C. S. Lewis, Part 2: Mere Christianity

by Terry Heames


Last time, I chose the simple question of why did a confirmed atheist like C.S. Lewis accept the concept of God.  What is his God like?  Is it God you are familiar with?

C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898 and educated in England.  He joined the army and fought in the trenches during World War I and was wounded at Arras.  He returned to England, finished his studies in 1922 and joined the faculty at Oxford's Magdalen College in 1925 where he taught English literature.  He became a Christian in 1931.  He was an air raid warden in WWII and became famous for his wartime religious talks on the BBC.  In 1954 he went to Cambridge as professor of Medieval and Renaissance English and died on November 22, 1963.  His more famous books include, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Four Loves, Miracles, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity.

The book, Mere Christianity, was derived from those religious talks given during the Blitzkrieg of World War 2.  In this book he discusses the reason for his conversion to Christianity, what Christians believe, and the doctrine of the trinity.  He injects at several points that he is not advocating the ways of the Church of England (Anglicanism, or Episcopalianism in this country), or the Methodist, or the Roman Catholics.  His goal was to be more fundamental and less ritualistic.  He was a member of the Anglican church after his conversion from atheism.

In the last presentation I only gave an overview of the two concepts that Lewis derived:

  1. That rational thought can not come from mere evolution, and
  2. That the concept of right and wrong is also inherent in man.
The first implies that God is rational, and the second implies that God is just.  Therefore, we will assume these as givens, as Lewis does, so that arguments that can not explain their presence can be found unacceptable.

Mere Christianity:

In this presentation I want to continue Lewis' thoughts as he goes from a concept of God, to Mere Christianity.  He starts by looking at all religions and then narrowing the system down to those religions whose beliefs match his logical musings.  By the time we are done I hope to show his reasoning for a

All these are fundamental tenets of Mere Christianity.

Who or what is God?

Let us start as he does, with God: is there none, one, or a plethora?

He dismisses atheism as being too simplistic.  Atheism cannot explain the origin of either justice or rational thought and when one goes on about the universe having no meaning it gets into illogical consequences.  If the whole universe is without meaning then how does one know what meaning is?  Am I just a point-source of meaning?  If man had no eyes how would we know the concept of dark?  It would not exist.  Similarly if there is no meaning in the universe, how does one know the concept?

Fortunately, the vast majority of people have no problem with the concept of a God.  It is just accepting any particular concept.  The concept of many gods is interesting because it covers more people than one would like to admit.  Many gods includes those who are for a "Mother Earth type of god".   That is, we are all part of the universal god, i.e., the universe and god are inseparable.  If there were no universe, there would be no god.  They might also argue that the more one knows, the more one sees good and evil in all things, hence morality is relative and depends upon the situation.  A problem with their good and evil is that they do not know what to do with evil, as it must also be a part of god.  Lewis dismisses this group because they do not know what to do with a just God.  The concept of just and evil doesn't fit.

In the remaining religions they think that God invented and created the universe like a man creating a painting.  That space and time, heat and cold, colors and tastes, animals and vegetables are things He just made up in his head.  They think that many things have gone wrong with the creation, but eventually God will fix them because he is a just God.  Thus he is left with the Jew, Muslim, and Christian religions.

At this juncture, Lewis discusses reality.  Reality is seldom simple, like the world is flat, or the smallest living organism is the cell, or the smallest particle is the atom.  We now know that all of these have been found lacking, lacking in complexity.  Reality is less simple and usually something you wouldn't have guessed, like the world is round and the center of the universe is far from here and the variety of organisms within a cell is incredible and how they work is complex.  In general he is dismissing simple answers as being unrealistic.

But what went wrong, and why was it allowed to go wrong?  After all, this is not the obvious thing someone would have just made up.  It would be simpler to have everything just perfect.  Why have evil at all?  Now some, generally called Dualists, believe that there are two independent gods -- the god of good and the god of evil.  The problem with this is that the good god likes good for its own sake and similarly the bad god must like badness for its own sake.  But this concept does not coincide with our experiences.  Those who are bad are after good things like pleasure, money or power but go after them by the wrong methods.  You can do a good thing even when you are not feeling kind but no one does a bad thing just because cruelty is wrong -- only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him.  To be bad, this bad god must have intelligence and will but these things are good in themselves, hence he must have gotten them from the good god.  Now do you see why Christianity has always said that the devil was a fallen angel?  It is the recognition of a parasite, not a separate original thing.  Not the simple answer.

