Mere Christianity: Basic Principles Shown By C. S. Lewis

Categories: Mere Christianity

Lewis explores the notion of right and wrong, which he argues is, at its core, an inherently human characteristic that is not, as some would argue, merely a social construct. He defines our fundamental and universal understanding of fairness, or right and wrong, as “The Law of Human Nature,” setting it apart it from other natural laws by the fact that humans have the choice whether to obey it. Lewis even states that we all know how we ought to behave, and yet we consistently find ourselves doing the opposite.

He explains to us the Law of Human Nature, or Moral Law, from the herd instinct. This Moral Law is not itself an instinct, but it helps us make the choice of which instincts to act on.

He also distinguishes it from social convention, stating that, if all morality were truly relative, then there would be no sense in arguing that one morality is better or worse than the other. We could not say that Hitler’s morality is inherently worse than any other set of morals.

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For there to be any comparison at all, there must be some objective morality to compare them to. Lewis points out that, between the two comparably held views of the universe—the materialist view and the religious view—neither can be proven or disproven by science. Although, we do have a little inside information into mankind, being that we are ourselves human, more so than we would have just by observation.

This, then, is proof there is a moral law that we should obey even though our behavior alone allows for no such pattern.

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It is how we come to the conclusion that, “there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quite definitely real—a real law which none of us made, but we which we find pressing on us” . If we happen upon, then, inside ourselves a law that we had no dealings with, then there has to be some sort of power that exists all around us. Lewis notes here that he is not “within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology” ; he has merely arrived at the existence of “Something which is directing the universe” and which seems to push us closer to morality.

He points out that, if there is a force behind this Moral Law, it does not show leniency; it commands us to do the right thing regardless of our feelings. It is a force that likes goodness, and we know that “if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do” .This, he argues, is a steppingstone before one can except Christianity. One must acknowledge that there is a Moral Law, and that he has broken it, and that we need to be set right again. In Book 2, Lewis tells us that Christians do not have to believe that all religions are wrong; some wrong answers, he says, are closer to being correct than others. There is a division among religions on the nature of God: a Pantheistic God who is beyond good and evil, and exists in everything in the universe without distinction between good and bad, and a God of creation and is very much on the side of good as despises evil.

The latter, which is the Christian view, acknowledges that the world is not as it should be, which raises the question: “If God is so good why do bad things happen to good people?” He argues, though, that so long as we have any idea of “just” and “unjust,” there has to be some standard of “just” to compare it to, bringing him back to a strong belief in God, without whom words like “right” and “wrong” would carry no meaning. Atheism, therefore, becomes to simplistic in and of itself, as is what Lewis calls “Christianity-and-water” which is a belief that there is a God and everything is good, leaving out the more truthful and honest parts of theology, which could be considered gloomy. Christian doctrine is not the simple, watered down version that is so widespread; it is far more complicated than most adults can easily understand.

Lewis points out that reality is usually complicated and not what a person could have guessed, and notes that this helped produce his Christian conversion. Notice the argument against Dualism, a conception that good and evil are two strong and singular forces that are at odds with each other. Evil is, instead, a cancer; it is a rebellious form of goodness and cannot exist on its own. Lewis even states that, “wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way” . There is, however, an ominous and sinister power at hand, and the world we live in is “enemy-occupied territory” . If God is truly sovereign, how can we resist His will? Lewis makes a comparison to this with a mother who wants her children to learn to clean their room on their own. She does not force or impose her will on them, and it remains dirty, and although this is against her will it is also her will for her children to willingly choose to align with her desire.

The same goes for free will. True joy does not exist if we have no choice, so God has made us free to choose, but we use this freedom in ways that show the perversion of our alignment with His will. In this perversion of will, things can go wrong because we choose to be the central focus and want to be more than God. Lewis, then argues, is likely where evil came from in the first place. Although, this is entirely pointless: we are made to rely and focus on God Himself, and joy does not exist outside of him. Due to this pickle we are in, God has done three things to help us. He gave us a conscience, he sent humans “good dreams,” and he selected the Jews to teach what kind of God he was. The part that stands out the most is the appearance of Jesus, who claims to forgive sins. This, he argues, is a rather absurd claim, since he claims to forgive sins made by other men against other men. Lewis argues that we shouldn’t claim that Jesus was merely a great moral teacher. Since he claimed to be God, we have only three options: he is a lunatic, he is evil and a liar, or he is God. There is no other option.

In Book 3, Lewis outlines the three parts of morality. somebody's must be right with himself; he must be right with those around him, and he must be following a particular purpose. Lewis explains this through the metaphors of a fleet of ships and of a musical band. the very fact that we are made by some other person for a purpose means we've got more duties than if we only belonged to ourselves. There are seven virtues in Christianity. Four are “Cardinal virtues,” recognized by all civilized people, and three are “Theological virtues,” recognized specifically by Christians. The Cardinal virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. Virtues aren't qualifiers for entering into Heaven, but by practicing them they mold individuals into the type of individuals God wants, the type of individuals who are going to be pleased with the Heaven God has created. Christian morality doesn't offer details about the way to apply its virtues to a society at a particular time.

