I haven’t really known how I was going to do this review as I’m pretty much guaranteed to offend people in BOTH “camps” — religious / non. So whatever you ascribe to your beliefs, just know you’ve been warned.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is purported as one of the “classic” books in the Christian world. I’ve often heard quotes from this book but have never gotten around to reading it until now.
Up front, I am a Christian, belong to the LDS faith (a Mormon), and am a man who believes in things he can’t see. I don’t hide my faith, neither do I stand up on a soapbox and preach about it. But this review is NOT a discussion of faith or an argument as to the finer points of Christianity or whether there is or isn’t a God. This is a review of Lewis’s work, his “arguments,” not my beliefs, my views on HIS views as described in the text of this book.
First off, much of Lewis’s thoughts are a product of his time. Views on woman’s rights, sexual perversions (LGBTQ), duty to one’s country in enlisting to fight other men’s wars, and a host of other topics that he touches on lightly, I’m throwing completely out. We don’t need to argue the faults or complexities in these arguments as they are viewed so differently in today’s age.
It’s interesting to note that this book is comprised of 3 separate “books” which were first introduced as radio broadcasts. For the life of me, I can’t imagine someone going on broadcast radio and “preaching” his own views as to what Christianity means for everyone. And this is what Lewis attempts to do, to take the basic doctrinal “truths” all Christians should believe (according to him) and share with the world not only what they are but why they are right.
In doing so, there are several problems with the way he presents his arguments.
First off, he assumes authority to speak for everyone on what Christianity means and is. All religious beliefs are so personal I don’t feel anyone has the right to explain why or how someone should believe or feel, as everything is subject to interpretation. Add to it the fact that what two people in the very same religion will see as keeping a simple commandment will differ based on each of their own experiences, upbringing, and persuasions, and how can one man claim to present the basic beliefs all Christians must undertake? Now, I do believe his attempt was made out of sincerity, but nonetheless he’s taking upon himself a rather lofty authoritative position.
Second — and this is one of my biggest problems with his philosophy — his arguments are highly circular.
“I’m going to explain why Christianity is true by sharing with you how good vs evil is inherent in all men, therefore Christianity must be true.”
This is not, btw, a direct quote but an example of his reasoning. Most of his arguments transitioned to something completely unrelated which he somehow felt proved his point. It was more a way of saying “God exists because he exists,” which is to say “I like pancakes because I like pancakes.” But really I should say I like pancakes because the combination of putting peanut butter on those fluffy mounds of joy, when drowned in maple syrup, gives me the impression I’m eating dessert for breakfast. But if I assume that because I like pancakes everyone must like pancakes, my reasoning is highly questionable.
The third issue I had with this text was the idea of this oft-found, yet unfounded, idea of “Us Vs. Them.” He states that he would not be surprised if Christians immediately recognized one another when meeting as strangers, as if becoming a Christian suddenly gives you an uncanny mutant-like ability to pick out other Christians from a crowd (and yes, I did just see the new X-Men movie last night, so forgive the analogy). This is no more true than saying all good people are Christian and all bad people are Atheists. And in fact, in one part he refers to the other religions of the world as “evil.”
Now I may be very alone in my littler corner of the world, but I don’t see people as evil. I see everyone as taking the sum of their experiences, upbringing, understanding, and trials, and trying to make the best of what they’ve been given. I think, sadly, what religion has become in many ways is far from the teachings of the man (or Man, depending on your own personal views) people profess to follow.
Let’s move on.
I’ve talked about the things that bothered me with Lewis’ text, without going into any doctrinal disagreements, (of which I have many), but have yet to share what I enjoyed about this book.
First off, the conversational tone of the narrative is stylistically appropriate for what he’s attempting to do. Lewis is a highly educated man, and while occasionally he comes off a bit aloof, in most aspects he’s extremely sincere in what he’s trying to accomplish.
I enjoyed learning of his days as an Atheist, and would have loved to have heard more about the differences and similarities as he transitioned within his faith.
Several of his concepts and ways of explaining Christian precepts were quite mind-opening, approached from an angle I had never considered before. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but that is neither here nor there.
He is highly unapologetic in his approach yet in a manner that does not necessarily come off as prideful. Again, there’s a sincerity to what he’s trying to accomplish, which can only be appreciated.
Ultimately, what I enjoyed the most about this, was that I believe anyone — Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, etc — could find something within this text that was worthwhile. There are ideas presented here that might make you look at the world, or your own beliefs, or the beliefs of others, a little differently than you might have before. That expand your thoughts, that have you consider things you might not have otherwise considered.
That, in and of itself, makes this a read worth checking out.
If this text is approached not as a way to convert but a way to expand one’s understanding of those around you, of others with beliefs in Christianity, or of your own principles and concepts of faith and humanity and the history of the world, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find something of worth within this text.
Now excuse me while I go eat some pancakes.