Free Will:

But why would a just God allow evil to exist? Is it against His will?

When a mother tells a child to clean his room and he doesn't, it is not her will, but it is her will to give the child the opportunity to chose. But why would God give his creations "Free Will"? Free will allows for evil but it also allows for joy, love, and goodness. The happiness and peace "which transcends all understanding", is only possible with a free will. Clearly, the God knew that the conflict with evil was worth the price.

Now the better the stuff one is made of, the more good, or evil, they can become.  For example, a cow doesn't know good from evil, a dog can be a little good, a child more, an adult even more, but a spiritual being can be exceptionally good or totally diabolical.  The path chosen depends upon one thing, which is as some pastors would say "who is wearing the crown, God or self?"  Clearly, Lucifer chose self and became Satan and throughout history has promulgated the concept of "you can be in charge, or you can be as god" to great effect.  So Christianity provides an explanation for what we see.  It is not the simple, obvious explanation either.  Thus one of the primary reasons that Lewis believes in Christianity is that it provides complex answers that match his experiences.

So what else do Christians believe other than one God, evil exists, and a free will that allows one to chose sides?

Christ is God.

We know that we are not perfect and that we choose to follow our own desires occasionally, usually more often than we like to admit.  However, we believe that Christ was and is God.  Now some would say he was only a great moral teacher and that if we all took his advice the world would be a better place. Surprising, to me, is that the concept of "a great moral teacher" is not one of the emphasized beliefs of Christianity.  This is probably because if we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us to do, we would all get along better.  But if Christianity only meant following one more piece of good advice, then it is of no importance.  But Christianity talks about something more, that Christ was begotten not created.  Remember when you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself, just as a man begets human babies.  What God creates is not God, just as what man creates is not man, but a statue, or picture, or a computer.

The Christian attitude is that Christ was either God, as he said, or that he was a lunatic or perhaps the devil incarnate for the claims he made.  Like he was constantly saying, your sins are forgiven.  What does one make of a man who claims to forgive your sins when he wasn't the spouse you were rude to and he didn't even talk to the spouse.  As Christians say, He was and is God and hence is the offended party.

Christ's Life within us:

Christians also emphasize that Christ died for our sins, made things right with God, and overcame death.  Lewis goes off for a while on the theological arguments about how this was possible but eventually decides that the arguments are not the point, only that Jesus did it and we can get the benefit.  The practical aspect of this is that Christians believe that if we share in his suffering we will also share in his conquest of death and live happily after we have died.  The sharing in his suffering, Lewis calls the "Christ-life in us".

Now many people like to talk about how man is evolving and how the "new man" will be stronger, healthier, and more intelligent.  Lewis thinks they have missed the point.  He contends that the evolution of man will be something you don't expect.  For example if you had lived eons ago and see the great dinosaurs and armored beasts of the age we would have said that bigger animals was the way of evolution.  But that is not what happened, puny man with a bigger brain came along and changed everything, nature took a sharp turn.  Likewise, Lewis believes the next stage in evolution will also be a sharp turn.  Instead of more of the same path of heredity and environment, man will be able to choose for himself whether he wants to go to the next level.  The choice will be to follow Christ (the Christ life) or to follow self (the way of the world).

There are three things that promote this Christ-life, Baptism, belief, and the Lord's supper.  Some Christians like to emphasize only one of these, but all are essential.  Lewis doesn't know why these three are important only that Christ said they were.

Now Lewis is not saying that it only takes belief, baptism, and communion to be a Christian, no you still have to copy Christ. Christians are different from other people that are trying to be good.  The latter are those who are trying to please God, just in case there is one, or if there is not then to get approval from good men.  Christians, on the other hand, believe that good works come from Christ operating within them, i.e. that God makes us good because he loves us and we are simply reflecting that love.  Much like a live body can repair itself from minor injuries, so, too, with Christ living within us our spiritual bodies can repair themselves and make us progressively better.

As I noted, Lewis is an advocate of "Living Grace", that is, Christ is living within the Christian.  He notes that it is the body of Christians that provides the method for spreading this life and making the choice to become a "new man".

Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.

Next Week:

Larry will be back to continue our study in James.   Don't forget Larry's assignment!