Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review of C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

Quotes are taken from C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, Fount 1997 (first edition: Geoffrey Bles, 1952).

Having read much acclamation of C.S. Lewis on Internet sites, I decided last year to read some of his books, and I started with The Abolition of Man from 1943 and was actually rather disappointed. To me it was fairly standard conservative propaganda, and I actually gave up finishing reading the book. It was too predictive – not exactly uniteresting, only too predictive. It should be noted that I had just finished writing a paper on a Danish conservative pastor and politician, and there were simply too many similarities for comfort.

Now I have picked up Mere Christianity, which is based on three radio program series from 1942-44 - that is from pretty much the same time as The Abolition of Man. While it is mostly more of the same, Mere Christianity does have a few advantages in that it has a more concrete topic.

According to the Preface, the book explains the common base of Christianity – therefore the title. Lewis had it reviewed by four clergymen, an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic. In general it was accepted by all four, though the Methodist thought Lewis had said too little about Faith, and the Roman Catholic thought that he had gone to far about the unimportance of theories in explaining Atonement. That is, the book should give a reasonable impression of the common base of standard British Christianity in the 1940s.

As mentioned, Mere Christianity is based on radio programs, so it is addressed to 'ordinary' people, it's not a philosophical treatise, and I am aware that therefore it should not be read as if it were a philosophical treatise. Also it was written during the WW II, and that war is clearly present as a shadow behind the book – in its beginning question whether there really is a difference between good and evil. If there is not, how can we then condemn Nazism?


The book Mere Christianity actually consists of four books:

  1. Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe;

  2. What Christians believe;

  3. Christian Behaviour; and

  4. Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.


Book 1: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

Here Lewis introduces two different meanings of 'natural law'. The first meaning refers to, what today is usually understood by a natural law: a law such as the law of gravity that is obeyed without volition. If you hold a stone in your hand and let it go, it will fall to the ground – the stone cannot 'choose' whether it will fall or not. The second meaning refers to the idea that most humans recognize certain rules for conduct, rules that at least in earlier times were considered so self-evident that they could be considered an unwritten natural law with the same force as written laws. While the human body is subject to the natural laws – such as the law of gravity – according to the first meaning, it is human behavior that is subject to the second meaning of natural law, and we can choose to obey that law or not in the sense that we do not necessarily follow it.

According to Lewis, this natural law – in the second meaning as a moral law – is not an instinctive behavior, because it is used to arbitrate between instinctive impulses (cf. pp. 8-10) and it can therefore not be one of those impulses itself.

It is this moral law that enables us to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. That is, according to Lewis, moral relativism is factually wrong.

More importantly, the moral laws, since they do not describe actual human behavior, are not derivable as actual facts of human behavior and must therefore be something above and beyond the descriptive laws, it most be an actual law as something given by a lawgiver (cf. p. 18).

On pp. 18-19, Lewis discusses two views about the universe. One view is the materialist, according to which matter and space just happen to exist, and development is driven by chance. The other view is the religious, according to which there is a conscious mind behind the universe, a mind with purposes, one of which has been to produce creatures that have a mind as well. According to Lewis, these two views actually sum up all the possibilities in that any intermediate view really just is a form of either of these two.

Since there is the moral law, and we cannot deduce it from observations of actual human behavior, yet we know it from within ourself, we can conclude that somebody must have made that law and put it into us, and that somebody cannot be part of the universe.

That is, our conscience, which is supposedly universal (as Lewis claims in The Abolition of Man) is a proof of the existence of a transcendental consciousness.


This idea can also be found in Paul's Letter to the Romans:

Rom 2:14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;

Rom 2:15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them);

The law Paul is referring to here is the written law. The Gentiles do not have this law, since it was given only to the Jews; but they are still applying the commandments of the law as witnessed by their conscience. This is the same principle of the universality of the law.

The obvious problem both with Lewis' argumentation and Paul's claim is that this law is something rather fuzzy, it's simply 'the law' without any precise specification of exactly, what the commandments of that law are – though later in Romans 2 it is clear that The Ten Commandments are referred to by Paul. Also, Paul's point is that, while the law was given to the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, to whom also was given the commandment of circumcision, the law is universal, and therefore:

Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:

Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

So, Paul is arguing for a change in the definition of 'Jew' from being applied to a certain ethnicity to being applied universally. Are we therefore to assume that sometime during the first century ce suddenly all non-Jews were supplied with a conscience or what?

