Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963

This book supports Christianity in all respects, although its title implies negativity. C. S. Lewis (CSL) taught English Literature at Oxford and Cambridge, and it offers solid rationale for being a Christian. The author of 30 books, mostly short and user-friendly, he was arguably the most influential Christian writer of his generation, if not of the 20th Century. The reader can’t help but be impressed with the simplicity and effortless flow of his unpretentious, fireside-chat prose, even though his syntax is something less than one expects from an English professor. His book is a compilation of a series of lectures that he gave on radio in the 1940’s (before TV), when WWII was devastating so many American lives, and his audience of mourners was searching for relief.

Lewis stressesd that he was “an ordinary layman in the Church of England”, who sought to aid “the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.” For that half-believing audience, Lewis does an exemplary job. He is quick to caution that he speaks for Christianity and not for any sect within it, not even for his own. Further, he makes no effort to “sell” Christianity to non-believers; he simply wants to help believers become more comfortable. As such, he makes no attempt to answer the Big Questions that keep non-believers at bay: For example, who created the Creator? Why is there so much suffering and death that is not attributable to man’s “free will”? Why is the earth, our solar system and the universe on course for certain destruction? By ignoring these issues, he offers little solace and leaves non-believers where he found them.

A substantial portion of Lewis’ beliefs rests on two key points: First, the well-traveled view that the universe is too complex and too elegant to have happened by chance. Scientific evidence, since Lewis’ death, however, largely refutes that view, and, further, a contrarian would assert that the INelegance of the universe far exceeds its elegance, and all of it has the look of “chance”. Second, he postulates that man is intuitively moral and is inclined to follow a Moral Law (a Golden Rule), as does no other creature; and, moreover, such an instinct, ipso facto, proves the existence of a Creator. To many logicians, however, logic alone dictates such a Moral Law; that is, a logical person won’t do anything to anyone that they don’t want done to themselves, lest they be harmed as much or worse, reciprocally. Moral Laws, to many, are common-sense-self-defense tactics; the logical powers of humans are simply a few steps further down evolution’s road than a chimp’s. Nonetheless, many logicians would concede that, on balance, religion tends to make society less violent, because so many humans lack or ignore their common sense, and religion and the fear of Hell frighten many and diminish violence. Lewis doesn’t mention the latter argument, but it likely best supports his views.

Lewis kindly prose offer appealing advice throughout, such as, “Be kind to those who have chosen different doors [sects or faiths] than you…If they are wrong, they need your prayers all the more…” He might have added, “and, if you are wrong, you may need theirs,” but believers, of course, are never in doubt. The words of that esteemed Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy, come to mind: “The great enemy of truth is not the lie…but the myth…Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Certainty, of course, feeds on an absence of thought. While Lewis has given the issues much thought, in the end, he is determined to believe, and he relies on the literal words of The Good Book, however contradictory and/or must overcome the uncertainties that face all ancient texts. Nonetheless, if you are a Christian, or a want-to-be Christian whose “intellect is getting in your way”, Lewis and Mere Christianity are a fine anecdote for your needs.