Tuesday, September 8, 2009

C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

Preface

Like a lot of people, I was first introduced to C.S. Lewis through his Narnia books, around the age of ten. I knew they had a basis in Lewis's Christianity, but it wasn't that aspect of the work that interested me the most. It was the magic. When, a few years later (I was still really young), I started reading what I called Lewis's "specifically religious" books, I liked them a lot, and I still like them -- because Lewis's writing style is simple and fun and he's always got smart analogies -- but they certainly weren't as inspiring. This is a good example of how something indirect (fairy tales in this case) can be more effective than something that's direct (Christian apologies). If being a Christian were like being in Narnia, who wouldn't want to convert? But if being a Christian is the life described in Mere Christianity, one might say "no thanks."

When I first read Mere Christianity as an early teen, I certainly considered myself a Christian. I'm not sure I recognized much of an alternative to Christianity then. It's been a long time, so I don't recall my exact experience reading it, but I think I remember agreeing with him for the most part and wondering where he got his info for other parts. The second time I read Mere Christianity a larger handful of years later (maybe in my twenties) is around the time that I started to suspect that maybe I'd never been a Christian after all. I do remember the experience the second reading: I kept saying to the book, "Really?"

So do I consider myself a Christian now? No. I base this answer on the fact that I don't seem to line up with any of the Christians I know, and there are many, of many varieties. At the same time, I can't find (too) much fault in what Jesus actually preached. But apparently being a Christian isn't simply following what Christ said. Apparently it's also following what Paul's epistles said about Jesus (and about everything else). And what Peter said. And what St. Augustine said. And what C.S. Lewis said.

As Lewis reports in the ten-years-later preface to his book, others have the same kinds of questions I do about the definition of Christianity. As they put it (in his paraphrase): "Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?" Lewis then goes on to say that he's not interested in who is most Christ-like, but who is a Christian according to the "original, obvious meaning" of the word. But this meaning is debatable too, his definition being "those who accept the Christian doctrine." Well, what's the Christian doctrine? This, of course, is where his book comes in.

The following is my response to Mere Christianity upon reading it the third time, in my mid-thirties. As you can see, before I even get past the preface, I already have problems. I don't have any sort of extremely focused argument I want to make so much as I just want to respond. There might be a good bit of "killing the father" here, but everyone should know that I will always love C.S. Lewis dearly. He helped me discover a larger world, and he's someone I will continue reading over and over again. This writing itself is proof of his power over me. I grabbed the book to quickly look one thing up and here I am, twelve thousand words later.

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

Book I essentially "proves" the existence of God (or something that we might as well call God--Lewis uses lots of names in the process) by taking us step by step, using something that resembles logic. I'm making fun a little, but I'll back up first and say that one of the things that I admire about Lewis is that he is usually more or less logical. He's a fan of logic. Part of his conversion experience has to do with studying logic as a subject. But in this part of Mere Christianity, there seem to be definite gaps (or at least assumptions) in his logic.

Lewis begins by discussing the Law of Human Nature and explains, rightly, that humans tend to feel something that drives them to do right -- to treat others as they'd like to be treated -- but that we're constantly not quite obeying this drive to do the right thing. I'm with him so far. But Sigmund Freud explains this concept better than C.S. Lewis does and doesn't involve God. Freud says that "goodness" is basically a concept that has to do with how much pleasure we receive as individuals. Of course, in order to feel this pleasure, you sometimes have to do things that aren't pleasurable. In order to have the pleasures that money affords, you have to work (which helps society). In order to maintain a pleasurable relationship with someone, you have to sacrifice certain pleasures of your own. It's always a balancing act of pleasing yourself and pleasing others, but it all can be explained by something that is more or less selfish. What about simply doing good for goodness' sake? Well, that's a pleasure in itself, isn't it? It makes you happy to make others happy: that's a personal pleasure. It's not selfish in a negative way, but it could fairly be called selfish. And living within a society of lots of people, there are a huge set of rules we have to follow in order to enjoy the pleasure of that society.

Lewis himself says as much when he says, "Human beings, after all, have some sense; they see that you cannot have real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently." But then Lewis, immediately, illogically, begins to sneak God into the above picture starting with this dialogue:

"Why ought I to be unselfish?"
"Because it's good for society."
"Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?"
"Because you ought to be unselfish."

Lewis has set up a false loop here. He says that "because you ought to be" is the only answer, but it's not. The real answer is "Because doing something that's good for society is ultimately good for me." This is obvious, right? You don't even have to read Freud to understand this simple concept. "Human beings, after all, have some sense."

But this is the "proof" Lewis uses to then make the following statement: "It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men's behaviour, and yet quite definitely real--a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us." This is some leap! Lewis can't figure out why we feel compelled to do "good" and so now we "have to admit" that there's a higher power? He goes even further: "If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless."

Lewis later fears that some readers might think they have been "tricked" by him. No wonder. As I say, he sounds logical most of the time, and he's consistently charming even when he's frustrating, so it's easy to get sucked into his spell.

*

The existence of a higher power is the main argument of Book I and the main one I wanted to counter, but I also want to comment on other things Lewis writes about in this book that are interesting. One good point that he makes is that being good doesn't mean being consistent or following one idea no matter what. "Don't lie" is, in general, a good guideline, but we know that, in order to be good, sometimes lying is necessary. (This isn't his example, but it's the idea he's getting across.) Those who hold onto one "truth" and center their entire faith around it seem to be the most hopeless. This is the way children think, and the way they have to think, because they aren't old enough to (for example) judge whether it's okay to get into a stranger's car or not.

Something more convincing that he brings up is the idea of a "Real Morality." Lewis's example is that the Nazis are bad and we know they are (he's writing in 1943), so we are closer to the Real Morality than they are. This almost gets at a believable concept of God: that God might be the Real Morality, the ultimate form of goodness that we're trying to reach (and this is, more or less, what Lewis says God embodies and why God rejects our badness). "Don't be a Nazi" is probably not a rule we'll have trouble following, but could a perfect morality ever be possible? It would either be a Utopia where everyone is receiving maximum pleasure at all times (impossible, unless the nature of the universe changes) or it would be a balance (of the Freudian kind) in which everyone's receiving as much pleasure as we can get while still doing things that aren't pleasurable. Technically possible, I suppose, but not probable--which is where God comes in, supernaturally (because it would take something beyond our abilities) letting us know what we should do at all times to achieve the greatest happiness for everyone.