How universal are Lewis' moral law? It is diffucult to figure out without more precise knowledge about this law. That all human societies acknowledge some moral law does not on its own prove that it is the same law. Actually Lewis takes this question up half-ways in Book 3, where he mentions the four 'Cardinal' virtues that are common to all civilized cultures, and the three 'Theological' virtues (Charity, Hope, and Faith) that are special to Christianity (cf. p. 63).

Actually, I dare even go as far as to say that within the same society, there can be more than one moral law.

One day, when I was in a supermarket, I - as I always do - first went to the check-out line after having gathered all the (not very many) goods I was to buy. At the back of the line was a shopping cart with goods in it, but no person behind it. However, I placed myself behind the cart, expecting its owner to show up very soon. Customers occasionally leave their carts for a very short term, while fetching the last thing or two on a neighby shelf, and I thought that might be the case here. But no one showed up, and the line in front of the cart moved forward, and of course the cart and I then had to follow. Occasionally shop personnel use carts while putting goods on the shelves and leave them, if they momentarily are called to do something else. Also, occasionally, customers simply abandon their carts and leave the shop, if they get tired of waiting in line. That is, from prior experience I had reason to think that the cart might not be 'standing' in line. Still, I decided to keep my place and see, if the owner of the cart didn't show up. The line in front of the cart then moved one more customer forwards, and since the cart didn't show the least intention to follow, I decided that I had to be an abandoned cart, and I moved to the back of the active part of the check-out line. In that very moment a woman came to the cart and yelled at me: "You were sure quick there!" Apparently, in here mind I was an egocentric exploiting the situation. Since fighting about a place back or forth in a check-out line is very low on my priority list of things I consider worth fighting about, I went back to my old place behind the cart without a word, and the woman pushed the cart up to the back of the line, also without a word.

As this story shows, this woman and I apparently were following very different moral laws. Should I say that the law I followed was superior to hers? Of course, otherwise I wouldn't be following it – but I must assume that the woman also considered her moral law to be superior, so what's the point?

On p. 11, Lewis writes:

We do believe that some of the people who tried to change the moral ideas of their own age were what we would call Reformers or Pioneers - people who understood morality better than their neighbours did. Very well then. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people's ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

Or maybe you just consider your own moral rules to be the Real Morality and assign to yourself the right to judge other people as if they were subject to your rules. Isn't Lewis here simply claiming that he can overrule everyone else with whatever moral rules he happens to have accepted?

That is, unfortunately it is all just a question of might makes right; if you happen to have the power to coerce other people to play by your rules, you can claim that your rules are universal, otherwise you can't.

In short, I find Lewis' argumentation insufficient to prove anything else than that everyone's a potential dictator; but we hardly need Lewis to tell us that. By the end of the day, morality only serves to justify that some people can use whatever means of force they might have at disposition to control other people. Morality is nothing but power politics. That's the Real World.

In that real world you find out, what is wrong by being punished, and the one that punishes you is therefore morally superior, even if you think it is the other way around. That is, morality is just another name for pecking order. There is in the real world no other crime than to be punished.

Now, Lewis just prior to the above quoted passage from p. 11 writes:

Have any of the changes [in morality] been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality.

This is, of course,  directed against moral relativism – presumably with 'civilised morality' = 'Christian morality' and 'savage morality' = 'Nazi morality'. But that is from the point of view of a British academic, who with the consent of British clergymen is defining the universal moral law and implying that we either accept that moral law or accept to be considered on the level of the Nazis that are universally considered to be bad guys.


Book 2: What Christians believe

Lewis begins with claiming that "[i]f you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through." (cf. p. 29) This might have been the case for British Christianity; but look to the USA. Such tolerance is not tolerated there: you are either a Christian or completely wrong.

