I was long overdue, but recently, I finally sat down and read the classic, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Once I opened the book, and read the first chapter, I questioned what took me so long to get to this masterpiece, centered on man’s reaction to moral concepts and what it truly means to be Christian. C.S. Lewis begins with a discussion on Natural Law:
Whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently (p. 8)?
Hmm…that’s something to chew on! Lewis’ logic and common sense abound in Mere Christianity. Written during the Second World War, this book was aimed at helping people make sense out of tragedy. Lewis attempts to assist his fellowman in mentally processing the atrocity of evil acts, so prevalent at the time. He asserts that we, as Christians, are called to love our neighbors, of whom some of them might actually be our enemies. Yet, in war-torn England, in the 1940’s, how could it be possible to “love our enemies”?
What Mere Christianity Teaches Us
Lewis sets the stage with the need to discuss morality, to better understand why we should love our enemies:
…if we are to think about morality, we must think of all three departments: relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him (p. 71).
To aid in Lewis’ discussion on morality, he reaches for the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. These virtues were the counter to the immoral behavior abounding at the time of the Second World War. Lewis tells us we need prudence to make common sense decisions. We need fortitude to apply the common-sense decisions in practice. Temperance prevents us from going too far, and Justice aids us in acting rightly, with truthfulness.
Lewis believed that the cardinal virtues could take us, as a society, to a certain point. He saves the big guns for last, devoting chapters to the virtues of forgiveness, hope, charity, and two chapters dedicated to the virtue of faith. Lewis claims that forgiveness would help us to see our enemy as a human being, with frailties, just like our own. Charity is a state of will. Christian hope is for everlasting life, in eternity, with God. And for Lewis, faith is putting all your trust in Christ.
What is Mere Christianity?
C.S. Lewis closes Mere Christianity by asking us to go beyond our own personality, and attempt to see the world as God does; to open ourselves up to Divine guidance. Lewis helps us to see our smallness and God’s greatness, all at the same time. He correlates for us that God’s greatness can be found in the actions of other human beings:
If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings (p. 190).
We are called to love our neighbor, and when we come to the aid of friend or foe, we are acting on behalf of Christ. That’s Mere Christianity!
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