Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is one of the most accessible and widely read works defending the rationality of the Christian faith. Originally published in 1952, and based on a series of talks broadcast over radio during World War II, Lewis makes a powerful case for the rightness of the Christian faith, both intellectually and morally. Mere Christianity seeks, as its title suggests, to present Christianity in its simplest and most cogent form. It takes an ecumenical approach in that it presents what Lewis regards as the central elements of the faith, rather than the Catholic interpretation or the Protestant interpretation, and so on.
I bought this book for my mom for Christmas 5 years ago when I worked at Chapters. This was a time before I was actively involved with my faith, but I had a conversation with a customer about the book and decided my (very faithful) mother would love it.
I spotted the book this past Easter when I went home for a visit and decided, with my new-found faith, that I would give it a shot and read it. The book is not a quick read, I’ve determined. It is meant to be taken slowly, with each of his rational arguments allowed time to marinate and sink in. I’m only 5 chapters in, but this past chapter I found very interesting and I would like to share some of what I read (mostly for myself, so I can figure out what he was saying!).
In earlier chapters, Lewis establishes that there is a “Moral Law” when he suggests that there is somebody or something from beyond our material universe that is getting at us. If you believe that the something behind this moral law is God, and you agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions that God is ‘good’. Not ‘good’ in a way that he is soft, indulgent, or sympathetic; but ‘good’ in a way that is just.
Lewis then says that if we believe in this absolute goodness, then we are in a strange position. We are on His side and agree with the disapproval of human greed, trickery, and exploitation. But we are not on His side when it applies to us. We are making ourselves enemies of this goodness everyday when we fail to do ‘good’, but we aren’t any likely to do better tomorrow. As he puts it, “We can’t do with it and can’t do without it.” God is the only comfort of this , but he is also the thing to be most scared of: the thing we need the most and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only ally, and we make ourselves His enemies.
Now this is where, in his roundabout way, he comes to making a point about Christianity. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them that they will be forgiven. Christianity does not apply to people who do not know they have done anything wrong and do not feel that they need forgiveness. As Lewis puts it, “It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power being the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power – it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.” Christians offer an explanation of how we got to our present state of simultaneously loving and hating goodness. Of how God can be the impersonal force behind the Moral Law, yet also a Person. Christians tell you how the demands of this law, which we cannot possibly meet all the time, have been met on our behalf and God becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God. Whew! Chew on that for a second. It makes so much sense. And I have 2 examples to illustrate.
This past semester, I led a faith study with 3 of my friends. At the end of the 6 week faith study, I asked the girls if they wanted to have a personal relationship with God. All but 1 said yes. After meeting with her one-on-one, she said that she didn’t want to go any deeper with God because she felt she was fine, right where she was. She felt she didn’t have any thing to learn from Christianity, that her parents raised her well enough and theirs were the only voice she needed to listen to right now. At first, I didn’t understand her reasoning. But then, after reading Lewis’ description her reasoning made sense to me. Only when all the pieces of the puzzle align to we really come to believe that we need God. She is just in a place right now that she does not feel that way.
The next example is myself. My first year here in Halifax I got involved with Catholic Christian Outreach and did a faith study with them. After coming back from the summer vacation of doing anything but acting Christian, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with God or CCO. I was running away. Christianity had begun to talk to me. I knew I was doing things in my life that were not ‘good’, but I wanted to bury them and pretend they weren’t there. I figured that if I’m never going to be perfect, why bother? But I came to believe, and still do, that Jesus (the Person) came and died for me because I can’t stop messing up. He wants me in heaven with Him. How lovely.
Christianity is a thing of dismay, but also of unspeakable comfort.