This is one the most highly regarded apologetic books in history. It is claimed to have turned atheist to Christians, and non-believers to believers. Considering the reputation of the book, it was a must read.
C.S. Lewis has a literary style consisting of analogies, common sense, and everyday language so that even the ordinary reader can get a full grasp of the moral compass of Christianity. Mere Christianity was adapted from a series of BBC radio talks while Lewis was at Oxford during World War II.
Pros: Overall Lewis makes many good theological points throughout the book. The general idea of the book to provide a cumulative case structure for morality as it relates to Christianity and God. The book is divided into four sections: 1) Right & Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe. 2) What Christians Believe. 3) Christian Behaviour. 4) Beyond Personality: Our First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.
In the first chapter he makes a case for defining morality as it is perceived in nature and history. That the Law of Human Nature is a Real Moral Right and Wrong. In that, “whenever you find a man who say he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same person going on this a moment later.“(pg. 6) This pretty much summarizes the first part of the book.
Sections two and three are pretty self-explanatory based on the title of the section. He does make another valid point when it comes to not just Christian behavior and belief. But mankinds code of ethics and behavior.
“Ninety-Nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.” (pg. 62)
And the final section of the book was the longest. Pretty much at this point in the book, he is no longer trying to prove his case for a higher being with Human Nature and Morality. He is more going over some relevant topics, such as marriage, doctrine, freewill, as moral goodness demonstrates and reflects that of Christianity. With his best advice really coming in his section on marriage:
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing…Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last, but feelings come and go.” (pg. 108-109)
Meaning it takes more than the words, ‘I love you‘ to keep a relationship sustaining.
Cons: In all honesty, I absolutely hated this book. I unequivocally abhorred reading Mere Christianity. When talking to my wife and referring to the book, I would call it; “That God -Awful Book.” I think one of the reasons why I hated the books so much also, is because I had such high expectations of it going in. It was probably the most highly recognized regarded apologetic that people recommended to me. It is said that this book has converted atheist to believers. So I did have high expectations, I was expected to be challenged in my unbelief, and for it to provide a convincing argument for the belief in God, yet it highly disappointed.
I should have know something was up, when I came across this quote in the first section.
“…Though there are differences between the moral ideas of one or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great-not nearly so great as most people imagine”(pg. 12)
I whole heartedly disagreed with this statement, I even put in my notes, as I reading this book, ‘that this statement is a terrible statement.’
Let me illustrate:
Moral ideas do change with cultures, societies, laws, and traditions. Just take for example the last 500 years of history in the changes of Woman’s Suffrage, Child Labor, Racism, and Slavery. 500 years ago, these were all perfectly acceptable and ethical practices. And in another 50 years we can probably add Gay Rights and Abortion to that list. It doesn’t take much to realize how flawed and senseless this statement truley is. We can even take the Bible as an example; -take the issue of Rape. If you were to ask the average person is Rape always wrong in every situation? And the average person would say YES, but not according to the bible. One would think that the bible would condemn rape out right, but surprisingly the bible does not. In one part of Deuteronomy the stipulation of punishment for the victim depends on where she got raped at and if she screamed loud enough.
23If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)
Yet,the part that is most disturbing is this:
28If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,29he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
It does not take a rocket scientist to tell that there is something seriously wrong with this scripture. Even the bible and modern history contradict Lewis’ statement, and shows that morality through the lenses of time and culture drastically changes.
Another thing that deeply perturbed me about the book was his definition of Human Nature or Law of Human Nature. It was almost like he playing semantics with the word. He defined it as a Real Moral Right or Wrong, which is completely backwards to the scientific and academic terminology. When you attach the word Nature to Human, we are not simply talking about an individuals moral beliefs, but the scientific patterns of man-kinds social, psychological, and biological patterns. In that we can reasonably infer man-kinds human nature in patterns with expectation. It was like he just made up his own definition to fit the structure of his book. (And there is nothing wrong with making up a new way to define something, but when you use a word that already has preconceived notion to it, then you diminishing the true definition and value of the word. The best example I can give for this is when people use Hitler to describe the character of another person. That is diminishing the true atrocities of what Hitler did, because there is no person in our modern times can truly compare to Hitler. No matter how much we may not like that individual.)
Now I know some may be thinking, maybe I would have enjoyed it more as a believer. I doubt that. In fact, I doubt I would have even finished the book. I probably would have put it down after this Liberal Christianity statement he made:
“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through…If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” (pg. 35)
Considering I was bible-believing Christian, this statement really bothered me. That this book is based on one mans preconceived notions of a God. That it was not based on scripture. And come to find out I was right. He does make many theological points, but he does not reference scripture too much in the book and Lewis’ book is not an entirely accurate representation of biblical christianity. And as Christian that would have tremendously bothered me.
Final Thought: As I was finishing the book, one person asked me why I didn’t like the book. I said it the most simplistic expression… ‘that C.S. Lewis is the King of Inductive Reasoning and Analogies. In that he has an analogy or metaphor for everything.‘ I get the impression that Mere Christianity was written for those who have never read the bible and those who have never read the bible would enjoy it the most.
For me in closing, the Greatest Disappointment about this book was that there was no proof or argument for God. It was simply an argument for the existence of morality.