Lewis says, correctly, that a man sitting in the seat of a train before you get there is just as inconvenient as a man who moves your bag and slips into the seat. And he says, correctly, that you blame the second man but not the first. He's trying to demonstrate that we place blame because of our concepts of how humans should behave and how these concepts come from God, but it doesn't work since only with the second man are you dealing with human behavior (and I've already explained why we should "behave"); with the first, you may as well be dealing with an inanimate object. And Lewis has already said that blaming non-humans for not doing what you want them to (his example is a tree that doesn't give you enough shade) is silly. Besides, if some ultimate form of goodness were being truly followed, maybe you could blame the first man. Maybe he should have listened to God and offered his seat to you.

As a side note, apparently Jesus himself doesn't think it's silly to blame trees for not making one happy. Jesus was hungry and wanted some figs one day, but the fig tree he found didn't have any fruit on it so he cursed it and made it wither. The "lesson" here, to his disciples, was that you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it: that you can tell the mountain to throw itself into the sea and it will do it. This certainly isn't the only time Jesus was selfish. When it was suggested that the ointment being used on him could have been given to the poor, his response was, "Eh, there will always be poor people."

I agree with Lewis in his discussion of science and how it can only explain things as they may be observed. This is what science is and this is why it's useful. Lewis is rather dismissive of the "materialist view" of the origin of the universe, however. He does the old routine: I guess things just "happen to exist"… "a sort of fluke" has made creatures that can think… "by one chance in a thousand something hit our sun and made it produce the planets; and by another thousandth chance the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature"… "and then, after a very long series of chances"… and so on. Yeah, why not? What are the odds of my being born, but here I am. "Oh yeah, I guess generations and generations of couples reproducing eventually produced your parents who happened to conceive at a very precise moment that just so happened to create Rusty Spell. I'm so sure!" The universe and our world seems to make sense because this is what we know to be sense. For someone who wants to think "outside" of reality so much, it seems odd that everything is centered around our only known reality. Maybe if something like Earth and humans happens twice I'll think about it some more, but in the meantime, isn't it probable enough that anything can happen at least once? My problem, by the way, is not that I believe in one thing and not the other. My problem is Lewis or anyone else dismissing something that doesn't deserve dismissing (the "fluke" concept of this world) or using science/probability as a springboard onto the more believable (?) supernatural explanation of how Earth came to be.

Lewis begins to conclude Book I with a discussion of the meaning of the universe. Is the idea of a meaning of existence silly? I'm not sure. I find comfort in Existentialism, but that's just me. My favorite part of Book I is probably when Lewis says that, if there is a God who lives outside of the universe, that he can only show himself through us in some way, usually through our behaviors. It doesn't quite make sense how he explains this (since he says that God can't show himself as one of the "facts inside the universe," even though we are one of those facts), but I like the concept. Now he's getting into William Blake and Joseph Campbell territory. Lewis also says that even though God seems to be something like a "mind," that he probably is something unlike a mind or person, which is refreshing after pages that seem to be leading up to the revelation that God is just some dude.

Book II: What Christians Believe

"What Christians Believe" is a pretty promising title, but unfortunately the Christian belief system isn't as spelled-out as I'd hoped. But this is what I gather from Lewis: God created a universe, including the angel who fell and became Satan, and Satan taught the new human creation how to rebel, which they did, and now humanity is corrupt. Since we can't escape this corruption on our own, we needed God to take the form of a human named Jesus to die for us, which somehow (Lewis admits he doesn't know how) gives us a fresh start. We may now evolve into newer creatures through three things: baptism in water, communion (eating bread and drinking wine in memory of the last supper before Jesus died), and the belief that all of these things are true. Eventually, God will return to earth to vanquish sin completely and reality as we know it will end. For Christians, the new reality will be bliss; for unbelievers, it will be miserable; and now is the time to choose sides.

So, yeah, I guess I'm not a Christian. Did I ever believe all of the above? More or less, I think. I wasn't sure how much a devil was to blame (or how much he existed), but I thought humans must have gone wrong somewhere (the Garden of Eden story being a metaphor for that wrong). I thought that Jesus died for some reason, but I never knew what that reason was. I never thought he (or baptism) "washed our sins away." I thought that Jesus must have "proven" something about what humans were capable of. An "If he can do it, I can" kind of thing, though I'm not sure what the "it" was. I've only taken communion once in my life. I've never believed in a literal end of the world, at least nothing that would be caused by Jesus. I have always, since birth, loathed the idea of someone being punished for not accepting Christianity or any other religion. I guess, according to Lewis's version of Christianity, I was a semi-Christian and now I'm not one at all.

I'm kind of amazed that C.S. Lewis, famous for his Platonic views and his understanding of shadows and images and metaphors, is so literal-minded. As it turns out, Aslan of the Narnia books might be a symbol of a symbol. Communion (already a symbol of a symbol) is not just a representation to Lewis: it is the thing itself. "The end of the world" really is the end of the world.

One reason not to be a Christian is that it takes away the fun of believing all religions at once. Lewis begins this book by saying that Christians don't have to believe that all other religions are wrong, which is nice, but he's quick to say that they only contain "hints of truth." He says that everything that came before Christianity (including, I guess, Judaism, though he does allow that they were God's chosen people), was (at best) "good dreams" or (a little worse) "queer stories" from "heathen religions." He doesn't seem to understand Pantheism at all, calling it "damned nonsense," and he admits to not really understanding Hinduism (which isn't surprising).

The baptism and communion are both rituals that are meant to bring you closer to God. Fine, but what about other rituals? Do they not bring us closer to the same God? If Lewis does not believe in other representations of God (Vishnu, Zeus, Marduk, Ra, etc.), it really makes Narnia and Aslan confusing to me. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan says that by knowing him in Narnia, the children can know him better in their world, which suggests that Aslan equals God or Jesus. But do they have to know him better in their world? In other words, wouldn't it be just as well to worship the lion? And, if not, is it because the children are not part of that world? And, if that's true, shouldn't we worship whatever god is found in our world--or, in this nonfictional case, our culture? Anyway, I'd much rather be a follower of Lewis's lion than Lewis's God.

*

Once again, I'll jump around to other smaller points that Lewis makes in Book II. He begins the book with the now-tired "logic" from Book I, saying that you can't say the world is "unjust" without believing in God. He's not alone in this belief. Many Christians I know are surprised when they discover that an atheist is also a moral person. Their answer to this often is that this moral person is only fooling himself into thinking he is an atheist. But the real answer is that atheism often allows for a greater morality than any religion ever will. Even if murder weren't against the law, God's or society's law, most of us still choose not to be murderers.

