CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity

by Frost on December 23, 2011

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

– GK Chesterton

This blog is all about unconventional ideas. Well, few belief systems more taboo today than Christianity. It is 100% socially acceptable to openly mock Christians pretty much anywhere outside of the NASCAR heartland of Middle America, the absolute lowest of low-status social classes in modern western society.

But wait – isn’t Christianity the foundation of western civilization? Yes, I know, the real foundations of western civilization are diversity, women’s rights and multiculturalism. But for thousands of years before this was revealed to us in the second half of the 20th century, ignorant westerners thought Christianity was pretty important, so the credo must be of – at least – historical importance. I may not owe faith to Christianity, but I owe it more than ignorance.

If you agree, pick up a copy of Mere Christianity, and grapple with CS Lewis. He may not convince you to go to mass tomorrow (he didn’t convince me) but if you have a typical young western man’s knowledge of the Christian religion – that is to say, none – you’ll walk away from Lewis a wiser man.

Here’s a selection of my highlights:

“We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know. And because of that, we know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey. Notice the following point. Anyone studying Man from the outside as we study electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law. How could he? for his observations would only show what we did, and the moral law is about what we ought to do. In the same way, if there were anything above or behind the observed facts in the case of stones or the weather, we, by studying them from outside, could never hope to discover it.”

I like this passage, and I think it addresses a valid objection to the nihilistic/hedonistic/sociopathic life – we feel a higher moral law in our guts – but I don’t think it implies that the higher law is supra-human. We’re social animals, and we’re built to form communities with specific moral codes, and punish those who transgress them. A “higher morality” is a good way of staying alive and popular when the watchful eyes of the tribe are trained on you. When the subconscious cost/benefit calculation of transgressing said code swings into the positive, a man can rationalize a ‘lapse’ in his morals. No magic sky fairy required.

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’”

Whether you believe in the particulars or not, I think the ideas of God and The Devil as metaphors for the just authority and the temptations of evil are useful. If you believe in Good an Justice, why not call this natural order ‘God’? If you believe in Evil, why not call its personification ‘The Devil’? I make this mental substitution all the time when reading dusty old books, and it works just fine for me.

“It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.”

Even a committed atheist will have much to learn from Christian Apologias. Why cut yourself off from Traditional Christian writers – i.e., almost every Conservative western author before 1914 – because you’re hung up on the anthropomorphic definition of God?

Now, since this is a Manosphere blog after all, here’s Lewis on Marriage:

“The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement. What do they do next? They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority. Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution. (2) If there must be a head, why the man? Well, firstly is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? As I have said, I am not married myself, but as farhttp://www.freedomtwentyfive.com/wp-admin/post-new.php as I can see, even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door. She is much more likely to say ‘Poor Mr X! Why he allows that appalling woman to boss him about the way she does is more than I can imagine.’ I do not think she is even very flattered if anyone mentions the fact of her own ‘headship’. There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule. But there is also another reason; and here I speak quite frankly as a bachelor, because it is a reason you can see from outside even better than from inside. The relations of the family to the outer world—what might be called its foreign policy—must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife. If anyone doubts this, let me ask a simple question. If your dog has bitten the child next door, or if your child has hurt the dog next door, which would you sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress? Or, if you are a married woman, let me ask you this question. Much as you admire your husband, would you not say that his chief failing is his tendency not to stick up for his rights and yours against the neighbours as vigorously as you would like? A bit of an Appeaser?”

Finally, here is Lewis attempting to derive the existence of God from reason and introspection.

“The Christian Way—The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

I’m unconvinced.

Quite likely, I always will be. But I still enjoyed Lewis, and I have a greater respect for Christianity as a result of having read his book.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

josh January 4, 2012 at 1:16 pm

One thing that never fails to stun me is that growing up I was completely oblivious to the wisdom inherent in the Christian tradition. As a reactionary, I am finding that every flash of insight has already been elucidated by traditional Christianity. In Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” says that he set about to rebel against the world only to independently discover orthodoxy. I feel much the same way.

