YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity” Week 3

This week we read Book II, Chapters 3, 4, and 5 and Book III, chapter 1.

Good morning YIMC Book Club Members! If week #1 and week #2 were sleepers, this week’s readings are anything but.  Lewis starts shooting the lights out and fires off a fussilade of thoughts that left me cheering for more.  Jack, “fire for effect!”

Like last week, I’m going to let readers produce most of the ideas here.  I am going to share a few of my favorite passages though.  There was so much good stuff to choose from that frankly, this is a difficult post to write! Here are a few of my impressions of this week’s readings.

Last week ended with Lewis using an analogy that Christians are living in enemy-occupied territory. Obviously not the kind of thought that resonates with modern-day residents of the United States.  The last time US citizens lived in enemy occupied territory was in the Civil War. But these words were spoken during the Blitz. Austria had been annexed, Poland invaded, France fell, and Germany was focused on taking Britain next. The listeners to this radio program understood this message loud and clear. It makes a lot of sense to me too.

This week starts with Chapter 3 The Shocking Alternative.  Right off the bat Lewis uses an analogy that any parent can sympathize with. A mother teaches her children that it is proper to keep their rooms neat and clean.  The children know this is what they should do and yet, they make a mess of things against Mom’s will.  This sounds a lot like my childhood, not to mention sympathizing with my role as a parent! Lewis writes,

She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

What,  you haven’t given your children absolute free will? Golly, me neither. Point well taken Mr. Lewis! I read this  and thought, yeah Jack, now you are right on target.  And he makes his argument for this being the case throughout all of God’s creation.  Mankind has been given the gift of freewill. What the Founding Fathers of the U.S. deemed unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But what if this freedom is used badly?

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.

Stick around here long enough and you’ll quickly realize that  I am not a risk-averse individual. So nice shot Jack.  See, EPG? I’m warming up to CSL now! Wait a second.  This is baloney and I don’t like it. I argue that a perfect and all-knowing God would never deign to stoop so low as to…give me freedom? Yeah, the argument falls flat because,

When you are arguing against Him (God) you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

Mental picture of Wile-E-Coyote popping into your head yet? Here, let me help.

Talk about the “fall”! This is the price of freedom.  You’ve heard the remark that “freedom isn’t free?” Whaaat?! You just thought it was some trite remark to honor the sacrifices of veterans like me and CS Lewis? Are you smelling the coffee yet? Jack shoots another round right into the black.  This is his genius coming to the fore.

Speaking of the fall,

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”-could set up on their own as if they had created themselves-be their own masters-invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

We also learn how, and I use Jack’s word, asinine it is to describe the conduct of Jesus in any other way other than as that of God.  No man would say he was God and would forgive all of your sins regardless of how heinous they are to the offended party. But that’s enough from me on this chapter, because other wise I could just post every single word of it and we would be here all day!

Chapter 4 is The Perfect Penitent where Jack leads us to understand that,  given what we have learned this far,

it seems to me obvious that He (Jesus) was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. And now, what was the purpose of it all?

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start…A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.

Rally on the Beacon of Light troops!  Because God has given us a do-over of epic proportions! How?

We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world…We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.

And another thing.  Remember how we are in enemy territory? What most haven’t realized is that they are also in the rebel army.  This is like the movie The Matrix when Neo takes the little red pill to be awakened to reality! We read, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Lewis goes on to give a spectacular lecture on the nuts and bolts of how Christian salvation works.  And it works because Christ is the perfect penitent for He is Perfect and as a human, he was humiliated and surrendered willingly to this sacrifice.  Leadership by example troops!

Chapter 5 The Practical Conclusion we see that Christ is the New Adam. Lewis is brilliant again in his exposition on how this comes about and how we as Christians have our own lives transformed.

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names-Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods. 

(Jesus) taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority.

Chapter 1 of Book III is The Three Parts of Morality and they are humdingers! Lewis sums them up as follows:

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

I’m not gonna share anymore on this because I want to hear from you now.  Has everyone else enjoyed this weeks section of readings as much as I have? I promised there would be no pop quizzes, but I wasn’t expecting this much fun this week.  Thanks, Jack! See you next week.

Next week we read Book III Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5.

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  • Anonymous

    I liked CSL's explanation in Chapter 3:"God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free."

