Off the Shelf

“Mere Christianity”

By Marcus Pan

Mere ChristianityC.S. Lewis, since the days of World War II, has been pointed to as both a fantasy writer and Christian apologist. In apologist, of course, we don’t mean, “Gee, I’m sorry we went around killing lots of people in the name of our One True God,” or anything like that – apologist is one who attempts to coincide the beliefs of Christianity with those of modern science. This is a much needed career choice around this time, what-with the rise of the believers of all that “factual shit” like evolution and scientific evidence and what-not. Things that flew in the face of the Christian belief that the world is about seven thousand years old and there were no dinosaurs and there was only, originally, a couple who screwed a lot. Or something.

I’m sorry, this is a book review. C.S. Lewis, born Clive Staples Lewis, was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. He however lived most of his life in England, even serving in the services there. Most striking about his life was his abandoning, in 1913, of his parent’s chosen Christian faith which, ultimately in 1929, led to his choice of theism. In 1931 he once again found himself embracing Christianity as the truth – and being a professor at the time everyone points at him and say “That smart guy says so,” and off they go to church. Or something.

Mere Christianity is a short book that was adapted originally from his 1943 edition radio broadcasts while at Oxford. In three sections, The Case for Christianity, Christian Behavior and Beyond Personality he makes his case to align modern scientific beliefs with that of Christian faith by using badly aligned analogies (“Imagine book B holds up Book A but both books have been here forever…” huh?) and attempts to argue against the fact that most of the Christian’s I know aren’t really all that nice by saying God’s not done with them yet…he’s still nicing them up for me. Or something.

In The Case for Christianity, Lewis leads us to believe that instincts towards “common good” are evidence of God’s existence and influence, while almost fully disregarding the state of a person’s upbringing having at least some level of influence on what is right and wrong within sociological circles. I argue that there is no instinct of “common good” but merely what works in that upbringing, relative to their time. Other than survival at its core, there isn’t much in the way of any living creature’s instinct really and there is no evidence of right and wrong beyond what has been learned responses during the course of a person’s growing up.

In Christian Behavior he discusses various pieces of Christian doctrine – sex both outside and inside marriage, instincts versus “good” behavior, etc. Lastly, in Beyond Personality, Lewis tries to apply the argument that the only way to attain behavior transcendent of the “wrong” of his God, is to, for all intents and purposes, give up. Yes, give up. Turn yourself over to God in your entirety and begin to live as nothing more than a vessel through which he acts and speaks. The gist of it was read by me recently in a sign in front of the local church where I live, noticed during a walk with my family that basically said that you can do absolutely NOTHING worthwhile so just give it up and be Christian because only God can do stuff worthwhile if you bend over and…well we won’t go further with this line of reasoning…

The end result is that the only way to be proper is to be Christian, which is nothing new, really. But to such an extreme that you must give up all that is yourself – and in fact he is fond of stating that any time you start thinking of yourself as individual and in any way worthy of anything at all, you are not being Christian. Everything you have is because of his superimposed deity and everything you can gain can be done so ONLY through this same deity. You are not good at ANYTHING – in fact, if you do show some prowess at something, it’s because God is doing it through you so it isn’t you it’s in fact uh…you just suck or something, ok?

The vagueness levels C.S. Lewis reaches in Mere Christianity are so pronounced it’s difficult to follow. Statements like, “Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.” in Beyond Personality for example. He’ll rally in circles, mystifying you with nonsensical analogies in an attempt to confuse the matter even more. Or “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 the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell.” Of course there’s no explanation as to why Jesus was anything more than a poached egg as he skips that part…maybe it’s assumed that he wasn’t poached. Or something.

Because he has “come back” to Christianity later in life, is a learned man from Oxford and a serviceman, his work is often cited as important to a growing Christian’s faith in that it attempts to explain things easily than you’d find in, say, a theology class. But there’s no actual explanation here – just opinions and flawed ones at that. Circular explanations that come back around without having said anything at all, really, is what you get. This was a difficult read for me because after every paragraph I wanted to write the review of the book – similar to what you’ve read thus far – as a response mechanism, but alas, a 24 page book review wouldn’t go down well.

"Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis
Copyright © 1943, 1945, 1952 by The Macmillan Company
ISBN: 0060652888

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