"Atheism is too simple," Lewis says. Whatever. I used to think somewhat along these lines when I was younger. My problem with atheism then was that I didn't know why someone would be so adamant about the nonexistence of God, but now I realize why. Atheism might not be too simple, but if everyone were an atheist, the world would certainly be a lot more simple, in a good way.

I do like what Lewis says about those who make dumb arguments against Christianity, that they are putting up a six-year-old's conceptions of the religion and attacking that, then switching into adult mode when convenient. Christians often do make the worst debaters since the final answer can always be something like "that's what faith is for" or "we'll know when we get to Heaven," but those who attack Christianity can be just as bad.

This leads Lewis into the idea that these attackers often dismiss Christianity because it doesn't make any sense. Lewis uses this as further proof that Christianity must be linked to reality, since reality itself is often complicated and doesn’t make much sense. It's "not what you'd expect," he says. But I disagree. It's completely what you expect. It's almost the same story that's been told since the beginning of religion, all those "queer stories" he was dismissing earlier. Once again I'm surprised that Lewis the professor and poet seems to keep forgetting that lots of what he's talking about is poetry. And poetry does make sense if you know how to read it.

I remember during one of my first readings of Mere Christianity being somewhat impressed with Lewis's idea that Jesus must have either been (a) a crazy person or (b) God himself: one or the other. But I'm not so impressed now. He begins this argument by saying that, if Jesus were a pantheist, it would be normal for him to say he was God (though, technically, Jesus never says this, right?), but since he was a Jew, and therefore not a pantheist, to say he was God (something that created the universe, something that exists outside of this world) means he's either telling the truth or that he's crazy. This assumes that Jesus had to behave like a Jew, when I think we see a billion times that Jesus doesn't behave like a Jew. Isn't that part of the reason he was killed? Jesus also goes on to tell everyone else that they can become Sons of God too, which -- by Lewis's logic -- would mean that (a) Jesus wants everyone to join him in his insanity or (b) that we actually will become God.

But of course Jesus did want everyone to become God--just not God in the way C.S. Lewis perceives him. The Kingdom of Heaven was now, not in some distant future when the world ends. He was on a higher plane and wanted people to come with him. Jesus, at the last supper, told his disciples to think of him when they ate and drank, but I'm not sure he intended for it to be one of the key elements that prevented you from living in a world of reality-altering hell.

Once again, I'm not really sure Book II tells us "what Christians believe," and I'm pretty sure it doesn't tell us much about what Christ believed.

Book III: Christian Behaviour

This is the longest book in the chapter and the one where I said "Really?" the most when C.S. Lewis would slip in something about Christianity that he (I guess) assumed everyone knew (and maybe everyone but me did). But it's also the book that I've found the most to agree with. He also discusses marriage and gives us the Christian sex talk. I'm dividing up my segment here into those four things: disagreement, sex, marriage, and finally some long-awaited agreement.

*

Chapter one contains this sentence: "Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever." Really? News to me! Why wasn't this included in the book titled "What Christians Believe"? When he drops bombs like these, I wonder who this book is really for. If he's writing it for those who wonder what Christianity is all about, shouldn't something like "eternal life no matter what you choose to do" be covered in chapter one? If the book is for people who are already Christians, then what's the point? Was my Christian teaching that unorthodox? I mean, I know that certain groups feel that everyone will go to Heaven or Hell, living forever either way, but I figured some might think the way I used to: that the wages of sin are death and that Hell would be a kind of life (even if a horrible sort) and so must by definition not exist, that only those who demonstrate a desire for life and God will get it and everyone else will have the merciful relief of death. I guess I'm asking this: is the belief of eternal life for everyone "mere" Christianity?

One of the silliest examples from Mere Christianity has to do with this assumed concept of living forever. Lewis is saying that sometimes we have the need to kill, as in war, which I don't have a problem with. But then he says he can't understand what he calls a "semipacifism" (he respects regular pacifists but thinks they are "entirely mistaken"), someone who sees the need for war but who has to fight "with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it." Isn't this the only natural, sane reaction to war? What does he expect, gaiety and wholeheartedness? Let's read the next sentence and find out. "It [semipacifism] is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage--a kind of gaiety and wholeheartedness." Ah, well, apparently so.

But that's not even the silly part I was talking about. The silly part is when Lewis wonders, when he served in World War I, what it would have been like if he and a German had killed each other simultaneously and found each other a moment after death. He says he can't imagine any resentment or embarrassment. "I think we may have laughed over it." First of all, embarrassment? They didn't show up at a party together wearing the same dress; they killed each other. And laughed over it? I can only chalk this up to a certain kind of insanity that can only arise when you are 100% sure that you are going to live on after death. (I'm not saying, by the way, that believing in life after death is insane. I'm saying that a belief of it is likely necessary for the kinds of oddball statements he is making.) Sure, he was in a war and I wasn't (thank God), but, I mean… really?

Lewis says that Christ is the only man who never yielded to temptation, that he was the only one who has become (for lack of a better word) "perfect." The idea of perfection is something I used to strongly believe in. I (like Lewis) thought that Jesus was the first man to reach it, but (unlike Lewis) I believed that part of the point of Jesus dying was to demonstrate that it could be done. Furthermore, I believed that people had already done it. I thought that Paul, Peter, and some (if not all) of the other apostles did. I thought that people in the twentieth century did and that people since Christ had always done it. I mean, why not? If there is such a thing as an ultimate goodness (as Lewis is arguing), then why couldn't someone conceivably reach it? That's all that perfection would mean in this sense. You wouldn't be the perfect human, and you certainly wouldn't seem perfect to most people around you, but you could be a perfect human. Lewis is fond of comparing everything the Christian life with math sums, so why can't everyone -- who is born with their own personal math "problem" -- reach their own personal correct "answer"?

Finally, I'll make some comments -- if not completely disagree -- with Lewis's thoughts on Heaven. Lewis argues that thinking of Heaven as a goal gets us a better earth than if we were focused on earth only. I'm not sure how this makes sense, and his health analogy doesn't work for me. He says that if you are focused on your health itself -- whatever that means -- you become a hypochondriac, whereas if you focus on good food, activities, etc. you become actually healthy. So if you focus on the earth itself, you… make the earth crappy? And how can you focus on Heaven as you focus on food and activities when those are things you can do and Heaven isn't? Thinking about food and exercise doesn't make you healthy.