Adriano May 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hi Pastor Dan, I stumbled onto your site lonoikg for a reference on pluralistic leadership and was stopped short by your thoughts on inoculation. I agree. I too am a pastor and have felt that all too often being a Christian or not makes very little difference in our society. When you ask, Why does it seem that a being a Christian or not being a Christian makes very little difference in the overall direction of one’s life in American society? The answer is, Because it doesn’t. Because Christ is absent from our Christianity. Why? I believe it is because we as Christians are more enamored with the world than we are our Lord. Or, another way to put it, albeit sounds harsh, is we love our sin more than we love Christ. If we were lovers of Christ and seekers of His Kingdom and it’s principles than we would be a peculiar people, salt and light in this world. But alas we are so much like the world the worldling sees no reason to change. Bill Hull put it this way in His book The Disciple Making Pastor, I maintain that the evangelical church is weak, self-indulgent, and superficial, that has been thoroughly discipled by its culture (pg. 19). In other words as the world goes, so goes the church. How are we ever going to prepare a people to meet the Lord and to herald in His coming if can’t take our eyes off the world long enough to see other people. When Sunday services are over we are off again to our secular pursuits. Worship should be the smallest part of our Christian experience. What I mean is God’s people will be serving Him all week long – seeking the lost, ministering to the needs of the “least of these,” taking every opportunity available to us to further the Kingdom.I think it was John Maxwell who I heard say speaking of leadership, “The fish smells from the head down.” This is why I was lonoikg for something on pluralistic leadership. It seems to me that too many of our leaders are taking in all manner of methods for outreach at the price of great compromise with the world, and loss to our people. How are we to be a light on the hill when we are living in the lowlands of compromise, scurrying about in the darkness with the worldling and dubbing it as love. It is not loving to call men and women to nothing higher than they are already experiencing. Hoping that they will catch Christianity. We have denied the power of God and embraced a form Rather we should be calling the lost to repentance in clear tones but that isn’t fashionable these days and it would, we fear, hinder church growth as you discussed earlier. But when Jesus spoke to the Rich Young Ruler was He trying to be fashionable, or was He concerned about church growth? No, He was interested in that man’s soul and knew what he needed to save it. Sadly, he walked away, as many will. The way is a narrow one When Jesus told the multitude of disciples who were more interested in a worldly kingdom than a spiritual one, Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you can have no part in Me. was He interested in winning a crowd or rather in finding out who was really with Him for He could do nothing other than speak the truth about Himself and His mission. However, we have become more concerned about lonoikg good in the world’s eyes rather than being good in God’s eyes. All that to say not if, but when the foretold crisis comes to this world preceding our Lord’s return (Daniel 12:1) God’s professed people and the world that they were to warn of His coming I fear will be no more ready than the Hotoos and Tootsies as they, many of them profess Christians, were killing their brothers in Christ. What I mean is Christianity didn’t usurp their tribal ways, their culture. And neither has Christ made the impress yet on His people that He intends to make, that will see them through the Time of Trouble. But can the needed change happen? Yes! Will it happen? Yes! But only for those who will take seriously Christ’s call to forsake this world – not lonoikg back as did Lot’s wife, and deny self, bearing their cross and following Him. This is the only way a difference is going to be made in the lives of our people in America, and thus America itself. It is the only way that Christ offers through Him and His example of self-sacrifice.My thoughts. Thanks for the forum.Dave

Food Freak Frank January 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Hey, thanks for posting, and I’m grateful that you recommend this book to Christians or Non-Christians. I thought some of your comments, though maybe not intentionally, were a little disrespectful to all C.S. Lewis stands for (i.e. No magic sky fairy required). If you really do respect him as a person who has inspired millions to live happier, more productive and spiritual lives, consider what you’re saying a little more closely please. His words mean a lot to a lot of people.

I’m glad that you’re looking into Christianity for yourself though, as someone else had mentioned. You sound like a great person, and a very bright individual. I hope you don’t completely convince yourself that you are beyond convincing. I accept that on some issues my views may possibly be dead wrong, and I feel like that’s an important element of studying…being willing to accept that you may be convinced of something true that you hadn’t known or believed before. Try to be open to the possibility that you may be right or wrong, but that you’re not beyond convincing.

Thanks

Uma January 3, 2012 at 2:43 am

Hi! I liked your post on Mere Christianity. I am so glad to learn that you’re one of the few people who can get past all the Anti-Christian hype and learn more about Christianity yourself.

But may I suggest that the only reason why you’re unconvinced, as you say in your last statement, is because you are young? (Of course, I have no idea what age you are. This is the first post of this blog I read.) I am one to root for Christianity, and I think you’ll be more inclined to believing and following its principles as you get older or go through hard times (like “when shit hits the fan” hard times).

I feel that many young individuals today reject Christianity is because, as you say, they are “hung up on the anthropomorphic definition of God”, are very prideful of their accomplishments, or jaded from their past experiences of the Church. I find it silly to think that people can justify their rejection of Christianity without actually taking their own education on the religion in their own hands. My motto is: “You can’t say it’s weird unless you’ve tried it.”

So I applaud you on being in charge of your own education, and I encourage you to read more of C.S. Lewis’s works!

