more natural than fucking the brains out of a consensual party. God does’t have to watch.
For more excellently worded thoughts on Mr. Lewis’ book, check out my new blogger friend Atheists on Fishing‘s perspective on MC.