The part where Lewis makes a little more sense, or at least proposes an interesting theory, is when he says that for everything on earth that you have a desire for, there is something to satisfy it (for hungry babies, food; for wanna-swim ducks, water; for horny men, women). But there is a spiritual desire that the earth can't satisfy, so Heaven must be the place that does satisfy. Some things hint at Heaven (music, literature, sex, family, nature--my examples), but they are only echoes and don't last forever. C.S. Lewis is back in full-blown Plato mode again, finally. We are in the cave and he is the Philosopher King who will show us that we are only looking at shadows.

It's a beautiful idea, and I certainly wouldn't mind if it were true. Of course, one could just as easily say that the nature of the universe is a burst of life followed by a descent into death. Your desires are temporarily satisfied (as Lewis admits) before fading and dying. Any empty feeling could just as easily be caused by not accepting this nature. The embrace of death, not quest for eternal life, could be the key to ridding yourself of these desires and empty feelings. The Epic of Gilgamesh and other mythologies say as much.

At any rate, Lewis destroys the beautiful dream mid-sentence: "I must keep alive for myself the desire for my true country…" (so far so good) "... which I shall not find till after death" (boo!). Why is death necessarily the Stairway to Heaven? And, by the way, isn't this another thing that should have been explained in "What Christians Believe?" I didn't know that Christians believed that death was the only door to Heaven. Doesn't that mean that Jesus cheated by dying at such an early age? (I promise I'm not being flippant.) What if he had lived to be an old man? In fact, if someone were on earth who had resisted all temptation and achieved perfection, wouldn't God want that person to stay on earth as long as possible, to make it better? What about other outs? What about being called up in a whirlwind? The Rapture? (And what is The Rapture? It doesn't appear in this book. Neither does the idea of the resurrection of the dead.) I was even bothered in The Last Battle when we learn that the kids have died on earth (and that's why they're in Narnia Heaven).

If nothing else, I do feel like Heaven is always cheapened when the argument surrounding it (and your death and your belief) is "what if?" And this is exactly what Lewis says: "Supposing infinite happiness really is there waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow's end? In that case it would be a pity to find out too late (a moment after death) that by our supposed 'common sense' we had stifled for ourselves the faculty of enjoying it." Here's my tip for Christians who want to covert people: don't use the "what if?" argument. Don't tell the unconverted that they are going to die and the first thing they're going to say is "Oh shit." Or that you and others will be saying "I told you so" on Judgment Day. As a favor to me.

*

This is the sexy part. I'll start with one of those now-famous "news to me" statements from the book: "There is no getting away from it: the Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.' " I do wish that Lewis would occasionally show us where he gets his information, whether from the Bible or elsewhere. The Bible has all sorts of things to say about sex, but nothing definitive enough to not be able to get away from. I do know that the "marriage or abstinence" view is common among Christians, but I didn't know it was the view. I didn't know that it fell under "mere" Christianity. In fact, I figured the more outspoken churches on this subject were just that: the more outspoken ones, and that the more normal ones had more normal sex habits.

Lewis, of course, would call into question my use of the word normal, and -- actually -- I would too, since I don't like to use the word normal and sex in the same sentence. But Lewis has a more specific complaint. He thinks that the very biology of our bodies is abnormal, perverted from what it is supposed to be. He reasons this way: first that "the biological purpose of sex is children." And second: "If a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village."

The small village example is true enough (and funny enough), but anyone who studies "the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees" knows that spreading the seed far and wide is simply how nature works. It's the most natural thing in the world. Imagine if pollen were more shy about its job. Besides this obvious fact, who says that the "purpose" of sex is children? Yes, sex makes babies, but baby-making isn't even the first thing we think of when we think of sex. (I can hear Lewis screaming "Exactly!" and maybe he has a point.) What about lovemaking? What about magic? And who's to say that sex always has to be with a partner? Masturbation could be the answer to Lewis's horny young man puzzle. Maybe there's something to be said for "getting in touch with yourself," and maybe this is especially healthy in men. (Lewis later writes, in passing, that masturbation is a sin.) If nothing else, Lewis's idea that sex has a "purpose" is begging the question (though I don't blame him, since he warned his readers that Book III would assume the Christian view of a universe with a purpose).

But let's assume that Lewis is right and that our sexual instincts are out of whack (whatever that means). So what? Shouldn't we (Christians or otherwise) handle this like any other potential problem arising from our urges and relationships? Perhaps before the dawn of very effective birth control, the abstinence rule made more sense, but does it now? The "complete faithfulness to your partner" bit is fair enough (unless you swing some other way), but even then isn't there a problem as far as Lewis is concerned? He's not saying that once you get married your sexual "perversion" goes away. Marriage doesn't "cure" you of this. You're still horny all day (especially if you're male). So the "marriage or abstinence" rule doesn't work. No matter what, according to Lewis, you're still a perverted biological creature with an unnatural craving for s-e-x. You're either going to go through unspeakable amounts of suffering (abstinence) or guilt (failed attempts at abstinence), or you're going to get married and only have sex when you want to have a baby. Have fun.

Though Lewis uses the word cure when discussing these matters, he's misusing the word. He says that when you feel tempted you should pray (or whatever) and eventually a cure will come. But a "cure," according to his perversion theory, would have to be a complete biological overhaul, a regression of your body back to a more primitive time (before the fall of man?), which of course can't possibly happen (as Lewis would admit). The only "cure" is suffering. You may as well suggest that the cure for being on fire is not dousing yourself with water: instead, it is trying hard not to think about being burned.

Lewis's real problem, it seems to me, is a personal one. He, famously, was a bachelor until age fifty-eight, and the going theory is that he and Joy Gresham never got around to consummating the marriage. Fair enough, to each his own, but read the "Sexual Morality" chapter of Mere Christianity and tell me if it isn't the most venom-filled chapter of the entire book. The modern world is sex-crazy and C.S. Lewis is not and it pisses him off. "Perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful. I am sorry to have to go into all these details, but I must." What details? I'm curious to know what these perversions are, but he doesn't explain. Rather than assuming something actually dark and dirty, I imagine simple things that would drive Lewis crazy: an affinity for leather, creative uses of food, spanking, or -- hell -- even the doggy-style position.

