Mere Christianity

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A book written by C.S. Lewis and published in 1952 that comprises Lewis ideas about a basic Christian philosophy that everyone can agree upon. The ideas for the book came from a series of radio talks he gave during WWII. These talks were subsequently published in books Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behavior (1943), Beyond Personality (1944). Mere Christianity compiled those ideas into one book that Lewis edited the content to better reflect his later understanding of Christian doctrine.

Mere Christianity is divided into four book sections and then into chapters. The arguments are broken up into the same structure for easy reference.

Contents

Lewis's Motives for Writing the Book

  • Lewis wanted to stop divisive discussion about "high Theology or even ecclesiastical history" with non-Christians because "the discussions of those disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold" (Mere Christianity, Preface viii).
  • Lewis made an analogy of equating Christianity to a building: "['Mere' Christianity] is more lake a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. [...] The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms [...] is, I think, preferable" (Preface xv).

Definitions

  • Mere Christianity -- core values and teachings of Christianity that all denominations can agree upon
  • Law of (Human) Nature -- "decent behaviour", which people have a freedom to obey or disobey. This law is created by God. (editor's note: Lewis struggles to explain this concept)

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

Chapter 1 - The Law of Human Nature

Law of Human Nature encompasses human behavior and moral codes. Lewis identifies that people have freewill to obey or disobey this "law." Also, Lewis identifies a "standard of behavior that everyone expects one another to follow.

Chapter 2 - Some Objections

In Chapter 1, Lewis describes the Law of Human Nature. Sometimes, he refers to it as the Law of Nature, which can make the first chapter confusing. Some people believe Lewis is talking about scientific laws such as Physics and Biology. This chapter is his rebuttal.

"I conclude then, that though the differences between people's ideas of Decent Behaviour often make you suspect that there is no real natural Law of Behaviour at all, yet the things we are bound to think about these differences really prove just the opposite. But one word before I end. I have met people who exaggerate the differences, because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did-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 did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house."


We learn that if we believe something, the Natural Law of Behaviour supports us to take action on those beliefs. If we believe that witches exist, we have a right to give them the death penalty. We don't execute witches, anymore, because we don't believe they exist. By this philosophy, if we believe someone (or some group) was the anti-Christ, we would be justified in giving them the death penalty.

Another example if you think all Muslims are terrorists, you have a right to execute them by this moral philosophy. If you don't think all Muslims are terrorists, you don't have that right.

Witch hunts still happen in modern times in South Africa and India (see Wikipedia article "Witch-hunt"). Lewis's philosophy may justify these actions.

Lewis is advocating Christians to examine history from a perspective that if they believed the enemy is a horrible being, they have a right to put that enemy to death. Also, Lewis is advocating that we do not re-examine history from present moral philosophy.

On this point, Lewis's moral philosophy is flawed.

Chapter 3 - The Reality of the Law

Chapter 4 - What Lies Behind the Law

Chapter 5 - We have cause to be Uneasy

From the arguments presented, Lewis concludes there is a creator. Lewis emphasises, "[w]e have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity."

Book 2 - What Christians Believe

Chapter 1 - The Rival Conceptions Of God

Chapter 2 - The Invasion

Chapter 3 - The Shocking Alternative

Lewis presents the most famous argument of the book, the Liar, Lunatic or Lord "trilemma" located at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 4 - The Perfect Penitent

Chapter 5 - The Practical Conclusion

Book 3 - Christian Behavior

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

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