Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
Published in 1952
Genre: Apologetics, theology, Christianity
“Every one has heard people quarreling.”
Many people are familiar with C. S. Lewis through his science fiction and fantasy novels, but the author was much more than a fiction writer. A war veteran, an academic, a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien (for a time) and a former atheist, Lewis converted to the Church of England and became what is known as a Christian apologist; those who seek to defend the faith using reason and logic. In Mere Christianity, Lewis attempts to filter the basic beliefs of Christians and present them in a way that is palatable.
The contents of Mere Christianity were not, in fact, originally created to be read as a book. The messages were first broadcast in three parts – Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944). These speeches were given during the blitz in World War II, so it is important to have this context in order to understand why there are many war metaphors; comparing the world in general as belonging to the Devil and that Christians are living in occupied territory in a civil war are just two that Lewis uses. The introduction of this version also explains the reason the book was published and the differences in this edition; for example, it was edited to maintain the conversational tone of the broadcasts, but written more like a traditional book on theology would be.
Lewis begins with the Law of Nature, which he argues is inherent in all humans; though there are some variations due to time period or culture. He decries those who insist scientists try to prove God created the universe; instead positing that, though science can show how something was created, it cannot tell us why. Lewis argues that it isn’t a scientific question, but is a religious one. He describes the different ways that people believe in deities; some see them as being beyond good and evil (Pantheism) vs. the existence of only one righteous God (Christianity). He says that evil is not something original; it is a perversion of good, and he goes on to discuss virtues and the difference between acting charitable and being charitable.
Though possibly taboo for any time (let alone the 1940s) Christianity and sex has a chapter in the book. Lewis argues that the religion doesn’t have issues with sex as long as it is within marriage. He compares pre-marital sex to overindulgence in food and says that the sexual revolution hasn’t made perversions any better, so he doesn’t see how can people say that getting rid of sexual hang-ups is a good thing. Lewis describes marriage in Christianity, (second-hand, but he readily admits this) and the difference between being in love (a feeling) and loving (a continual state). He argues that men must be the heads of the household for two reasons: 1. someone must cast the deciding vote in a disagreement by default and 2. a woman would feel embarrassed for her husband if she had to tell him what to do, so it should be the man.
He moves on to state that the greatest sin is Pride and Christians should seek humility, which is its opposite. They mustn’t actively try to be humble, however, but acknowledge that they are proud and want to change that. It appears that the important thing is to sort of fake it ‘til you make it – act as a good person would, and you will become good through the practice. In the final part of the book, Lewis does tackle some theology, but does so by comparing the act of knowing God to seeing the Ocean and theology to a map of the ocean.
Lewis writes in a very formal, proper, and educated voice; it is easy to see the influence of academia since he uses a lot of comparisons in order to better illustrate ideas. He begins the book with the broad foundation of a Being behind the universe; Lewis doesn’t start out calling it God, but rather eases into the subject with logical arguments built upon previous evidence. It is noticeable that he always talks of “men” with little to no mention of women. As noted earlier, he wasn’t married and was a friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, who also preferred the company of men when dealing with more masculine subjects and academic discussion, so it may be attributed to this boy’s club mentality.
I don’t agree with Lewis on all of his opinions/views on relationships and vernacular, but there is a lot of content in this book that would aid someone who doesn’t really know much about Christianity, its practices, or the reasons behind them. Lewis’s voice and writing ability make his arguments easy to follow and allows the reader to ponder on the points he puts forward. I would have given this a higher score, but I just have some fundamental differences of opinion that lowered his credibility in my mind (which, again, may be chalked up to living in different decades/centuries). There is no doubt that he had an interesting perspective as someone who came into Christianity as an adult; this is a great book for those who wish to dip their toes into Christian theology, but are intimidated by the more academic and high-brow texts.
Verdict: 3 quasi-theological comparisons out of 5
Recommended for: People looking to read about Christianity from the perspective of a convert to the religion, those who enjoy apologetics, fans of C. S. Lewis, and those who want a layman’s version of theology.
Not recommended for: More progressive thinkers when it comes to relationships in marriage, militant Atheists, or those who would prefer an expert’s version of theology.