Listen to this: "The reason why I must [go into all these details] is that you and I, for the last twenty years," and remember it is now 1943, "have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely." An unfortunate metaphor? He goes on: "They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long." I'm not sure what happened in 1923, but I'd love to know. Oh, and listen to this passage in which Lewis explains that you will become more sexually aware of yourself if you attempt abstinence: "They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes" (another unfortunate metaphor). In other words, you will know your sexuality for the arch-nemesis that it is.

Some of the more interesting parts of his sex talk are his comparisons to food. In explaining how sex has gone wrong, Lewis asks us to imagine a world in which food is treated in the same way that sex is treated. Unfortunately for our own time, this comparison hasn't dated well. Listen: "There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips." I'm not sure about "half the world," but this seems to be the present situation in America. Unlike having sex, however, gluttony is something closer to an actual "sin," in that it causes harm. Food is perhaps the number one killer in America, yet every day tons of viewers tune in for Paula Deen's butter orgies.

Lewis does have a good point about sex in advertising. "There are people who want to keep our sex interest inflamed in order to make money out of us." You can't disagree with that. (He has other smart things to say about advertising and how it artificially makes us "who we are.") And, in spite of Lewis's squeamishness and anger about this subject, he does have a fair degree of tolerance and understanding. He begins the chapter by saying that standards of modesty vary from culture to culture and even generation to generation within the same culture, wishing that old fogies wouldn't give the young kids such a hard time for their skimpy clothes. He says that sexual pleasure is a good thing (in marriage), that bodies are God-approved and beautiful, that Christians write the best love poems, etc. Finally, he ends the chapter by saying "The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins." Thank goodness for that.

*

As a small child, I thought that marriage itself is what made babies. I had enough sense to know that marriage was just a ceremony or signing a paper, but marriage and making babies were so closely linked that I figured one somehow caused the other. I thought that sex (what little I knew of it) was some separate thing, or maybe that you couldn't possibly even have sex unless you were married.

I know that small children have all kinds of ideas about where babies come from, but I suppose a Christian upbringing is to blame for my idea. C.S. Lewis says that the "right working" of sex is Christian marriage. I guess there was no such things as a "right working" for sex before Christianity, even for the married couples. I'm not sure that Lewis's ideas about marriage and sex are any less ridiculous than my ideas about them at age five or six or whatever I was. He says that Jesus' notion of becoming "one flesh" was more or less a fact, just as it's a fact -- Lewis says -- that a lock and key are one mechanism. If that's the case, all guys are walking around with skeleton keys.

He calls sex outside of marriage a "monstrosity" and simply living together "fornication." His idea is that the couple is trying to isolate sex from everything else that goes into a relationship. If Lewis had bothered to have any girlfriends, he would know that this isn't exactly what happens. (Instead, Lewis spent his 20s, 30s, and 40s taking care of and living with the mother of his friend who had died in the war.) I don't know anyone who's been able -- as much as they might want it -- to have a relationship that's purely about sex. And most people wouldn't want that anyway. For most non-married couples, sex is an important part of their relationship, but it certainly isn't everything; the same is true of married couples (though, traditionally, according to the most reliable stand-up comics, there is less sex in marriage than there is in non-marriage--I'm not sure how Lewis would feel about that).

Lewis says that "isolating" sex in this way is the same as chewing food and then spitting it out to isolate the taste, rather than actually swallowing and digesting for full nutrition. This is a bad analogy. In any sex-based relationship, you do swallow and digest, whether you want to or not. Sometimes (to quote the Bible) it tastes sweet as honey to the mouth but bitter in the belly, and sometimes it's the other way around, but you certainly are eating the "food." The true analogy for people who aren't married is simply that they are more free to try other foods. Being married is like finding your favorite food and eating it every night for dinner, no matter if you have a taste for it or not, even if that once-delicious steak is now simply disgusting and you'd do anything to eat even a fried baloney sandwich. This isn't me knocking monogamy, by the way; I'm just trying to point out that Lewis might have made better arguments if he'd bother to get his food analogies right.

And I do agree with Lewis once he begins talking about the value of monogamy. The fireworks of early love fades and gives way to a deeper kind of love if you can stick with it. I've always said that people shouldn't marry simply for love, and they certainly shouldn't marry simply for sex (though this is exactly what lots of Christians do). Love becomes more or less a habit eventually, and this isn't a bad thing. And, like Jesus, I think that "one flesh" is a good way of putting it. Divorce is like dismemberment, if not like death itself. But this can be true when marriage isn't involved too. What if you live with someone for years without getting married and eventually the other person leaves you? Isn't this dismemberment also? Why is the marriage contract so important? Why would Lewis or anyone else deny that this relationship was "real," or even say that it wasn't godly? We're still talking about human beings and reality, right?

I'll end this marriage section with C.S. Lewis's take on the "head of the house" debate. Lewis takes the view of another celibate, the apostle Paul: as Christ is the head of the church, man is the head of the woman. To answer why there should be a head at all, rather than equality, Lewis says that eventually there will be some decision that the couple won't agree on and there needs to be a head in place to make the final call. But is this also the case when, say, two male roommates live together? Do they have to decide on a head? Again, are we talking about human beings? For the question "If there needs to be a head, why should it be the man?" Lewis replies "Is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman?" To which I reply, "Fuck you." He eventually blathers on about the woman being the one who takes care of the family itself while the man is the "diplomat" to the outside world. No wonder Lewis calls himself a dinosaur.

*

Oddly enough, when C.S. Lewis gets into the "deeper" issues of social morality, forgiveness, pride, charity, hope, and faith, I find less to disagree with. I don't think that Christians corner the market on these concepts, but I do think that -- at least as Lewis is describing them -- Christians are going about things the right way (at least in theory, if not always in practice).

Lewis says that everyone knows at the core that the Golden Rule is the way to be, but we don't always follow it. We make laws that attempt to force people to be nice to each other, but -- as Lewis says -- "You cannot make men good by law." This is true, and this was certainly one of Jesus' central premises. The Law of Moses was written on stone (and often broken, and one time literally), but Jesus wanted God's "law" (which boils down to the Golden Rule) to be written in men's hearts. Jesus went above and beyond mere written law. Instead of "an eye for an eye," you should turn the other cheek, for example. He wanted a society not of people who were looking for loopholes within the law that would allow them to abuse each other, but one that loved each other in some real sense. (Sometimes this even meant breaking the law--not stoning an adulterer, for example.)