Next Lewis claims that "[i]f you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the world is simply one huge mistake." So, it's the atheists that are intolerant. In my personal experience, there are indeed very intolerant atheists; but maybe Lewis is wrong about, what is the main point in all the religions of the world? I am no expert on religions; but I have taken some courses in the science of religion, and in the course History of Religion, we were told that it was actually a problem to define 'religion', since there was no single thing in common for them, not even the belief in one or more gods. And Buddhism, while acknowledging the existence of (the Hindu) gods, does not assign any significance to them; they are not to be worshipped.

Following the above comments about atheists, Lewis divides humanity into two divisions, the majority that believes in some kind of God or gods, and the minority that does not. Lewis also sees it as Christianity lined up with all other religions against "the modern Western European materialist." The next big division is between those who believe that God is beyond good and evil and those who believe that God is 'good' or 'righteous'. The first view is called Pantheism, the second view is held by "Jews, Mohammedans and Christians."

The obvious problem here is, what kind of sense does it make to say that God is good or righteous? Isn't it merely a definition? If God does it, it is good and righteous? In the Flood story, God almost exterminates all life on earth. That wouldn't be considered a good action, if done by humans; but God isn't measured with the same standard as humans, so the Flood was good, because it was an act of God. A god who is good by definition is a god who is beyond good and evil, isn't it?

However, apparently Lewis sees it differently – but he doesn't tell us, what it means that God is good, so the point appears simply to be that some religions are different from others.

Pantheism, Lewis tells us, also implies that God is part of this world, while the Christian idea is that God is the creator of the universe; like an artist is not part of his products and doesn't die, if they are destroyed. Though God created the world, things have gone wrong in it, and "God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again."

The obvious question here is, how could things have gone wrong, unless God was an incompetent artist? According to Genesis 1, every time God made something, he saw that it was good, and he finished his master piece with creating humans in his own image, leaned back and saw that it was very good, and then he went to take a well-deserved rest – and we know what happened in the mean time. Perhaps God had too high ambitions for his qualifications?

Lewis, while he was an atheist, had asked himself the question, how the world could go wrong, how it could be so cruel and unjust, if it was made by a good god (cf. p. 31). Then he asked himself, from where he had got the idea of just and unjust? Using the idea of just and unjust against God destroys the idea – because if it is only a private idea, the world is not really unjust. That is, by trying to prove that God did not exist, that the whole of relity was senseless, Lewis found one part of reality – his idea of justice – that was full of sense. From this, Lewis concludes that atheism turns out to be too simple.

Well, Descartes did pretty much the same four centuries earlier, so why not? The problem here is that different people may have different ideas about, what is just and unjust, but how many gods are Christians allowed to operate with? During his discussion of Pantheism, Lewis rejects the idea that there could be different moral standards, for example that the older you get, the more you tend to see things from more than one point of view. The Christian idea of just and unjust remains the same and doesn't depend on any personal knowledge – Lewis' idea of just and unjust is absolute, everybody has to bow down to, what Lewis considers to be just and unjust. So Lewis is God? He would have said 'no', I'm sure; but modesty is the true sign of divinity, isn't it?

Not only is atheism too simple for Lewis, but so is, what he calls Christianity-and-water, "the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right" (cf. p. 33). Besides the good God in Heaven there are also "all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption" (ibid.).

Don't we all know it? First there's all the love-bombing to get us inside the church, but when we have come inside, the door is locked, and the whip is pulled out. What else is new? 

Lewis proceeds to discuss dualism, whereby he means the idea that there are two powers, one good and the other bad. He dismisses this idea with the obvious reason that to determine which is which, you need a standard from an even higher power, so really there can be only one ultimate power. Not that there isn't a dark power in the world, which is in rebellion against God and has occupied this world. In the last paragraph on p. 37, this imagery becomes even more war-like:

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.

But who is the devil? The Nazis would have been easy targets for a projection back, when Lewis held his radio talks, and that's what he is playing on here. If Christians are always liberators, only bad people can be against them. Lewis makes it not a choice, whether you want to be Christian or not; you are either a Christian or the agent of the enemy.

