YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 4

This week we read Book III, Chapters 2 through 5.

I really enjoyed this week’s readings. And let me be the first to say that I have come full circle on my opinion of C. S. Lewis.  I like you, Jack, and I don’t even care if you smoke. See him over there scribbling away? Writing some great stuff, I bet. Like what he was writing this week.

For a change, we stayed in the same book for a whole week so it was easy to stay on track. And Jack kept us focused with the following chapters: 2. The “Cardinal Virtues,” 3. Social Morality, 4. Morality and Psychoanalysis, 5. Sexual Morality.

Jack covers a lot of ground and before we go any further I just want to reiterate that I was wrong about Mr. Lewis. The book started off like a bottle of formula, and I was wailing like a little baby. But now? Jack is slinging some serious hash, folks. You probably won’t see ideas like those in these chapters anywhere else, except in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

From the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude through his assessment of Christian thought regarding sexual morality, it all jibes with the Church’s teachings. Oh, not with contemporary society, not by a long shot. But isn’t that the point? Lewis writes about all of the main ideas that all Christians agreed on up until WWII, when he put this together.

Isn’t it ironic that many of the ideas set-in-stone in these chapters are coming unglued everywhere in many mainline Protestant churches today? I found myself cheering Jack on as he writes,

The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists—not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time. 

From his thoughts on achieving a truly Christian Society and his jab at our debt-laced economic models (which came close to imploding, again, back in 2008) to his manhandling of Freudian psychoanalysis and his old-fashioned, very Catholic take on sexual morality, it was green lights all the way, for me at least.

But what about you folks? What are your thoughts and take-aways from this week’s readings? I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from this week’s section and then turn it over to you.

All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take.

Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls “busybodies.”

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.

. . . when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur.

Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.

. . . you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.

From 1920 until 2010, is more like 90 years now, Jack.  Take it away, club members.  You have the floor.

Next week we read Book III, Chapters 6, 7, and 8

  • Webster Bull

    Talking good plain sense without being a "busybody." Definitely a winning strategy for talking about morality, especially sexual morality! I agree, Frank, Jack has hit his stride here. I think it's useful to go back to the last chapter in last week's reading, which is the first in Book III. Here Lewis shows his practical approach to morality, calling it "directions for running the human machine." Then he brings in a wonderful naval analogy, which I'm sure Frank enjoyed, imagining a fleet of ships. Three things are necessary for the fleet to reach its destination: Each ship has to function well (our inner lives as moral human beings); the ships have to avoid collision (interpersonal morality); and the fleet has to be agreed on its destination (the ultimate meaning and goal of human existence). It all reminded me of one of the few posts I have written about morality (since unfortunately morality has been politicized since Jack's day, and Frank and I have sworn off politics). In that post, I wrote about my reaction when my father talked with me about homosexuality. What?! I thought. What fits what? It was the human-machine argument: how could this be right (or moral) if the machine isn't designed for it?END OF PART I

  • Webster Bull

    Further on in this week's reading: I have to admit I was (a) unclear about the Cardinal Virtues (what they were) and (b) stunned at how basic, how simple, how beautifully old-fashioned they are: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude! Again, I think of my wonderful father, who was just such an old-fashioned guy, a straight arrow if ever there was one. He believed in being prudent, temperate, fair, and strong. And while he was anything but a busybody, I'd say he has been my moral model all my life, not that any of us ever remembers to follow our model!Which leads me to my favorite quote in the next chapter, Social Morality: "People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed." Next comes Jack's body blow to Father Freud. I have suspected for a long time that what went wrong in the 20th century had less to do with Marx or Darwin (though they get most of the ink) and mostly to do with Freud. Back to my dad: He NEVER believed in psychoanalysis. But meanwhile, growing up, I was surrounded by a liberal world of thought that swallowed Freud hook, line, and sinker. When I got to college and actually read Freud's "philosophy," my skepticism was alerted but I think I tamped it down because everyone else still seemed to think Freud had everything right. What I like about CSL's writing here is he takes on the concept of repression and explains how we have misunderstood it. But now it's 70 years later, and the world still misunderstands it. No, that's wrong; we don't think about it anymore. But the fundamental misunderstanding it engendered–that anything hindering our sexual impulses is effectively sick–effectively rules our Western culture. It's tragic.

  • EPG

    For me, one of the best lines is where he describes how the practice cardinal virtues is what will make us into the kind of people who are fit for eternity. In other words, he imagines us as immortal beings with all of the sinfulness and baggage we carry — that, literally, will be hell. Hence the need for virtue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @EPG: Yes, this is a daily walk. Because you never know, you may not be here tomorrow in a body. But your soul?