To "love," as Lewis explains isn't necessarily to "like." To love someone "as yourself" often has to do with forgiving someone, not because they're likeable or anything special, but because they're humans like you. You forgive yourself for doing bad things, but not because you deserve it. This is one of the best explanations of forgiveness I've heard. And it has nothing to do with approval of someone; forgiveness doesn't do away with punishment. I want to live in a world where crime is punished, so I want the same rules to apply to myself, so there is no problem administering this punishment on someone else while following the Golden Rule. This concept can apply to larger situations like murder, or smaller ones like someone being a horrible person to me. I don't have to like the horrible people or hang out with them (denying my approval and company being their "punishment" in this situation), but I do have to forgive them. Not forgiving does me more harm than it does them. It would be like, as the old saying goes, drinking poison and hoping they die from it.

I especially like what Lewis says about the idea of relative goodness, an idea that might aid in being able to forgive. The idea is that a considerable portion of our behavior is simply biological. Our bodies partly determine our temperament. Therefore it is more difficult for some people to be good than it is for others. This is why it's important not to judge, not to say "I'm better than him," because are you? This gets into tricky ideas of the separation of body and soul. Does a soul even exist? Is there such a thing as a "real you"? Maybe, maybe not, but we do know that you can regulate people's behavior with pills, for example, and this makes us wonder if chemicals are all we are. Lewis believes that there is a soul and that one day the body will drop off and our true essence is all that will then exist. Only then will we be able to see what we are really like. In the meantime, it may be more spiritually meaningful for a bad-tempered person to not punch you in the face than it is for a good-tempered person to give you his kidney.

Whether we believe in a soul or not, and whether we are Christians or not, I do believe it's a good idea to think this way, at least a little bit. It will be easier to forgive people if we know that they -- because of both nature and nurture -- have a hard time "helping it." Lewis is basically describing a sort of spiritual socialism. He says that those who have "more" (heredity and upbringing that allows for more goodness) have to work harder than those who have "less." Which brings us to earthly socialism. Some people have a harder time (for the same reasons) making money than others, so maybe the poor don't need to be shit on quite so much and maybe the rich don't deserve to have anything they want.

This certainly won't sit well with the Christians we see in contemporary culture (at least the ones we see on TV "news" and those who follow the TV's ministry): the right wingers who seem to think Christianity boils down to hating gays, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and getting crappy healthcare, but C.S. Lewis correctly points out that if a Christian society were actually put into practice that parts of it "would be what we now call Leftist." He says, "We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic." Jesus, of course, was more or less a socialist: encouraging everyone to give away their money to the poor, distributing the wealth, believing in hard work (but for the good of the community, not necessarily for himself), healing people without charging money, speaking against interest on loans (usury), despising the class system, etc. But before anyone gets too excited, Lewis also (correctly) points out that other aspects of this society would be old-fashioned and that "each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing." I doubt I would like the whole thing either, but Lewis's description of a Christian society is certainly closer to the vision of Jesus, and it is immeasurably preferable to the current societal wishes of the most vocal modern-day Christians.

C.S. Lewis seemed to have some of the same problems with the Christians of his day that I (and many, many others) do with the current ones. Thank God I know a lot of really smart and compassionate Christians who are using their beliefs to actually help save the world, but those are unfortunately often overshadowed by the ones who pride themselves on being ignorant (sometimes to an evil degree). Lewis says, "Many Christians have the idea that provided you are 'good,' it does not matter being a fool." Under the umbrella of "faith," brains go out the window.

Christianity becomes an excuse to be intellectually lazy. But Lewis says, and I agree, "Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world." I know that I received this special education. I knew more about literary analysis at age nine than lots of the sophomores in my World Literature class. Even if your Christian study is limited to the Bible (and it shouldn't be), you can learn a great deal about poetry, metaphor, symbolism, mythology, word play, hyperbole, and more--just in the field of literature alone. I don't mind so much that many Christians don't read the Bible, but I do mind when they claim to know what it says when they're really basing their beliefs on what other uneducated people have told them, or maybe on a children's retelling of Bible stories.

Lewis is talking about nonbelievers when he complains that "if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them," but I think the same could be said for Christians themselves. He writes this in response to those who say that Heaven is a boring place where you'll "spend an eternity playing harps." "All of the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.)," Lewis says, "is, of course, a merely symbolic attempt to express the inexpressible." (Nevermind, for now, that Lewis doesn't always understand this concept himself.) Many Christians don't understand literature enough to read their favorite book, which is sad enough from an educator's point of view, but it's even more sad when you realize that some of this ignorance causes oppression and war. (Daily frustrations are bad enough.)

Shifting gears. Lewis's chapter on pride is called "The Great Sin," and I tend to agree with this title. Out of the entire book, this was the chapter that "convicted" me the most (as we used to say in church). I would simply think that it's the remnant Christian in me responding to the chapter, except that I disagree with Lewis when he says that only Christians admit that they have pride and that pride is a bad thing to have. I think any person wanting to be moral could recognize pride as the granddaddy of all foul behavior.

Lewis, by the way, isn't talking about pride as in the phrase "I'm proud of you, son." This use of the word just means that the son has accomplished something and the father is praising him, and it's okay for the son to be happy to receive the praise. My church was so concerned about being proud that they would never use the word even in this sense. They would say "I'm well pleased with you, son." They took great pride not using the word pride.

I'll try to sum up what C.S. Lewis says about pride. First, it's the opposite of humility. Second, every other sin is caused by this one. Lewis's test for how much pride you have is to ask yourself, "How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?" Pride is essentially competitive. It always wants you to be better than someone else, which means that you are always comparing yourself to other people, which means that you are the center of the goddamned universe. Vanity is pride, Lewis says, but it's a mild form; you care what people think about you and want their attention. But when you simply don't care what other people think about you because you think so highly of yourself (and so lowly of them), that's when it's bad.

The very religious can often be the most proud, Lewis says. "They are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people." If you can forget about yourself altogether, you have overcome pride. But if you meet people who have overcome it, Lewis says, they will be humble but they won't necessarily seem humble. They'll seem happy and bright and interested in you as a person. If you don't like them, you're probably resentful of how much they are enjoying life and other people.

If the main Rule is the Golden one, then pride is the thing that will make you break that rule every time. Why should you treat others as you'd like to be treated when you are so much better or smarter than these people, when they just don't get you and your friends, when they don't treat you nice, when they bore you, when they don't understand God the way you do, when they started it, when they haven't bothered to learn your name, etc. etc.?

