Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis

I have always had the intention of reading Religion/Philosophy as one of my categories as I go through my cycle, but it is really hard to find texts to read [outside of maybe some old philosophy texts considered "Classics" and pre-dating modern copyright law].  Last winter my wife read two or three C.S. Lewis books that we have owned for years and inherited from her grandparents, but had never cracked open or felt OK to get rid of as we have many times weeded out our bookshelves.  She encouraged me to read them, and eventually I managed to find The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity.

I've always had a lot of respect for C.S. Lewis, but I've only ever read The Screwtape Letters and attempted one in The Chronicles of Narnia.  I remember a pastor who loved to quote C.S. Lewis all of the time and that has always stuck with me.  To be honest, if anything, I have had him up on a bit of a pedestal and although he makes many great points, I often felt while reading this book that he missed the mark at times too.

Whenever I think of apologetics I think of my best friend from high school who is still a good friend of mine and a staunch atheist.  I think about how he would respond to arguments made and look for weaknesses that way.  I will say that I have not seen an argument laid out so methodically or meticulously as what C.S. Lewis did here.  At one point through Part 1 of the book he had laid out groundwork for morality and for a belief in a higher being, but then immediately said something along the lines of "Do not suppose that this is the Christian God or Christian morality or even a god, no this just proves this minor point, do not add onto what I have said or claimed."  Then he continued the development of his thesis.  However, the point that he overlooks is that even though his conversion was logical, faith is still faith.  At some point there is a transfer of beliefs from things I can see to things I cannot see and I put my trust in a something else.  I also know of many evolutionary arguments for morality, even if they have not convinced me to change my beliefs.  I do not think that his arguments would say many today if they were not first raised on Christian beliefs to begin with.

Later after he established Christianity, I was surprised to hear how often he openly admitted that he did not have an answer to a particular topic or point of view or that he was unqualified to answer it.  This is rare that a thinker or theologian will admit that they don't have all of the answers.  Furthermore, he also argued something that I have said for some time, that there is a place and role for everyone and it is not necessary for every Christian to be good at all of Christianity.  For example, not every Christian should argue politics or teach science because many are not well informed enough.  There are Christians whose expertise are these areas and they should be involved, but lets not assume that all of this should be done by the clergy or by the whole body of believers.

So often though, he missed the real point of why such-and-such is true.  One example that stands out is that he was talking about marriage and the Biblical versus worldly perspectives about it.  This is a debate that the Deacons of my church, of whom I am a member of, are having right now and I have expressed some very staunch views on the subject.  C.S. Lewis seemed to agree with me that there should be a distinction a church between a Christian marriage and a legal marriage and that different standards should be expected for each party.  For example, he was against forbidding divorce at a governmental level, even though he felt it was forbidden within the Church setting.  He then went on to argue why there were roles in the marriage [that is, a leader] and why the leader/head is the man.  However, never in any of this did he point to the Scripture.  As I reflect I think I was expecting him to say "because the Bible says so", but he was trying to lay out logical reasons for all of his arguments without the Bible.  I had a history professor in college who had done debates with that stipulation [that the Bible could not be used as a support piece for the argument], but that makes no sense from a Christian perspective, and not everything in the Bible can be thought through or reasoned to logically.

I enjoyed the book, and I disagree with my family member who said that I needed to read it slowly to give myself time to process it.  To me his arguments were so concise and easy to follow that is was not difficult to just listen through [though there were a few occasions where I paused to contemplate].  In fact, this book was a narrative version of a series of short essays (about 10 minutes each) that he did for the radio for a broadcast program, and so I think they were meant to be ingested like this.  I do have a lot of bookmarks in our copy at home, but I also have walked away think of C.S. Lewis not as the top scholar or theologian, but rather a great teacher who was good at what he did, but sometimes missed the mark.  Having said that, it is a sad state of affairs is three-quarters of a century later we are still waiting on a better teacher to come along.  We need people who can argue and defend as well as he did, even if he wasn't perfect at doing it.  We need modern apologists who are responding to the world now and even being proactive rather than reactive.

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