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Book Review: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Chris Banescu

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C.S. Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, and probably the most down to earth theologian that Western civilization has ever produced. His eloquent and reasoned defense of the core beliefs and truths of Christianity are timeless. Lewis is indeed an expert at making complex theological issues accessible to believers and non-believers alike. Lewis' profound clarity of thought, grace, and wisdom has inexorably altered the lives of millions of readers.

An agnostic in his younger years, Lewis understands the objections of non-believers and deals with their arguments head on. In one of his most well-known observations in Mere Christianity, Lewis dismisses the most "foolish" idea people have regarding Christ: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." Lewis magnificently disposes with such fallacious thinking in one paragraph:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. 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 and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The existence of evil in the world is frequently used to attack Christianity's categorical proclamation that there is a God and He is the Lord of all creation. But such simplistic criticisms and immature objections are torn to shreds by common sense and Lewis' magnificent, effortlessly articulated logic:

Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -- of creatures that worked like machines -- would hardly be worth creating.

Mere Christianity is full of memorable and powerful revelations that elucidate the foundations of Christian theology, our relationship to God, and the meaning of life. Only C.S. Lewis could summarize such broad concepts so eloquently without coming across as overly-religious or preachy. His extraordinary ability to focus on the core tenets of Christianity and explain them with remarkable ease reinforces the wide appeal of his writings.

Regarding man's relationship with and need for God:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just not good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Regarding true happiness and freedom:

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

On pursuing truth and finding comfort in our lives:

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth -- only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

Love is another complex subject that is described and ultimately differentiated from the more ephemeral emotion of "being in love." Countless marriages have been destroyed because people often mistake the latter for the former and go on trying to recapture that feeling without truly understanding what God intended. Many erroneously believe that ceasing to be "in love" means ceasing to love. They forget that Christ commanded us to love. Why would He need to do that if love was simply a feeling? Lewis eloquently explains:

Love as distinct from "being in love" is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be "in love" with someone else.... It is only on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

Finally, the idea of Christian morality is presented in its proper perspective. Rather than a "kind of bargain" that many believe God makes with mortals in which He rewards those who follow the rules, Lewis depicts salvation as a journey driven by our decisions. Each choice we make turns the central part of us, that "part that chooses," into something "a little different from what it was before."

Embracing life's "innumerable choices" allows us to turn ourselves into "heavenly" creatures that are "in harmony with God and the other creatures," or "hellish" creatures "in a state of war and hatred with God," with "other creatures," and with ourselves. "Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other," Lewis writes. It is up to individuals to decide how to live, but one thing is certain: there are no neutral acts in God's universe.

In a world that is often hostile to religion, particularly the Christian faith, Mere Christianity stands as a testament to truth, love, faith, and the value of human life; its enduring and inspiring message shines like a beacon, guiding and helping all those who have eyes to see and ears to listen.

Chris Banescu is an attorney, entrepreneur, and university professor. His business, ethics, and management articles and podcasts can be found on www.ChrisBanescu.com. He is a regular contributor to OrthodoxyToday.org, manages the conservative site www.OrthodoxNet.com, writes articles, and has given talks and conducted seminars on a variety of business and management topics. He has also written book reviews for Townhall.com and articles for Acton.org.

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Posted: 09-Dec-05



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