“Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis: A Review

I have been looking for a decent pro-Christianity book for a long time, and whenever I ask Christians to recommend a book to me, I get a plethora of suggestions. This of course is no surprise; everyone will respond and appreciate books in different ways. However, one book that kept popping up was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. So over the Christmas break I thought I’d give it a stab.

In all fairness, it is the best pro-Christianity book I have ever read. Lewis is very honest, recounting much of his own personal understanding and experience. He readily reminds us that he is not (and should not be considered) an expert, but instead a mere layman, trying to make sense of the world and his own spirituality, just like everyone else.

At many points throughout the book, he tells us to skip particular chapters or paragraphs if we find that they are not applicable to us. For example, there is a chapter entitled “Faith”. Lewis writes:

“If this chapter means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer questions you never asked, drop it at once. Do not bother about it at all. There are certain things in Christianity that can be understood from the outside, before you have become a Christian. But there are a great many things that cannot be understood until after you have gone a certain distance along the Christian road.” (p144)

This rather honest assessment of his own book is, I believe, very accurate. The book isn’t really aimed at unbelievers, or believers of other faiths. Instead, it is for those already with a vested interest in Christianity; those already Christians or actively looking to become “spiritual” or religious. If anyone has been to an Alpha Course, run by the Anglican Church around the country, it is kind of the same idea. The course may not be enough to convert someone, but it is certainly strong enough to push people “over the edge”, so to speak. Likewise, this book will presumably provide significant religious insight to those with a predisposition, to those halfway there already.

Lewis describes his own reasons for conversion (he used to be an atheist). The most striking argument that he puts forward is the moral argument. It is, for me at least, the only argument for the existence of God that carries some weight. I cannot recreate it here, as Lewis has a very brilliant and unique way of explaining the argument, so I can only recommend reading the passage. Don’t be fooled that the argument is as simple as “Where do you get your morals from?” or “If morals are not absolute, isn’t everything permitted?” Lewis demonstrates the complexity of the argument, but explains it in a way that is approachable and understandable.

However, for all that can be said positively about the book, there are some elements that I cannot help but highlight. For one, the jump from believing in a creator and nothing else (in other words, being a deist) and believing in a once-living Son of God, who was crucified and resurrected, who came to the world to save us from our sins, is quite something. Lewis’ convictions seem to stem from the idea that “it is a religion you could not have guessed” (p41) and that “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse” (p52). It becomes an argument of probability, and he thinks that the most likely explanation of Jesus’ actions and behaviour was that he is the Son of God. “However strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” (p53)

Also, Lewis’ chapter on marriage seems to be a decent chapter ruined by his views on the “head” of the family. He claims that a marriage requires a head, and that the head should be the man because “There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule”. He qualifies his attitude by saying over and over again that he is not married, but then goes ahead and asks “Is there any serious wish that [the head] should be the woman… even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door”. Whilst it remains slightly ambiguous what being “the head” entails, one has to ask if this is now an outdated idea, specific to Lewis and his time, or if this accurately represents a Christian attitude to relationships and marriage.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend the book if anyone is interested in learning more about Christianity for the average man. The book is perhaps best summed up by Anthony Burgess’ quote found on the back (my own italics):

“C.S. Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.

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