Who is the devil? The communists? The Muslims? The Liberals? The Darwinists? You? The Nazis were a real threat to Britain back in 1942-44; but the same logic can be used to whip up fear for just about anything and anyone, and as a Christian you need to project the devil somewhere – to avoid having it projected on yourself; either you or somebody else is the enemy. In short, I find it too easy to mis-use Lewis' image of Christians as part of a secret society to liberate the world; but then again, Lewis is only telling, how Christians view themselves. And what else could he do? By definition, Christianity is beyond critique; anyone who criticizes Christians is part of the evil enemy, the Dark Power.

Next up is, of course, how could this evil power have "made himself for the present the Prince of this World"? (cf. p. 39). Oh, we know – it's that free will, and if something's free to be good, it's also free to be bad. God is so adorably good that he has given us a free will, and therefore it's of our own free will that things are as bad as they are. We have just listened to Lewis tell us that being Christian is cooperating with a liberator, and going to church is listening to the secret radio messages from our friends, so we went to church. And the door was locked behind us. And the love-bombing pastor suddenly pulls out the whip and starts yelling and screamimg at us that it's all our own fault: we are ourself the baddies. We killed the dinosaurs, and so on. Makes you wonder, if supporting the Nazis could have been worse, doesn't it? Except that they of course also said "Gott mit uns" ("God (is) with us").

But God couldn't have made it in any other way, because free will is the only thing that makes "possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." (cf. p. 40). Lewis writes (ibid.):

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

I warned you against all that love-bombing, didn't I? Anyway, it doesn't work: if there is a 50% chance that a human, given the choice, will sin, even God should have realized it won't work. Have just two humans, and it will go wrong. Anyway, it's not the impression you get from the Bible that God wants us to have "the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other"; the impression is that either you join God or you are killed. And since there's a 50% chance that you won't join God, prospects are dire.

How did the "Dark Power" go wrong? Lewis admits – to his credit –  that we cannot give an answer with any certainty to that question; but he can offer a "reasonable (and traditional) guess, based on our own experiences of going wrong" (cf. loc. cit.):

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.

This sin is, what Lewis in Book 3 calls 'Pride' (cf. the chapter "The Great Sin", beginning p. 100). However, as the Bible has it, God created humans in his own image. Since God wants to be God, humans therefore want to be God as well – they were created that way. It's not a sin, but a design flaw – blame the designer. During creation week, God did that which looked good in his eyes, so humans, created in his image (and therefore looking very good in his eyes), could do nothing else but what looked good in their eyes. No reason to guess; the biblical text is actually rather clear here.

On p. 41, Lewis writes:

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended – civilisations are built up – excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

So, Lewis manages to derive an entire world history out of his guess. Running along with this, we might even say that it applies to Christianity, even that must have been corrupted by Satan. The sin of Adam and Eve was that they wanted to become wise as God and know about good and evil – isn't that what any Christian wants to inform us about? That something is good, and something is evil, and which is which. But for some reason, lewis doesn't apply his own guess to Christianity.

Next Lewis gives a small recap of the story of the chosen people, the Jews, up to Jesus, introducing the latter on p. 42 with these words:

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.

It's not quite like that, however. As Lewis points out, for the Jews, God meant "the Being outside the world," so how could Jesus talk as if he was God? Let's us read in the Gospel of Markus:

Mar 10:17 And as [Jesus] was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

Mar 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God.

Of course, the question here could be rhetorical; but the simple explanation would be that Jesus is not claiming to be God, though perhaps acting on God's authority. Lewis is right that it would have been a rather un-Jewish thing for Jesus to claim to be God, even to be considered to be God; after all, wasn't the sin of Adam and Eve that they wanted to be like God? And the gospels go around this tricky bit very carefully, even to the extent that Jesus' rôle as the Messiah (a title for humans) was to be kept a secret.  And it isn't Jesus that is going to come and judge the world, it's 'the son of man', whoever that was supposed to be. Sure, Jesus is identified as the Messiah, the son of man, the son of God, and all that – but not as God himself in the gospels.

Lewis mentions that "[a]mong Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it." So, maybe the idea that Jesus was God originated among 'Pantheists'? For a more Hellenized Jew as Paul, the idea of a human as God was less strange. And we even see this in the gospels: it is in general Gentiles that have an easier time acknowledging Jesus.