  • "True Freedom" I agree, that is an excellant passage.

  • EPG

    The odd thing is, there are those who still refer to this as the "dodge" of free will. I wish I had saved that reference, but there are apparently those who object to free will (or maybe they deny that it actually exists). Very strange.Now then, here is the (perhaps) tougher question: How do we address when horrible things happen in Nature — for example, the recent earthquake in Haiti?I've heard an answer advanced, which I'll share later, but I'd (really) like to hear what some Catholics make of it. (Part of the reason I'm not writing the whole thing out now is I have to head to the airport soon. I'm on a plane this evening, which is great for reading and thinking, and I'll be ready to go once I land and check into my hotel).Happy reading!

  • Just wanted to buzz in on here – I'm not quitting, I've just been sick today and wasn't able to finish this weeks reading! I'm 7 months pregnant, so the sickness is always hit and miss!

  • Warren Jewell

    And, I am a day behind and feeling poorly. Probably tomorrow, about our book topic . . .EPG's question about 'why bad things happen to good people' as it boils down to, can be answered on one hand by Christ's very admonition that none is good but God in His heaven. In that we are all subject to having 'bad things' happen to us. When it comes to that, besides such as tsunami and earthquake victims, why nearly three thousand unaware citizens dying September 11, 2001?Further, it can be thought that our original sin has upset the balances of nature, and that unbalance leads to catastrophic events. Nature recoils against our sin, being sinless itself but potential and actual victim of human sin. Yet, as we call such things 'acts of God', we could leave it at that, also, as we are in no position (of wisdom and authority) to question God's actions, however we dislike them.Faith teaches me and you that all things, from the best to the worst, will pass away. This is true even for those who died a millennium ago and went on Home. They surely have a supernatural, otherworldly and not of this world, glorious best beyond dreams. And worst as it is of this world has no footing in heaven.

  • Warren & Micelle:Hope you feel better soon!

  • @ EPG:Monsignor Pope has some input of your question:What is the Wrath of God?

  • Turgonian

    'Free will' might be a dodge. Yes, when you have free will, there is the possibility of doing wrong. But there is also the possibility of creating a world in which the possibility of abusing freedom is not actualised. In other words, everyone freely chooses to do good. This is no contradiction of free will, because the will is most free when it chooses the good. There is no necessity of evil actually occurring.I don't know why God chose to create this world instead, but I'm happy in it.

  • EPG

    OK, so I did not get on last night (who would know that the hotel I was staying at was the _only_ place I have stayed in the last 7 years that did not have a 24/7 business center — and this at an airport Westin where they ought to be catering to business travellers — as Frank might say — "sheesh"For all of you who addressed my question (Warren et al, many thanks). Those are all good answers, to which I want to add another. Try this: The concept of free will applies beyond humanity — plate tectonics, cancer cells, etc., all do what they do within the limits of their (very limited ) will, which, to a degree, is also Fallen (as a result of the great Fall). (this is from R.F. Capon, an Episcopal priest — highly eccentric — who has written some highly eccentric but wonderful books). Come to think of it, that thought may not be terribly different from those expressed above. Many thanks, all.Frank — the other great bit from this week's assignment is Lewis's "Lunatic, Liar or Lord" argument — probably not original with Lewis, but he sets it out so well — and an argument that I have been unable to shake (although, as a miserable offender, there are often times when I try).Happy reading, everybody.

  • @EPG and All, I found this good little summation of the Lunatic, Liar or Lord piece. I agree that this is a great argument, and coupled with the martyrdom of the 11 of the disciples (I'm counting St. Paul among them as only John died of natural causes) the argument is good enough for me.Lord, Liar, or Lunitic?

