Critical Analysis Book Review: C.S. Lewis' “Mere Christianity”

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While much popular opinion and historical commentary have hailed Clive Staples Lewis' or better known as C.S. Lewis' classic book, “Mere Christianity” as setting a basic assumption for the cause of explaining the Christian religion, I have tried to gain new insight by looking at the work afresh. This essay incorporated four points to consider. The first exposes what captivated my attention in the plot. The second point regards the main problem in “Mere Christianity” and gives an example of the climax and resolution as perceived from my worldview. Thirdly, five vocabulary words have been extracted from sentences in the book. In giving page number references to the words, the goal is to hopefully gain a better understanding of their function in the English language by observance of their context drawn from usage in the original sentence. Finally, the fourth point herein investigates a final commentary on how each of three parts in “Mere Christianity” may be of interest to other students.

What struck me most about the center of the whole plot is that Lewis seemingly does not arrive at a simple conclusion or resolution that should be firmer in its conviction. What do I mean by that? In the Book I section Lewis argues for and attempts to establish the validity of Christianity from a Natural Law perspective. For example, in the preface Lewis complains that he is not responsible to explain points about Christianity which have been omitted and not addressed from his book. The example of the climax of a natural higher law of morality as given by a supreme being to guide the morality of human behavior, Lewis writes: “As far as I know, these were my only motives, and I should be very glad if people would not draw fanciful inferences [italics, mine] from my silence on certain disputed matters” (ix). Note the word inferences as a vocabulary word. 

It seems to me that there is sort of an imbalance in the piece because the book starts on such a high note of what seems like a climax, that should have gradually built up to appear in Book II. In any case, Lewis continues in Book II to give a reason for believing in a single Creative person because of the existence of the universe. But simultaneously, he offers a doubt citing the reason due to human suffering in that the world “is a very dangerous and terrifying place” (Lewis 23). He only compares his logic with the human perception of the state of affairs, rather than to discuss an absolute order of justice from God's point of view and the Great Artist's right to justly judge – and to set the standards in the first place. Is it possible that Lewis wants to straddle the fence somehow between absolute belief in atheism, and the contrasting opinion in an absolute divine and living Supreme God? Honestly, it is hard to tell as Lewis uses very advanced and erudite language to express his ideas. 

Nevertheless, the second vocabulary word I chose to use is quislings. I had never heard of this word before, nor ever encountered its use in a sentence until now. Lewis uses it when discussing decent moral behavior in comparison to mathematics as a law for better or worse ideas. Lewis talks about witches being put to death in early England and states that:

 “If we did [believe in their existence] – if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings [italics, mine] did?” (14). 

Do you see the problem? In my mind, the team of inquisition persons who caused the executions of those accused of witchcraft back in the day really did believe in the existence of the activity and supernatural reality of events. This is not to agree that it was right but just food for thought. 

After moving beyond Book II discussing what Christians believe in a single person as God, and not different Gods, over the universe, I came across my third vocabulary word. In talking about the human will in making choices concerning right and wrong, in terms of moral codes, Lewis mentions irrational. For instance, Lewis argues if an unnatural feeling dictates your ethics, then: “Thus fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind: an irrational [italics, mine] fear of cats or spiders would be an example of the second kind” (89). What I understood his meaning to be is acting upon, or choosing a moral basis, by relying on an impulse or feeling. Sex is a common measurement of what is moral and immoral on the Christian scale of ethics.

This leads to the fourth vocabulary word of chastity, which is not very much referred to in the modern American world of today. While Lewis makes comparisons between proper Victorian ladies' behavior and attire and female islanders who may go about bare-breasted, is the context. Lewis announces: “Thus, while the rule of chastity [italics, mine] is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of proprietary changes” (94). I disagree with Lewis' line of reasoning. He is kind of confusing the principles of Christianity with cultural differences. In my opinion, matters of the heart and outward protocols of society are two different things. Lewis is known for his brilliant mind, but sometimes the glib assumptions of the learned can be challenged – especially when characterizing core maxims of Christianity altogether. 

The final vocabulary word I chose is titillations. Lewis emphasizes that “Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations” [italics, mine] (97). This seems obvious to me. But Lewis is making the point that sexual temptations and sins are more abundant than food appetites. In conclusion, how the three parts may be of interest to other students include: a) Controversy of Natural Law, b) Existence of a controlling single Personhood governing the universe, and c) Reason why God would arrive in the world disguised as Jesus Christ in the first place. Even though Lewis is very well respected in the realm of English literature and Christian philosophy, I think he could have done a better job explaining these three ideas.

Sometimes fancy language is not enough. Especially in these modern times, everybody is connected with others cultural and global. Perhaps simpler language can best describe Christianity.

Work Cited

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Harper Collins, 1952. Print.