Book Review: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
25th May, 2014, Spring
The following comments are exclusively personal - because althoug it's too easy to copy, but it doesn't make sense - and they're also entirely subjective. Mind you, I've studied the book page by page, and I can substantiate and illustrate every single comment I'm making, but I'm not going to write a book about the book. I'll keep it short. And I'm as subjective as the author himself, but I attempt to be consistent, honest, and to keep an open mind.
For me, Mere Christianity contains the best as well as the worst. The best being elements of subtle insight, wisdom and inspiration. What I consider as the very worst is uncut bias, based on mere ignorance presented as valid infor-mation to the general public.
I came across a lot of cosy, superficial radio talk.
- "God probably never meant them to be that ". (1)
Gosh! Quite a raconteur he is, Mr Lewis. But far too many stories kill the point, they distract. Could this have been done intentionally?
In the philosophy of decision theory, Bayesian inference is closely related to discussions of subjective probability, often called "Bayesian probability". Bayesian probability provides a rational method for updating beliefs.
Right from the preface I disagree with the point of view that more importance should be attached to the Christian "label" that to practicing the values Christ -among others - stood for. I strongly disagree with this.
I've also found big leaps and flaws in his reasoning, inaccuracy, contradictions...
- "That is the one thing we must not say". (2)
- "That is what has to be believed". (3)
What can I say to this, as he's shutting every door and there is no possibility left for dialogue?
And here's some more of the worst because it's biased and inaccurate:
- "Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body…" (4)
Historically, concerning Christianity, how can you simplify and generalise to such an extent, and distort the facts, contradict reality? There is ample evidence of exactly the contrary of what Mr Lewis is proclaiming. Concerning some other World Religions, I know the opposite of his claim in relation to the human body to be true.
- "Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion" (5). I suppose this claim is only based on some sort of a superiority complex, as Mr Lewis wasn't an expert in World Religions, and he doesn't add a shred of evidence.
If he had tried, my guess is that he would have failed dismally to prove his point. This claim is unfounded.
- "Nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians". (6) Nearly all… I don't know how many languages and alphabets Mr Lewis knew? He may have studied Chinese and Japanese poetry. He may have been able to judge oral traditions across the world. Was he versed in Arabic also? Did he read Persian poetry by the great Rumi? Was he aware of the existence of Jewish poets? What about all the cultures "Christians" destroyed or tried to destroy: dozens of Indigenous languages and cultures across North, Central and South America for instance. Did Mr Lewis read India's great epic, the Maha-bharata, the longest one in the world? So many questions that will remain unanswered, but to me his claim looks simply ludicrous. Of course there have been numerous brilliant Christian poets writing in many languages, but denying the rest of the world and other cultures and religions the right to exist as it were, and claiming innate superiority, is utterly shocking to me. It's dishonest and unfair.
It is not, dear reader, because you have an affection for Jesus, that you necessarily would have to believe any of this. No, in my opinion you don't. And, alas, he's not finished.
- "And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing -not even a person- but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance". (7)
Now, what do I have to say to that?
I'm not going to quote again, but the author's attempt, on page 193, to justify why God would be pretending, treating humans a something they're not, pretending in order to make the pretence into a reality… looks so very insincere and unconvincing to me. The example he gives of the dog we're talking to in order to make it almost human, is sim-plistic and slightly childish. So far - but not so good.
- "If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own". (9)
Now this is another vague opinion, which is not based on careful analysis, and therefore, in my opinion, devoid of credibility. This is not to say that there isn't such a Law. But firstly I would like to see some timid illustrations, to say the least. And secondly, if Mr Lewis would convince me -supposing I wasn't so beforehand - I would personally draw very different conclusions from this, and not write a book about merely one religion, as he did, to the implicit and explicit exclusion of all other paths to the universal Truth. No, I would have stressed the common points in order to build on them. I would have wanted to find out how moral teachings travelled in space and time, how they were transmitted, in which ways religions have in-fluenced one another and so on. I would have considered such morality as a basis for universal brotherhood among all humanity! But none of these aspects are part of Mr Lewis "mere thinking".
"All Christians are agreed that there is, in the full and original sense, only one 'Son of God'. If we insist on asking 'But could there have been many?' we find ourselves in very deep water". (10)
Why do some people want to play God and elevate conditioned conclusions base on limited observation into Absolute Reality? There are billions of solar systems in billions of galaxies. Contemporary scientists suppose life forms could be present in one planet per solar system. Why then play God, decide about what can or cannot be, merely "basing" ourselves on ignorance? I would compare this to jugglery in which you fool the public. The children in it will have fun, and adults can chose to be dupes or not. The power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated.
I am quite OK with the cardinal virtues cited on page 76: prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude.
I subscribe Lewis statement that "Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities". A question Lewis doesn't put, is: where have the moral principles originally come from?
On page 89, Lewis calls the desire of a man for another man perverted. Until the 1940's, that was quite common and even today, that reactionary thinking is being revived and exported, stirring up hatred and intolerance, breathing violence.
"I have said that we would never get a Christian society unless most of us became Christian individuals" (11). This is a good point, which goes for other religions too by the way. And my conclusion in relation to this is, that instead of sending for instance American missionaries to Buddhist Thailand and Muslim Senegal, Americans have got a whole lot of work to do at home - and Europeans do too of course. Isn't society in the US, in Europe filled with violence and injustice? Are there no billionaires piling up fortunes while millions of people suffering from poverty, even in rich countries? All this being contrary to essential Christian teachings? Why continue to tolerate injustice and structural violence as an integral part of the domi-nating economic system? Why are healthcare and edu-cation not accessible to all, naturally? Is there no alcoho-lism? Aren't there any problematic drugs? Are there no victims of human trafficking, prostitution, even pedophi-lia? I think American missionaries have got a big future in America to turn the jungle that society is into something more humane, and vaguely based on Christian values.
Lewis defines the components of the human nature as the human self, the animal self and the diabolical self. I won-der where he places the higher Self, which Christians call the indwelling Holy Spirit? He doesn't mention it.
But the following sentence stands out:
"This is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute". (12)
I agree: not prostitutes are closest to "hell", but their customers are.
Lewis is of the opinion that the Christian doctrines on marriage are extremely unpopular. Fair enough…
I feel like stopping this review at this point, stopping the analysis, the dissection before it turns into a straw splitting exercise, and leaving Mere Christianity to those it was written for, let them enjoy it. I'm not one of them.
(14th June, 2014)
(1) page 185, (2) page 52, (3) page 55, (4) page 98, (5) page 98, (6) page 98, (7) page 175, (8) page 193,
(9) page 6, (10) page 193, (11) page 88, (12) page 103,