A religion built up on the idea that no human is God, even that no human is good, isn't exactly the religion, in which it makes too much sense to claim to be God or good. Should we say that it is yet another of God's design flaws?

On p. 43, Lewis writes:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; ot you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

In a society that only acknowledges God as good, and where God is "the Being outside the world," there is no "Good Teacher" of course, and that's the problem. How can you change that society? It's not possible, because you cannot be good, unless you are God, and God is outside the world, not inside it.

Christians say that we should let Jesus come into our lives; but how can we, if Jesus is God, and God is always outside the world? A lot of speculation has been done to solve that problem. As an aside, being a "Son of God" in the Old Testament doesn't make you a god yourself, this title is used for angels and the kings of the Davidic dynasty; it's simply anyone who serves God and thereby gains divine authority, not someone who's a god himself. Throughout the Old Testament we see these sons of God misuse their divine authority, so it's not as if it's all that promising that Jesus is yet another son of God. Therefore, Jesus must be elevated to be God himself – except that doesn't work, because God is always outside the world. Remember that only a 'Pantheist' can have a god coincide with the world.

Really there is no difference between Christianity and 'Pantheism' – in the eucharist, the believer refuels himself with the god as in all the other mystery cults.

Lewis isn't into speculations either. On p. 46, he treats us to a condensed version of Christianity.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity.

So, death is disabled, and pigs can fly.

Lewis next writes about repentance and atonement; but we'll scroll forwards to p. 50, where he again picks up the theme about death:

Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. This means something much more than our trying to follow His teaching.

And luckily we won't have to marry in that new life, because we'll be like angels, right? Apparently, Lewis doesn't refer to a physical death here, but to the death of our old self and having a new life in Jesus put into us. It's just that not all Christians see it this way; they take it to be literal, physical death that has been disabled, once Jesus returns. Obviously, physical death wasn't disabled in the first century ce, and 2 Peter comes up with many excuses for that. Apparently, the first Christians believed that if they transformed themself into the image of Jesus, they would be recognized as the good guys on Doomsday, and be taken to heaven and never die physically.

What is this new life after non-physical death then? On p. 53, Lewis writes:

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being 'in Christ' or of Christ being 'in them', this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts – that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body.

For Lewis, this earthly body of Christ, through which he operates, is like a secret society with the object of undermining the devil. But that's not the whole story; Lewis writes p. 54:

Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think he is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.

But we have to prepare the invasion, by doing sabotage actions and so on. This idea of being a secret society preparing for the invasion of the main force has its clear drawbacks, when looking at the world today. It can be used to legitimate Christian subversion of regimes elsewhere, but there is another religion that knows the same secret formula, Islam. And don't forget the feminists; they also want to conquer the world – using the same promises of a return to Paradise. Everybody promises a return to Paradise, and why should the one party be chosen rather than any other? By experience we know that no merchandise lives up to its advertising, so why can't we just say that they are all wrong, and that secret societies are the real Satan?

Lewis ends Book 2 with the words (ibid.):

Now, to-day, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.

See, I told you: first the love-bombing, then the whip – and the door is locked behind you. You can avoid this by not entering in the first round.


Book 3: Christian Behaviour

On p. 59, Lewis writes:

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

Ok, so morality really is crowd control; but who is to control the crowd? That is, by the end of the day, morality is nothing but a power struggle. In actual practise, morality certainly has nothing to do we fair play and nothing at all to do with harmony between individuals. Morality serves the purpose of allowing some people to yell and scream at others – of course not officially, but we are here talking about actual practise.

Lewis continues discussing these three parts of morality, and concerning the second part, he writes p. 61:

Does it not make a great difference whether I am, so to speak, the landlord of my own mind and body, or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord? If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Yes, let's reinvent slavery. If we are tenants in our own minds and bodies, then we'll be cast out, if we don't pay the rent. If you have lost your job, so you can't pay the rent, you'll be out of your mind and body, and you are even to consider that a blessing. If God made us, that means that he is responsible for us, not only that he can use us as zombie soldiers in his silly war against himself.

