Book Review: Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis

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.

About M. Rodriguez

When I first received Christ salvation, I made it a priority to read the whole bible and I did. But it was the Bible that made me question my faith. For I found it flawed and lacking. Due to this I launched a personal inquiry/investigation into my faith, and ultimately realized that the Christian God of the Bible was indeed man-made. Now I Blog about those findings and life after Christ.
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22 Responses to Book Review: Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis

  1. Nate says:

    Nice job on your review; very thorough. This is still one book I’ve never read, and I need to remedy that soon. But as much as I’ve heard people talk about it, I’ve never really known what to expect from it in layout and subject matter. Thanks for giving me a frame of reference.

  2. Neil Rickert says:

    “Ninety-Nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. “

    I’m pretty sure that’s false. For sure, it is false for me, but I expect that it is false for most people.

    Yes, there’s a lot that I first heard from an authority (parent, teacher for example). But I test things out. Anything that I only know because of authority, I would probably soon forget. It is the experience of using and testing that makes it easier to remember.

    In your case, it is because you test things out, that you began to have doubts about your religion.

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  4. Howie says:

    That’s funny Markus – I was very bothered as well by the same exact quote on page 12. I was also bothered by one of his examples of a difference in moralities that wasn’t really all that bad: “Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.” – yeah, very minor difference here right?!! I think he would have done much better simply stating that there are some core similarities between the moralities of different cultures and ended it there. To try and push it even further and suggest that there aren’t big differences was just too much for me.

  5. Arkenaten says:

    CS Lewis is spoken about in revered, whispered tones by many. Unklee appears to hold him in high esteem and so do many apologists.

    “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)”

    The above quote , with its archaic use of the word ‘queerest’ is unbelievably condescending of every other religion other than Christianity, and this tone comes across through every apologist I have ever read or listened to.
    You and Nate are INCREDIBLY tolerant of the apologists that comment on your sites. Meanwhile, they have no real interest other than to surreptitiously espouse their nonsense in a vain attempt to demonstrate that you deconversion is just a little bit silly and maybe entice you back to the loving bosom of Jesus. EeeK!
    Like Nate, I too have not read this particular book, and after your excellent review I shall give it a miss.

  6. ubi dubium says:

    I’ve been holding off on reading this particular book, and with a purpose. I’m waiting until somebody I know (maybe my fundie brother-in-law or catholic boss) asks me to read it. Then I can agree on the provision that they will, in exchange, read a book of my choosing. I figure that since this book is held in such high self-esteem by xians, that it’s the appropriate book to use for a challenge like that.

    • Nate says:

      I like that idea. Do you have a particular book in mind that you’d ask them to read?

      • ubi dubium says:

        Not Dawkins or any of the other Horsemen, because they’d have too many pre-conceptions about the authors. Probably I’d recommend either Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” or “Thomas Kida’s “Don’t Believe Everything you Think”.

      • Nate says:

        I’ll have to check those out — haven’t read them yet.

        Most of my family believes in biblical inerrancy, so I’d probably try to get them to read one of Ehrman’s books.

      • M. Rodriguez says:

        yeah I would recommend one of ehrmans book, or sam harris letter to a christian nation. (I loved that book), I will have my book review for that one up shortly as well

  7. Don Hartness says:

    (for the above thread, I wouldn’t recommend Harris – too much of a shock to the system. Ehrman I would agree with).

    I liked this book for one reason: the simplicity. If it were responsible for converting someone, it could only be because of the simplicity. I remember putting it down when he got into the religious aspect, as I have always had a problem with the practice of Christianity versus the religion of Christianity, as I have expressed here and elsewhere.

    Your dispute with the quote from p.35 is interesting. I have an answer for that, but I’ll include it in my upcoming series, rather than discuss it here, since it’s part of a broader argument I wish to make.

  8. unkleE says:

    Hi Marcus, thanks for sharing this response. It surely won’t surprise you that I feel quite differently about this book.

    I first read it more than 50 years ago, I guess, and I loved it then for its elegant simplicity and well argued conclusions. I still love CS Lewis though I don’t read him so much these days. And I don’t recommend him to others, nor think he is cutting edge any more, because the world has changed an amazing amount in that time, and he was writing to a culture that no longer exists.

    But I feel you have misunderstood one or two things.

    there was no proof or argument for God. It was simply an argument for the existence of morality.

    The first section is not just an argument for the existence of morality, but an argument from the existence of morality to the existence of God. This is the Moral Argument, which WL Craig, for example, uses quite successfully in his many debates. CS Lewis has simply put it in prose rather than logical propositions.

    Even the bible and modern history contradict Lewis’ statement, and shows that morality through the lenses of time and culture drastically changes.

    But he doesn’t deny this, in fact he talks of “the differences between people’s ideas of Decent Behaviour”. But he says these differences “have never amounted to anything like a total difference”. He then explains what he means – moral values that are completely the opposite to what we would hold – e.g. admiring cowardice or treachery. Further, he says, people have disagreed about who we should be unselfish towards, but all moral codes have agreed that selfishness is not admirable. I don’t think what you say disagrees substantially with what he says at all.

    “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.”

    You object to this, but Marcus, this is obviously true. Christians and Muslims both agree there is one creator God, so a christian must think that at that point, Islam contains truth. Most religions believe indiscriminate murder is wrong, so at that point a christian must think the other religions are correct. And so on.

