Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I’ve reviewed a number of Christian books in the past, but this is the first one I’ve reviewed from the perspective of no longer being a Christian. I consider “getting out of your comfort zone” to be one of the most important aspects of any genuine truth-seeking – reading books that do not defend your worldview as a means of challenging yourself. Consequently, I’ve read books like Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, etc. And I think it’s no bad thing to revisit the Christian religion a couple of years after abandoning it, to determine afresh whether it ought to have any bearing on my life.

I appreciate Lewis more than most Christian writers because he is, at heart, a philosopher rather than a preacher. He uses the tool of rational deducation over the tool of “Thus saith the Lord!” Unfortunately I found myself having strong disagreements with his stance, almost from the get-go. He posits an argument for the existence of a personal God based on the moral nature of man, but the first thread he hangs this viewpoint on his that man is different from the animals. I see this difference as a difference of degree, not a difference of kind. We are more intelligent than dogs, and thus we possess much more complex behaviour patterns, but I don’t see how this in any way classifies us as a special category on our own, when we are, frankly, mammals. Lewis takes this extremely tenuous thread that “man is different” and builds a complex philosophy about the nature of good and evil. He takes our concepts of fairness and judgement and instantly transposes these onto God without the merest pause. What I noticed, however, is that he is making God in man’s image – taking that infinite, eternal “something” beyond space and time and projecting our human natures onto it. Whether we ought do that is an essay in itself, but Lewis simply ploughs on unaware of the vast assumptions he is making. What you end up with is a whole house built on a couple of flimsy stilts, ready to topple with the merest breeze.

In fairness, at times Lewis communicated some valuable insights, particularly about morality, which seems to be a favourite topic of the author. These insights actually made the book a worthwhile read. Other times, the value in reading it was in scrutinizing the Christian worldview, noting the carefree leaps in logic that Christians make, the notions that hold no real rational weight. It was amazing to behold a man who could on the one hand be so studious about logic, and on the other so fanciful about the devil’s influence on the human mind.

On the subject of “faith” (the only subject that the book devotes two chapters to) there is not a single mention of the vast unthinking herds of the world, Christian or otherwise, to whom faith comes as naturally as breathing. How can anyone propose to talk about faith but leave this glaring black hole? It’s obvious to me that the pews of the world are not filled with people who come to their beliefs through reason, but mainly by people who fall in line with whatever belief system their locale dictates. Anyone who talks at length about faith should at least devote some space to a discussion of “groupthink,” the herd mentality. A discussion of that kind is, of course, damning to religion, exposing it as a lamentable triumph of faith over reason.

Regarding the history of Christianity, I don’t think it can be seriously debated that horrendous things were done in the name of Christ. I was therefore alarmed to see Lewis jumping to the defence of what I see as the terrible consequences of men who sacrifice their minds to religious authority and, as a result, end up commiting atrocities. I could hardly believe my eyes that an attitude of this nature was still around as recent as the 1950s, when the book was published (emphasis mine):

I have met people who exaggerate the differences [in moral viewpoints], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, “Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?” But surely the reason we do not execute witches [today] is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did – if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather – surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did? There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knkowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there.

The closing chapters of the book leave philosophy behind and are chiefly concerned with explaining the Christian view of redemption: God as a triune being, Jesus’ sacrificial death, etc. These chapters were largely irrelevant to me because I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with mankind as it is. But to those who believe themselves to be evil and in need of salvation from a divine Judge, they will probably see this material as profound, as I once thought, before I figured out the lies on which the view is built.

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