Notice, how things work here: first the love-bombing, then the threat that you'll be whipped, if you don't do as commanded, and now that you'll be thrown out of your mind, if you should get the idea to develop one of your own.

Beginning the next paragraph, Lewis writes that "Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever," and he ends it by writing:

If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

So, a Christian nation should make no sense; but actually some Christians claim that such a thing exists. The problem is, that even if we live forever, it's not here on earth. Actually, our earthly life becomes of no real importance, if it's just a passing moment before the everlasting life in heaven or hell. This is the kind of stuff that makes suicide bombers.

Over the next pages, Lewis discusses Christian virtues. We won't go into that, except have a small peek at a passage from the chapter on Forgiveness. On p. 97, Lewis writes:

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of hinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.

Yes, the devil is really a nice guy, once you get to know him, isn't he? Don't believe all those stories that Christians tell about him. Too bad that the bad guys aren't really bad, and the good guys aren't really good. What happens with the absoluteness of good and evil then? Lewis would probably have said that nothing had happened. It's not the moral standards that are changing, only the assumption about whether some party behaves quite as bad as that party should to become the devil incarnate. But what is the practical difference? Many Christians today consequently focus on negative things to say about Muslims and are not really concerned with to what extent these things are true or not. Islam is the incarnation of the Dark Power, so it must be bad through and through, even if you should happen to know some Muslims that aren't. And let's not talk about Darwinists; not even about OECs (Old Earth Creationists); they have all given in to the Dark Power. Once you have the idea that good and evil are absolutes and identifiable, good will be projected onto your own party and evil onto the opposite party, and evidence will be invented to show that it's the plain and simple truth. But Lewis doesn't mention anything about this.

A little later, Lewis writes (pp. 97-98):

Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment – even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy.

So, the whole point of "love your neighbor" and "love your enemy" is to kill them, whereby you show that you love them. With love like that, who needs hatred? For Christians, apparently, love and hatred is one and the same.

Can you see, what I warned you against? The love-bombing turns into hate-bombing the longer we stay in the church, and remember that the door is locked behind you, once you step into the church.

Christian morality can be used to defend anything – really, literally anything whatsoever.

What's worse is, what Lewis writes a little earlier on p. 96:

Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

But if you kill a person, you kill a person, not an action. If you flog a person, you flog a person, not an action. If you imprison a person, you imprison a person, not an action.

No wonder that Christians appear cold , arrogant and self-righteous to other people. If you have the right to kill your enemies, you can simply declare anybody your enemy and then kill them. Or, certainly you have the right to kill anybody that is an enemy of God, and who isn't an enemy of God? Anybody that doesn't do as you command them to do? Why is that different from killing the enemies of the state or the enemies of the revolution?

Lewis is aware there's a problem. On p. 98-99, he writes:

I imagine somebody will say, 'Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?' All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed.

In other words, Christians are people that do things for no other reason than that they are written in a book, and they do it with cold blood.

A few sentences later, Lewis continues:

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him; wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying that he is nice when he is not.

Within its own strange world, this, of course, makes sense. The life here on earth if of little importance compared to the eternal life in heaven or hell, so loving someone means wishing that they end up in heaven, not doing anything for them here on earth. Except, what's the point in charity then? Why not kill poor people, so they can go to heaven? Or do they go to hell? For being poor?

Around a year ago I was invited to a local Islamic Culture Center, where I was told about Islam. It was quite interesting, and it was pretty much the same as the above. There was a story about the daughter of an emir; she had stolen something and was sentenced to have her right hand cut off, a sentence that was executed despite the high rank of this woman. I was off course told that this severe punishment depended on that it wasn't out of need that she had stolen, and the thing she had stolen had been in a locked room, so it wasn't because she was tempted by the ease of the theft. She had committed a deliberate, unexcusable theft. But that wasn't all: the severe punishment was to spare her for an even worse punishment in the afterlife, so it was actually to her own advantage. Still I found the punishment wrong, though without saying it.

Sure, within this line of thinking, the Christian and the Muslim (they are really the same religion) are right in thinking as they do. It's just that, if they are wrong, they are the cold-blooded instruments of Satan.