  • Warren Jewell

    I apologize for being MIA last week. It has been a lousy winter for my body. Last week, I seemed to pendulum between lethargic need for rest, and yet feeling poorly rested after either my night sleep or naps. I see some appreciation for C. S. Lewis in his writings, and why I wanted to get the thoughts of CSL into our minds, hearts, discussions, etc. – he was a non-Catholic saint of deep spirit. One can see, too, that maybe religious denomination just didn’t seem as critical to Lewis as it turned out for G.K.C. or was for Tolkien. That deep spirit rather uniquely plumbed depths beneath all religious adoration and appreciation for Jesus Christ, as he seem to be saying more and more. However, for me, this week, we get into an area that has long, long confused me. The virtues for me start off with “And, just what are the virtues?” and go on into “How will I know I am acquiring or have acquired a virtue?” Moreover, I have to think from my experiences that virtues are an area in which Protestants excel over Catholics for their readier and steadier study of the Bible. Their ‘sola scriptura’ fixation at least helps in this area. Then again, to know more about virtues does not mean one is necessarily more virtuous. Catholicism adheres to the virtues given categorical place in the Bible. Protestants realize more virtues at work than those given in handy lists. However, too, even in handy lists, too little guidance is given as to how to dispose oneself to be graced by God with this virtue or that. For instance, is one virtue or another or some set predisposition to yet another virtue or virtues? Can any give me the steps I should take to move, say, deeper into love than to be more self-giving? And, hence, is not being self-giving a virtue in and of itself? C.o.n.f.u.s.i.o.n.I once discussed wisdom with a Protestant Bible student. He had been taught to consider wisdom – by his definition, to view life and creation evermore fully from God’s perspective – as a/the net virtue from out of the virtues of knowledge, understanding and discernment. Well, okay, I could see that. ‘And, what leads to knowledge and/or understanding and/or discernment, then?’ His simple answer was to read my Bible (!?) This may not be your answer or even mine, but it was not satisfactorily his, either, as it was less just reading than Bible study with authoritative others (you know, like Catholics have from pastors, bishops, the Pope?) that gave him answer about wisdom. Did I mention that I am confused? An old Jesuit sort of reflected that the path to God yields first humility and then on to other virtues; while all are cloaked in love in graces from God. He took as lead into his reflection from Christ’s life: beginning in the humility of the stable and on into the heights of inimitable love in His Cross. It led me to wonder if humility is the virtue that could also be called ‘the virtue of predisposition’ for the next virtue(s), which for each of us are those gifts from God He knows the person requires for salvation. Are all virtues from out of humility? Do all subsequent virtues as they are given and accepted lead inexorably to love and salvation? Yet, all this is construction, not conclusion. And, Lewis does give definition to virtues, even as he, too, gives little but vague sense of means to them.More below . . .

  • Warren Jewell

    . . . On balance, this issue does give me opportunity to note that I lived with a plainly virtuous lady in my late wife, Sharon. Her virtuous level was indicative of not only her spiritual dimension, but her great prodigy of maturity about earthly life. Not ‘simply humble’, Sharon was so gentle, kind, attentive, understanding, loyal and dedicated; on top of being pious, devoted and prayerful in practical ways. She was possessed of a well-nurtured and brilliant intellect, and a will of iron in its choice to obey the will of God. Even so, with lifelong chronic diabetes that could make her ill by the day, her spirit was cheerful and calm in the face of all suffering and treatments. But, how did she get there – all those ‘theres’ of her virtuous person and life? That my body is driving me to distraction even as the subject matter is confusing is making me feel beaten. I retire to prayer. Maybe, more later.

  • Webster Bull

    Warren, Thanks for chiming in here despite troubled health. We are praying for you. I think Lewis writes cogently about "building" virtue (can one use that term?). Here, in the chapter "Morality and Psychoanalysis":"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is ina state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself."So while you are left to contemplate Sharon as a paragon of virtue (and I my father), there is hope for even us sinners if, at each moment, we pass a small rosary bead between our fingers — and pray the Jesus Prayer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered, "To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God."

  • Warren Jewell

    Thanks, folks. Webster, I don't think I'd be sitting here without your prayers. Uh, Frank, then I have barely begun to work on humility! (Can you hear the whining all the way to the Carolinas?) Though, I am permitting physical suffering – and, it is pure torture to have my intellect so fogged in fatigue – to yield a prayerful humility. It is about all I have energy for.Each bead – an Ave, a Jesus Prayer, a 'for the sake of His sorrowful passion' – a small step after the last step. It is awareness as well that I need not survive here to go to survive forever, by God's graces and mercy – LOTSA mercy.And, it is in part a matter of His Presence. Though every time I get to thinking that I am not letting go of Him, I find that He is not letting go of me. Cute, huh? Jesus, Master out of Nazareth – what a Guy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    I have a lot to learn about humility. And CSL will be discussing my personal boogy-man soon enough…Pride.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Where is everyone? Catch up on your reading and get back here with your comments. Por favor, bitte, s'il vous plaît, min fadlik, or one of these…Please in 270 Languages;^)