Mere Christianity

Come on, toad, don’t be a wet sprocket.. If you lived in Rocky Mount, Virginia, you could walk to the Toad the Wet Sprocket concert on May 30!

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

…Decided to re-read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

I learned a lot.

I learned that Lewis has great insight, writes like a pedant, takes a lot of his material from Thomas Aquinas, and (IMHO) doesn’t have too much to offer us anymore, because the 20th century is over, and we need to bury most of its ideas.

The pivotal thesis of the first section of Mere Christianity is: A moral law binds us human beings in a way that we cannot escape.

This insight into human nature can embolden us in the New Evangelization. Here are some of the most electrifying paragraphs I have ever read, from the conclusion of Book I of Mere Christianity:

That is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again…God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again…Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger–according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.

…Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness…It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power–it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about.

This brilliant analysis leads to another splendid couple of sentences about the urgency of joining the Church:

When the author walks on to the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade…When you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else–something it never entered your head to conceive–comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left…For it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side.

Book III of Mere Christianity offers us Lewis’ précis of the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica. We miss a great deal of the original, of course. But let’s give Lewis credit for this beautiful demolition of the sexual revolution:

The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism–for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact–just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.

Would the young people of our age be happier if they meditated on this paragraph, at length, throughout junior-high and high school? I think so.

And also this, about the marriage vows themselves, and the idea that it’s all just a ‘formality:’

Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law [that couples bind themselves by public vows] is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.

And, finally, perhaps the wisest sentence I have ever read, aimed at helping married people learn to stick it out to the end, even when ‘the thrill’ is gone:

It is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills.

The book goes way downhill from here.

I had blithely tolerated all of Lewis’ World War II references. After all, such references came naturally to someone trying to explain the Christian faith during WWII. And I tried to fight off my annoyance at the endless waterfall of often-odd analogies that Lewis invokes. Somehow he winds up trying to illustrate the call of perfection from the Sermon on the Mount with the discredited ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ theory of embryonic development.

Then I re-read Lewis’ crescendo at the end of the book. He calls salvation the New Step in evolution. When I read that, I retched. Who wants to spend one minute of one’s precious life thinking about the Theory of Evolution? Not me.

May C.S. Lewis rest in the peace he undoubtedly earned. And may someone else write a 21st-century version of Mere Christianity. My advice to that person: do not get bogged down in shaky scientific theories, and focus much more on the seven sacraments.

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