C.S. Lewis was borne in 1898, he served as a soldier during WW I, and Mere Christianity is based on radio talks from WW II. I have never served as a soldier, nor lived in a country involved in a war against it, so I am prepared to accept that Lewis' view is formed by experiences that I do not have. In return, however, I will say that building an absolute morality on personal experiences and something that happens to be written in some book is a very shaky foundation.

Continuing on p. 99, Lewis writes:

I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself.

An alternative way to interpret the commandment of loving others like yourself could be as follows. With yourself you have introspection; you judge yourself knowing why, not only what you did. So to love others like yourself would mean to judge them by the why, not the what. If you cannot find anything lovable by a person, just acknowledge that you know too little about what is really going on inside that person; do not judge outside your understanding. This would, in my humble opinion be more compatible with the gospel texts, even if Lewis' version may be more compatible with standard Christianity.

Lewis ends the chapter with:

Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves. For really there is nothing else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco...

But people have given up beer and/or tobacco. What is wrong in saying that God loves us because he, maybe even better than we self, knows what is inside us? He doesn't love us for our achievements, but for our possibilities that are more likely to come to the surface through love than through hate or neglect. But that is of course based on this life, not the eternal life, so of no interest to Christians.


Book 4: Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity

As the title of this book indicates, Lewis is here introducing the trinity. I don't have anything to say to about this introduction except that it leads up to the idea that Jesus was the first new human (or new man, as Lewis writes, but people have become more gender-sensitive since then), and being a Christian means to let Jesus help you become such a new human yourself by establishing a mutual relationship between you and the Father.

Lewis explains, in my humble opinion, this quite well (just to say something positive for a change). On p. 130, he explains the difference between being 'created' and being 'begotten'. According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus, the Son, is begotten, not created. As Lewis explains it, the difference is that since Jesus is begotten, he is of the same kind as the Father, whereas a created thing would have been of a different kind. Humans can make ('create') various things, such as a wireless set, which isn't itself a human; but humans beget humans. Therefore, this new human the Christian is to become as a son of God is actually to become of the same kind as God.

Lewis ends the book with the words:

Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Such as punishment and death penalty. I am not buying, but how about you? Remember that once you step inside that church, the door is locked behind you.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Yes, the devil is really a nice guy, once you get to know him, isn't he? Don't believe all those stories that Christians tell about him. Too bad that the bad guys aren't really bad"

So Lewis writes about how we're not supposed to villainize our enemies, and this is your response?

Good Lord, please review something more your level, like a Chick Tract.

FreezBee said...

Anonymous writes:

So Lewis writes about how we're not supposed to villainize our enemies, and this is your response?

Yes, that's my response. If Christians are a secret society supposed to undermine the devil, they need to project the devil somewhere, don't they? They could project the devil unto themself, but that sort of spoils the fun, so they don't do that. Christians have projected the devil unto other Christians and unto just about anybody else, so what's the value of Lewis telling them not to do it, when he himself states that it is ever so easy to tell right from wrong?


Good Lord, please review something more your level, like a Chick Tract.

Maybe I'll do that, once I find out, what a Chick Tract is.

FreezBee said...

Ok, I found out, what a Chick Tract is: Chick Publications, so now I'll just have to pick some tract to review.

Stay tuned.

Mitchell M. said...

Such as punishment and death penalty. I am not buying, but how about you? Remember that once you step inside that church, the door is locked behind you.

you ended your review with this and it intrigued me i know what you ment i understand what you intended when you wrote this but on the contrary it was a great blessing to me. i understand more about what i believe and how you see the Church but it is not nearly as you portray it. The Church (in an evangelical sense) is not there to force ideals upon, however it seems.

forgive the other response to this review it was not called for and God Bless, i pray for you. If you read this and would like to have further correspondence say so ill look back every once and while

Mitchell

Anonymous said...

Can be.

Matt said...

In response to the discussion above, about where christians project their devil:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

This blog seems to be inactive, but if you're still paying attention this seems like a potentially good conversation (though it's been quiet for a few years). Drop me an email if you like.

About Me

A Christian in Satanist clothes