Aurini December 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm

CS Lewis also wrote a ‘sci-fi’ series, about God restarting the Adam and Eve experiment on Venus, with a protagonist who arrives there from Earth to try and help them. It had a particularly interesting scene where the Devil attempted to sway Eve2 away from God – Lewis shows the Devil using both complex philosophical arguments, and petty acts of physical cruelty to win the argument. The Devil is the ultimate troll, in that sense – he will weave a complex argument full of nonsense, or he will fart and waft it into your face. He’ll do absolutely anything for ‘teh Lulz’.

Also, you should check out this blog: http://outofsleep.wordpress.com/ Very interesting exploration of Christian theology (I don’t have much use for the Bible, but theology I find fascinating).

davver December 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm

“We’re social animals, and we’re built to form communities with specific moral codes, and punish those who transgress them. A “higher morality” is a good way of staying alive and popular when the watchful eyes of the tribe are trained on you. When the subconscious cost/benefit calculation of transgressing said code swings into the positive, a man can rationalize a ‘lapse’ in his morals. No magic sky fairy required.”

This isn’t it. That isn’t real morality. It’s useful, but its not the same as a “calling”. A calling is something you do whether or not its in your personal best interest because your soul won’t allow otherwise.

Some background. I look back over generations to understand myself. My family cam over to America because one of my ancestors was a leader in the Irish resistance of British occupation. One day he shot a British secret police officer and killed him, necessitating the family free before reprisal. The next generation, my grandfather, was a mechanic on NYC subways. He notice that the workers were getting sick from the chemical and conditions involved in repairing the trains. So he organized them into a union and fought for benefits and new working conditions. This was back when strike breakers busted your head for that sort of thing.

Looking back if they had the ability to do those things certainly they could have gotten rich on their own. Taking those risks for social justice don’t make sense in the model your using. The only explanation, which I understand because of how I feel myself, is that their souls called on them to do so. They had no choice but to answer, even to risk their lives.

Myself, I had a hard time with that. My Dad was sick and thus we were poor, and I responded by trying to get rich (investment banking). But what I was doing was evil and wrong and it made me sick. So I stopped. If your only goal is to get rich it doesn’t make much sense, but I just couldn’t rip off another retirement fund. There was no fanfare for my decision, and many sacrifices. But you have to be who you are.

I’m still trying to come to terms with one aspect of my life I can’t change (working in an office, which does not fit with someone the fiery blood of my lineage), but at least I’m working on projects for the betterment of society (my main project should create $40 billion in value for citizens) and it feels great.

Not everyone is like that though. My family is the exception, most people don’t really give a shit about others. Not a lot anyway. And that’s fine. You have to be who you are.

What would impress me, ultimately, is if you kept up this lifestyle even if you don’t become a huge success. If you end up making enough to scrape by but do it anyway because being location independent and an entreprenure is your calling.

josh January 4, 2012 at 1:19 pm

The devil made your grandfather do those things.

Stryker December 23, 2011 at 8:58 am

Frost,

Did you get my email and the lecture I sent? Just want to be sure you got it. ( I sent the download via Yousendit.com.

Peace,

Stryker

Koanic December 23, 2011 at 8:38 am

Lewis’ stuff is just supportive and elaborative, rather than conclusive. He brings the beta side of Christianity, which is essential if you’ve never been exposed to it, but surfeit for those who grew up in it at an advanced level.

In other words, I don’t find his stuff convincing as proof either.

The only proof of the hand-waving variety that holds water is this observation: you undeniably have a monadic self-consciousness. No configuration of matter can explain this entity. No amount of physical testing can prove its existence. Ergo, at least one supernatural entity exists. From there, God becomes less of a stretch, although it doesn’t prove His existence.

Rob December 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

“you undeniably have a monadic self-consciousness. No configuration of matter can explain this entity.”

Those words don’t have meaning. If your only proof is a string of abstract words, that’s trouble. Try formulating your proof in clear, definite words that have a practical, concrete correlation to life and reality.

Koanic December 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Ok, how’s this?

1. You have some kind of mental impairment.

2. You experience consciousness. Given perfect technology, no test could prove this, because your consciousness only contains that which you are conscious of, and you are not conscious of atoms, quarks, or any other physical entity. Ergo, your consciousness is not material. Ergo, it is not natural. Ergo, it is supernatural.

3. Your mental impairment and ignorance of philosophy renders you incapable of following this argument.

Yndrd December 27, 2011 at 8:37 pm

“You experience consciousness. Given perfect technology, no test could prove this, because your consciousness only contains that which you are conscious of, and you are not conscious of atoms, quarks, or any other physical entity.”

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t follow. There’s no reason to think that what we’re conscious of and what consciousness is built out of have to be related in any way.

Simon December 23, 2011 at 5:24 am

I dunno about that champ, Pascal promises he who seeks God will find him, and mate, you’re seeking. And far more sincerely than I was.

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