This review of Mere Christianity is the third in a series of reviews in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. The first was a review of The Great Divorce which can be found here. The second was a review of The Abolition of Man which can be found here.
Mere Christianity is perhaps C.S. Lewis’ best-known work of non-fiction. In it, Lewis works from a very vague idea of God, and moves all the way through to a very specific Christian idea of God, giving a very logical, step-by-step argument for the reasonableness of Christianity and its beliefs. Rather than simply repeat Lewis’ argument step-by-step, I just want to highlight a couple of points of interest, and leave it to you to read the whole book.
First, let’s look at the title, Mere Christianity. When we use the word “mere” in contemporary settings, it means something like “small” or “only” or “less-than”. It can sometimes tend to have a negative tone. For Lewis, though, he was using it as a synonym for “simple” or “basic”. In other words, Lewis was setting out to talk about the basics of Christianity. He wasn’t going to debate denominational boundaries. He wasn’t going to debate how Christianity affects politics, or other controversial subjects. The point of Mere Christianity is to layout the foundation for basic Christianity. Lewis tells us this in the Preface, when he says, “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” In fact, Lewis was so dedicated to this goal that he had a large portion of the manuscript read by clergyman from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches.
This is important because it reminds us Christians that Continue reading
This review of The Abolition of Man is the second in a series of reviews in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. The first was a review of The Great Divorce which can be found here.
While it is probably fair to say that The Abolition of Man is one of Lewis’ lesser known works, when one reads it, one can see its relation to some of his best known books, including Mere Christianity. Abolition starts with Lewis examining a literary textbook which Lewis calls The Green Book. In the book, the authors discuss the story of Coleridge at a waterfall with two tourists. One tourist calls the waterfall “sublime” while the other calls it simply “pretty”. Coleridge agrees with the first and rejects the second.
The reason the textbook references this story is interesting. The authors of the textbook insist that when the tourist says that the waterfall is sublime, the tourist is not saying something about the waterfall. According to the textbook, when the tourist says that the waterfall is sublime, he is actually saying something not about the waterfall, but about his own feelings. This is where Lewis steps in with his first helpful observation. These authors, who are writing what purports to be a literature textbook, are smuggling in philosophy under the noses of unsuspecting students. This is dangerous, Lewis says, for the “boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake.”
So what is the dangerous philosophy that the book proposes? That is the subject of the rest of the book. Remember how the authors use the waterfall story: when the tourist says the waterfall is sublime, he is not actually describing the waterfall. He is describing his own feelings. In other words, according to the textbook, there is no such thing as an objective value statement. Values are relative to our own feelings. This is the dangerous philosophy that Lewis says Continue reading
November 22nd is the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. Leading up to the anniversary, I will be reviewing a number of his works. The first is The Great Divorce.
The premise of The Great Divorce is that those who are in Hell get to take a trip to Heaven. While they are in Heaven, their loved ones come to them and try to convince them to stay. Lewis is clear that he doesn’t necessarily think those in Hell actually get another choice after death. He is simply trying to illustrate the nature of Heaven and Hell, and of good and evil. Rather than try to summarize the whole book, I will simply highlight a couple of themes that stuck out to me during a recent re-read of “The Great Divorce”.
The first thing that stuck out to me is how utterly lonely the inhabitants of Hell are. This starts becoming clear in the beginning of the book when Lewis is describing Hell. The Narrator, who is never given a name, acknowledges that the parts of the town he saw were so empty. Another inhabitant of Hell tells him that this is so because everyone in Hell is so quarrelsome. When I arrive in Hell, I might find a house pretty quickly, at first. But it won’t be long until I’m quarreling with a neighbor. When that happens, I will move to a house a few streets away. This pattern keeps happening until eventually everyone lives millions of miles apart from everyone else. How lonely!
As the story moves forward, we realize more and more about the nature of their loneliness. We realize that the inhabitants of Hell are so lonely because they Continue reading
There has been a continuing theme in fiction that when we make evil choices, it changes our person, our being, who we are.
One example can be seen in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, specifically in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story chronicles the kids’ adventures while aboard a ship, the Dawn Treader. The ship lands on an island, and as the rest of the children are working, a character named Eustace sneaks away in order to avoid work. He comes upon a dragon who is guarding its treasure, while in the midst of dying. After the dragon dies, Eustace explores the dragon’s treasure, eventually stealing for himself a bracelet which he puts on. Afterwords, Eustace falls asleep. Continue reading