Turning then to charity, the ultimate tool of the un-proud. I remember being pleased, when I first read Mere Christianity, that C.S. Lewis used the word charity rather than love. Most translations of the Bible use the word love (the King James Version uses charity), but that word has so many meanings already that a different word altogether is needed for what's being described in the Bible and here by Lewis. Of course, charity these days commonly means giving to the needy, which is not what's meant here either, but it's still a better word to use than love.

Lewis calls charity "love in the Christian sense." Once again, I think he's incorrect to limit it to Christians, but I do believe that it takes a conscious effort to put on charity (which might require something like Christianity to get you to think about it), since -- as Lewis points out -- this kind of charity is not an emotion, not like love, but is a state of the will. Charity, then, is acting as though you love your neighbor whether you do or not. There's a fair amount of pretending that comes into play, though if you do it enough the pretense becomes real. Charity is impossible with pride; it seems ridiculous. "I like who I like and dislike who I dislike: why should I pretend otherwise?" This is a prideful thought. A non-proud person will naturally like who they like, but they will also say, "I dislike this person. I should be nice to them and get to know them better."

My church used to say that if you don't like someone (whether initially or after they've hurt you in some way), then bake them a cake. A literal cake is fine, but this was shorthand for being nice to someone who wasn't likeable. Often they really weren't likeable and everyone agreed, but this is an unacceptable argument for not baking them the cake. Maybe you bake them the cake and they tell you it tastes shitty. Can you stop being nice to them then? No. Keep being nice (though try something besides a cake). Your niceness will probably just annoy them at first, but eventually it might wear them down and make them think, "Maybe I'm the one being an asshole." Even if this turnaround in them doesn't happen, that's not really the point. Remember: it's not about you. The point is that maybe you will discover something in them that is likeable, and even if you don't, you can learn to love them anyway.

If the above paragraph sounds silly, it's because we're so used to the rationale given to us by pride. If you have your little group of friends and more or less ignore everyone else, that's pride. Everyone else isn't cool enough for your clique. This clique can very easily be you and your Christian friends, of course. Jesus certainly hurt the pride of his followers when he made them hang out with prostitutes and other "lowlifes," but imagine the pride that was hurt when eventually more than just God's chosen people were allowed to hang. You can see why I think that love, which implies emotion, is incorrect. Charity is greater than regular love because it's not an emotion. It's beyond the moodiness of feelings, a constant. This is why Paul says that among hope, faith, and charity, the greatest is charity.

Lewis concludes Book III with two chapters on faith, which seems to boil down to the idea of constancy: of constantly trying to remove your pride and put on charity, which is what Christianity boils down to (at its best) and which is difficult as hell. Having "faith," then, doesn't just mean having a collection of beliefs, which is what lots of Christians seem to mean by the word. You believe in God, or in Jesus, or that the world was made in six days, or that Noah built an ark. So what? If you're not shedding pride and practicing charity, what good does that do? Even Paul said that even if you can speak every language (even the language of angels), have the gift of prophecy, understand every mystery, know everything there is to know, have faith enough to move mountains, feed the poor, and sacrifice yourself to be burned… if you don't have charity, you don't have shit. (I'm paraphrasing.)

But can you do these things without God? C.S. Lewis says no. I suppose this would be the ultimate form of pride for him: "Screw you, God: I don't need your help." Lewis says that whenever we do anything, we're really just borrowing some of God's goodness to be able to do it. The analogy he gives (which I've always liked) is that it's like asking your dad for sixpence so you can buy him a birthday present. "Keeping the faith," according to Lewis, requires daily prayer or scripture-reading or church; otherwise, it just drifts away.

Whether I believe you need God in order to work on removing pride and putting on charity depends on how you define God. I don't think you have to be a Christian, and I don't think you have to believe in any particular version of God or of God at all. (I certainly don't think you need scripture, prayer, and church--though you do need some kid of reminders.) Lewis may be able to understand the harps and crowns as symbols, but he seems to get stuck on some of the larger ones. But if you prefer to call this kind of goodness or selflessness or love-beyond-reason "God," then fine. Removing pride and being charitable is what counts.

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

The fourth and final book is mostly about theology. At this point you're either with C.S. Lewis or you're not, so if you're a Christian or are on your way to becoming one, I think this is a useful book; and if you're not, I think it's interesting anyway. It helps to explain a lot of complicated ideas about God, appealing to both the logical brain and also pointing out where our own brains aren't enough for complete understanding.

As Lewis points out, and I've also noticed, many people get hung up on the metaphysical questions being (somewhat) answered in this book and dismiss the religion entirely as a result. I've always thought these were lazy dismissals. One question Lewis doesn't bring up, but is the kind that I'm talking about, is the question "Where did God come from? How could he have always existed?" This is like asking where did the universe come from; where did anything come from? We know the universe exists because we're in it, but no one knows how it got here. And the idea of it "getting here" seems to be a stupid idea to begin with, so how much more so with a concept like God. I'm not arguing for or against the existence of any kind of god here; I'm just pointing out that if God is really God, then having him arrive on the scene just as a human or anything else does wouldn't make him a god at all.

I like how Lewis explains the usefulness of theology. He explains that "feeling" God is like looking at the ocean or diving into it. Nothing will replace that experience. However, theology is like a map of the ocean. It doesn't have the same profound effect, but it's certainly more useful. My analogy would be weather reporting on TV. They always stick some poor sap out in the middle of the hurricane to give us a visual of the hurricane's power, but it's more useful to just show us a radar map and tell us when it's hitting.

Lewis says that those who just want the "ocean" or "weatherman in hurricane" version of God are part of a vague religion: "all thrills and no work," just "flowers and music." But what's wrong with just flowers and music and other ineffable things? Some might think this is what God actually is, and they could be right. Why is God necessarily connected with morality? But of course Lewis thinks God is morality, so it's too late to argue about that at this late point. However, if -- as Lewis says -- human morality isn't enough (he makes that point that simply listening to Jesus' teachings doesn't work, since humans are not ones to follow good advice), might some honest contemplation of flowers and music and the ocean and poetry be the kind of "working from the inside" that Lewis is asking for? Or is this the Pagan in me?