It is often applied to any society. None of us, he argues, would probably sort of a fully Christian society, since we've got all departed from God’s plan in how. We cannot, however, pick and choose. We should not approach Christianity to find support for our beliefs, we should approach it to find out what to believe. Lewis discusses the overlap between Christianity and psychoanalysis. The act of making choices involves what he calls our “raw material” and that is different for every person. Therefore, we cannot judge based on someone’s outward appearance or action; it may be that they have done far more with their raw material than someone who began in much better place and have not made use of it. Each choice changes a central part of us and molds us into the person we are becoming.

Each choice brings us closer or farther from the person God intended. Lewis goes on to summarize Christian views on sex and how we have perverted one of the most sacred things in marriage. He argues against the conception that we should be free to follow our impulses; no impulse, sexual or otherwise, can be allowed without barriers or restraints. He then examines Christian marriage, a covenant between man and wife. The covenant still holds true, no matter the feelings man holds. There is time when the feeling of being in love will fade. However, by then, it is replaced by a deeper, quieter love. Next, he examines forgiveness. We have a duty to forgive our enemies. This is difficult, but we can start small. However, there is a difference between loving one’s neighbor and feeling affection toward them. We can hate what a person does without hating them, which we do for ourselves all the time. We can hate an action but hope that that person can “be cured and made human again” .

To love one’s neighbor is to wish him good, not to feel fond of him or to say nice things that are untrue. Lewis then discusses what he calls the “worst sin” which is pride, the opposite of humility. He argues that “Pride leads to every other vice” . It provokes other sins and makes it impossible to know God, since prideful people cannot know anything greater than themselves. The first theological virtues are Charity, which is essentially love—though Lewis points out that love does not mean feeling a certain way but acting a certain way. If you do not feel love toward someone, act as though you do. The second is Hope, looking forward to the eternal world. God gave us desires that can be satisfied, and the fact that we desire something that cannot be had in this world means that there is another world. The third Theological virtue is Faith.

This does not mean believing something in spite of evidence. It means that, once you have accepted something based on evidence, you continue to believe it despite your changing moods. All our attempts at the Christian virtues will ultimately fail. We must keep trying and failing and trying again. In Book 4, Lewis says that Theology is sort of a map. it's not God, but it points us to God. He points out between making biological life, or Bios, and spiritual life, or Zoe. Jesus is begotten, and that we are made; we are like statues, not sons, but through Christ we are dropped at life. He then delves into the notion of a three-person God, which are some things that we cannot understand. he's beyond personality, but he's not impersonal; he's super-personal. he's within us and beside us as he brings us toward him. This complex notion is where theology began. We are the instruments through which we see God, but if our instruments aren't kept well, we see a distorted version of God.

Lewis goes on to argue that God is beyond and out of doors of your time. he's not bound by it, and each moment is that the present for him. He compares this to a writer writing a novel; though the novel’s events are bound by time, the author isn't. He can take days to put in writing one scene. Lewis then explains this in terms of the Trinity, or three-person God. The Son could be a product of the daddy, but there was never a time when the Son didn't exist. Lewis delves here more fully into the Trinity: the daddy, the Son, and also the Holy Ghost. this can be important because God can't be love unless he contains two or more beings. These three beings are at play within the world and in every Christian as we become “little Christs,” which Lewis tells us is that the sole purpose of Christianity. Lewis compares humanity to toy soldiers brought to life, but the difference is that all of humanity is interwoven and we are not so distinct as we believe. By becoming human, then, Christ has infected humanity with his Spiritual life. In becoming what Lewis calls “little Christs,” there is an element of pretending.

We pretend to be better than we are so that we can truly become better. When we act as though we are better than we are, we turn ourselves into people who are better. By pretending, we make it a reality. Christianity is both harder and easier than non-Christian life. More is expected of us, but God helps us in ways that others do not. There is a cost, and it is often more than we have bargained for. He compares the individual to a living house. God comes in and begins to make improvements and at first you understand what he is fixing, but then he begins to knock things down that seem to be destructive. You find that “you thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” . We can only become perfect when we put ourselves into his hands. He acknowledges, however, the apparent irony in this not all Christians are nice than non-Christians. However, the globe isn't split into fully Christian and fully non-Christian.

Furthermore, we ought to not compare a Christian to a different non-Christian, but to the person they might be if they weren't Christian. “Nice” people need saving even as very much like “unkind” people do. Our natural temperament isn't most within our control and not so important as our choices, and whether we give ourselves and our stuff to God. Christianity isn't about mere improvement but about Transformation. within the Christian view there's an evolutionary “Next Step” that's already at work. it's unique in this it's not meted out by amphimixis, it contains a part of choice, it originates from Christ and is passed on by “good infection,” it's happened relatively quickly compared to other evolutionary advances, and at last, the stakes are much higher. Ultimately, Lewis explains, we must give ourselves over to Christ completely to both become like him and to completely become ourselves. it's the sole way.

Updated: Feb 23, 2024
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Mere Christianity: Basic Principles Shown By C. S. Lewis. (2024, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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