    “Lewis’ book is not an entirely accurate representation of biblical christianity. “

    I don’t suppose anyone can claim to entirely accurately represent christianity, but I think you may be comparing him to the version of christianity you used to hold, which I don’t think is typical. I find the book about 95% ‘orthodox’, and in his Preface he says that he submitted the text to four clergymen representing the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations and it passed their scrutiny.

    I’m not at all trying to get you to like the book, much less read it again. But I think your view is a little jaundiced, and readers may be interested in an alternative view. Thanks.

    • Arkenaten says:

      Phew! You didn’t disappoint, Unklee. I was getting a tad concerned you weren’t going to make an appearance and tear Marcus’s review to pieces in your own inimitable fashion.

      ”I’m not at all trying to get you to like the book, much less read it again. But I think your view is a little jaundiced, and readers may be interested in an alternative view. Thanks.”

      On behalf of us all….Your welcome!

    • Arkenaten says:

      I don’t suppose anyone can claim to entirely accurately represent christianity, “”
      True. Not even Jesus.

    • Arkenaten says:

      Here you go,Unklee.
      As I am banned from commenting on your blog, here’s a link that might just throw a bucket of cold water on your post abuot how we are all becoming religious (sic)
      Like the man said:
      “…readers may be interested in an alternative view. Thanks.”

      Apologies for taking liberties, Marcus.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      yeah I know in previous conversations, this is one of books you have recommended to me.

      I think for me, one of the issues, is because I heard so much about the reputation of this book. I had very high expectations, and I found the book personally deeply lacking for intellectual stimulation. maybe I would have enjoyed it more if i didn’t have such high expectations of it.

      And also, he does make many good theological points all through out the book, but he fails to define the uniqueness of christianity (morality) vs. all the other religions. It seems he could of titled the book Mere Morality and that would have been a more accurate representation of the true nature of his book.

      “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.”

      now that I go back and think about this statement in his book, I may have been looking to deep into this statement. In the sense he may have been talking more about simplistic simalirties among religions, like don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t fornicate. vs . major traditional differences, but even then I may still disagree. because if someone may not consider killing murder, if they are doing it in gods name. Someone may not consider stealing land from the cannanites, Stealing, because God gave it to them. even lieing from my understanding is acceptable in muslim practices, when it used to save ones own life. So I may have taken the statement too radical, but I would still generally disagree with it.

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  10. papapound says:

    You are a good blogger—that’s why I read this blog.

    I wanted to give my perspective on some of your comments about the C. S. Lewis book. The book is about morality and he does an excellent job of giving dimension to almost every topic he covers there. (It has been a long time since I read it.)

    You begin your conclusion with:
    “Let me illustrate: Moral ideas do change with cultures, societies, laws, and traditions.”
    I agree with that, “moral ideas” do change or differ between cultures and societies.

    Then you give general illustrations which are good. I would add that men like C. S. Lewis and William Wilberforce are great examples of men who CHANGED or set the standards for morality in their day. Wilberforce is one of the great heroes of morality, but slavery he did NOT stamp out as I supposed, although his efforts were valiant and he is to be honored for what he did.

    Do you know that Lewis and his brother, single men, kept dozens of London family children in their Oxford home’s protection for months during the German bombings of England. They didn’t have to do that but they did.

    Back to the Deut. quotes. You are right—those “laws” are laws on the books of the society of that day and they may seem antiquated to us today. However, go to your local court house and ask for the earliest records of resolutions and rulings by local judges. As you read you will probably quickly discover laws which sound antiquated to you.

    My only thought here is that what seems antiquated today may have had great significance in its day given the cultural and moral context.

    Jesus summed and broadened this morality in one of his teachings: “he who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart.” Now that’s a standard that is pretty straightforward. I’ve come to understand that He is claiming all the women for Him. They belong to Him. He wants them honored and respected. We will do well to get His perspective on sexuality, fantasy, and lust.

    Now it actually is not these particular verses you referenced that moved me but related things I hear as I read your blog. Can I lay them out in quick succession? I may elaborate on some. I live near I-20—it is the hottest corridor for sex trafficking in the USA. We furnish the world through the Atlanta airport fresh supplies of prostitute slaves every day. NPR covers the cost of STDs to the US economy: $16MM per year, oops, make that $16 billion. Gang raping babies in the Middle East is rampant and common place. I would not claim it doesn’t happen in the good ole USA either. In the Middle East, they dig up recently buried women and girls and rape them. I say rape here because it is obviously NOT consensual. I just got back from the field next to my home where I laid down tree brush in an attempt to keep a slug from driving into the field to fuck his date. I know he does it because there is always evidence the next morning.

    No, I don’t want to elaborate on any of that. Each data point gives me pause. But they all bring me to the point where I feel that, the sexual area of life is much distorted in all societies. If there is a God in Heaven, He has a right to make a call on what the guidelines should be. It is obvious to me that there is no morays in any of earth’s societies which help define what those guidelines should be.

    I know these data are distasteful to some but in my view they add perspective to any conversation on sexual morality. And, sexual morality is the toughest area for all men that I know and many women.

  11. Pingback: Book Review: God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything By Christopher Hitchens | The BitterSweet End

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