Some final "really?" moments. Lewis casually says that Christ existed before the beginning of time, along with his father, and he earlier has said that Jesus on earth is actually just a manifestation of God himself. I'm not sure that this is "mere" Christianity. What about Unitarian vs. Oneness vs. the Trinitarian? What about those who feel that God and Jesus are two "persons" and the Holy Ghost merely a spirit? I think Lewis is confuses "mere" Christianity (which doesn't seem to exist) with his own specific version.

Lewis also (again, casually) says, "Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow." At no time in my life did I believe this. What's with all the stuff in the Bible about God having to ask people questions, about changing his mind, about regretting something he did (like the flood)? And since Lewis isn't confining this statement to Christianity but to "everyone who believes in God at all," it's a hundred times more confusing why he assumes it.

In spite of these problems, I do think that this final book is helpful or interesting or both. Lewis gives good illustrations of a "super-personal" god, writes about a 4-D god that lives outside of the dimension that we live in, explains God as an author of the novel of the universe who has all the time in his world to stop between writing to answer the prayers of his characters, shows us a Lord who wants to turn his toy soldiers into real ones (Pinocchio style), teaches us about a Jesus who "infected" the spreading tree of humanity both forward and behind, and basically gives us a lot of time-talk and postmodern talk and something very much like pot-smokers' talk. The fact that theology eventually just sounds like stoners looking at the stars is probably part of the reason that many of Lewis's acquaintances warned him not to write Book IV. (But I'm glad he did.)

The most useful -- for Christians or otherwise-- parts of this book, however, are in the less metaphysical elements. Lewis takes us quickly through evolution (which he seems to have no problem with, by the way), pointing out that the kinds of creatures that once dominated this world were dinosaurs, and that anyone might have imagined that for a more dominant creature to exist, then they would have to have even more of what dinosaurs have: largeness, an armored body, large teeth, etc. But what we get instead is domination by humans. We dominate not through physicality but with our brains. It's not what you'd expect; it's some completely different thing. Lewis then explains that the next step of evolution has already happened (or has started to happen), but that it has nothing to do with larger brains (just as we did not evolve to have larger teeth). Instead it's the kind of spiritual evolution he's been writing about. (Luckily, I suppose, humans are the ones evolving instead of being replaced by something else, as was the case with dinosaurs.) Darwin himself says that the development of reason, morality, etc. was a result of natural selection, so it almost sounds like Lewis is on to something. Only the spiritual will survive.

Lewis also provides even better illustrations of how charity works and how it does amount to (at least at first) pretending. He compares it to the Beauty and the Beast story (a beautiful woman pretends a man is not a beast and eventually he isn't) and to the story of the ugly man who wears a handsome mask long enough so that his face eventually contorts itself into the mask and he actually becomes handsome. He compares it to our pretending to be grownups as children, which eventually leads us to actually being that way. As Kurt Vonnegut says in Mother Night: "You are who you pretend to be, so be careful who you pretend to be."

*

As you can tell, I've certainly got my problems with Mere Christianity. I think those problems are quickly summed up by saying that Lewis is describing his own particular brand of Christianity rather than a "mere" Christianity that doesn't exist, and that how he arrives at these ideas of his brand of Christianity are often illogical or worse. Even in Book IV, I have problems with the way Lewis suggests you approach God: saying your prayers, specifically the Lord's Prayer. Both the specificity of the image and the childishness of it bothers me (but the latter may be my own problem). Lewis did say that if you try to live a moral life without Christ, you'll either eventually quit trying to be moral or become grumpy all the time, so maybe that's why I'm grumpy all the time. (Though I'm also happy all the time.) But he also says this: "When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going… the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before." So maybe there's hope for me yet.

At any rate, I do like this book. If you are a Christian, I think you should read it so you can be a better one. The smaller stuff that seems like nonsense to you is probably the stuff that isn't as important. This is the stuff that denominational splits are made of. How many persons are God? Do you sprinkle or dunk for proper baptism? Is there a resurrection? Can communion wine be non-alcoholic? The important stuff -- as far as I can make out -- is elimination of pride and the putting on of charity, which leads to the Golden Rule, which everyone wants. And in these matters, Lewis's writing excels. If you're a Christian, my advice is to focus more attention on these important things, in your life and in your conversation. If you're not a Christian, my advice is to focus on these important things too. Lewis says you can't do it properly without Christ, but I'm interested to see if he can be proven wrong.

7 comments:

Anders Branderud said...

Hello!
I found you’re blog!
I am my self a previous Christian.
I would like to recommend the following website: www.netzarim.co.il ; click on the page “Christians” in the main page.
It discusses essential questions as what is the purpose of the Creator.

All the best,
Anders Branderud

Wilson said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Wilson

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ajscom said...

It would have been better if you had broken this up into several postings, because it is difficult to take in all at once and put into a coherent reply. So, let me start with Book 1.

You say in response to the question of "Why should we not be unselfish?": "Because doing something that's good for society is ultimately good for me." However, not everything that is good for society is "ultimately good for me" unless you believe in life after death. Sometimes the best thing for society is for oneself to die. For instance, it is better for society that I die pushing a stroller filled with children out of the road than to let a group of children die.

This is the example that Christ gave. He did not fight his own death, because he knew that it would be better for society that he died on the cross. The world would be incredibly lost God did not show us the way of self-giving love.

marriage workshops said...

Quite insightful and a nice read. It's true that we must pay attention to the bigger things in life and I think that is what Christ also wants us to do.

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Rusty Spell said...

Wow, four comments within nine hours of posting. How'd you guys find me so quickly?

Thanks for the link, Anders. It seems to agree with Lewis, but for the Torah rather than Christianity.

Andrew, I thought about separating into four posts, but everyone's either going to read it as one lump or they're not, so my separating it wouldn't change that. Feel free to use multiple comment boxes to reply to the different parts.

When I think of why I might die for someone (and I would), the reason is often something like not being able to imagine living without the person if I could have saved them by my death. My death might not bring any "good" to me, but my feelings would bring tons of "bad" and life wouldn't be worth living, so the selfish idea still works. The Christ example works the same way: he couldn't bring himself to live if it caused everyone else to die.

Of course, if you *do* believe in life after death, then that makes this even more selfish. You can die to save someone, but you're going to live on anyway, and you'll certainly be rewarded for your good deed (if that's what Heaven does). Jesus was certainly glorified as a result.

Remember: I'm not using "selfish" in a bad way. It's neither good nor evil.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I maybe even especially like the ones that are just checking in, letting me know that you're reading and enjoying.

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