  • Lewis writes about a world in which noone chooses to do evil–an unfallen world–in Out of the Silent Planet. Then in Perelandra, he writes of a world that is in the Garden of Eden stage. He does a great job of showing the temptation of the Eve of that world.AMDG

  • EPOG

    Frank — that is a nice recap — your observation about the deaths of those who shared in Jesus' mission on earth also addresses the argument that Jesus did not say any of these things — but that they were added on by the early Church. In which case Peter, Paul and the rest were either lunatics or liars, and Jesus of Nazareth was irrelevant. But nobody dies for a con-game, so I think we can rule out the theory that they were liars. And it seems unlikely that the new Faith would have spread as it did if it were promulgated by a group of lunatics.I don't know if you know this, but a salient point in Lewis's conversion was a conversation with an athiest friend, who made a remark about the apparent historiocity of the Gospel narratives of the Ressurection. They had been discussing the recurrent theme in myth of a god who dies and comes back to life, and the friend said something to the effect of, "You know, it appears actually to have happened once." Lewis narrates the encounter in his spiritual autobiography, "Surprised by Joy."For those who don't already have too many books on their bedside table, you might take a look at Dinesh D'Souza's recent (2009) book on life after death. After an wide ranging review of the evidence and arguments for and against the proposition that we survive in some manner after our physical death (without resorting to revelation, but addressing science and philosophy), he devotes the final chapter to the Christian response. The chapter includes a fine recap of the "Lord, Liar or Lunatic" argument, and much else besides.

  • Webster Bull

    Coming late to this chapter, sorry. I see that in addition to EPG, we now have an EPOG! It's getting hard to tell the players without a program. The two themes picked out so far this week are free will and the lunatic-liar-Lord argument. I would like to a couple of more themes to this string: Why Christianity is unique: Halway through "The Shocking Alternative," CSL offers his own version of salvation history. The steps are (1) God gave mankind conscience; then (2) pre-Christ he sent mankind "good dreams: those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies"; (3) he chose the Jews; and (4) "the real shcok: Among those Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. Personally, this helps me take care of the Joseph Campbell thesis that Christ was just another one of the Thousand Faces of the archetypal Hero, which frankly has festered in my brain since I read Campbell in high school. He and Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy" helped disseminate the "dictatorship of relativism," which our Pope has made a central theme. And I bought their arguments. So I thank Lewis for this cogent summary. Another point in the next comment box . . .

  • Webster Bull

    In "The Perfect Penitent" and again in "the Practical Conclusion" CSL writes that we may try to form mental pictures of how atonement works, or the sacraments, but what really matters is that they work. The pictures are just our mortal minds' inadequate efforts to understand the divine plan. How can CSL be so certain of the efficacy of the sacraments without a closely reasoned proof? "[Christ] taught his followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority." Which he says "only means believing because you have been told by someone you think trustworthy." Once we accept the fundamental trustworthiness of Christ as revealed in the Gospels and as interpreted by the Magisterium, we don't need to prove the mechanics of the Divine plan, we don't need forensic evidence. It is entirely reasonable to believe in the plan and in the Christian facts for the same reason we believe in the Norman Conquest or the Armada–two other historical facts we never saw but accept "on authority."

  • Mary P.

    I just want to say that recently one of my children questioned me about the basic concepts of "right" and "wrong." Although I am behind on my reading of Mere Christianity, I am trying to keep up. And although some have made the point that those who are already Christian didn't need those initial chapters, I respectfully disagree! They've come in handy when facing the questions of those who start at the "very beginning," as those with children already know Thanks to everyone for their very thoughtful comments!

  • EPG

    No, Webster, EPOG was me. Just with thumbs instead of fingers typing this morning.

  • Webster Bull


  • Hello friends. I am joining this conversation a bit late. My military obligations have kept me occupied a bit more than usual so time has been limited. I did want to share some thoughts on this week's reading though as it hit me pretty good. Frank touched on most of the major points but there were a couple I found to be real humdingers and so wanted to discuss.In book 2, ch. 3 we find Lewis telling us, "But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source."This line really rang true in me. So many times in our lives and in the world around us we find that people try to create either a) their own version of Catholicism/Christianity or b) try to tell the Church to change so that it agrees with their ideas. When people don't like something about their faith they try to find a way to justify their thoughts on the topic. I have seen countless Catholics try to tell the Church to change its teachings on everything from abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc… The only problem with this is that the Church is right so it can't change. You might ask how I can be so certain that the church is right. Well, Jesus clearly told the apostles in scripture, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.(Mt: 18:18)So that idea hit me good since we see it so prevalent in our modern society. And this goes to the heart of what Lewis tells us just a page later. "The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact."This, in my opinion, is the biggest hurdle man faces in his journey to God. Turning away from that inward desire for self promotion. Turning away from our own desires. Humility is a real tough lesson to learn. It can be physically painful. For most of us it takes a lifetime. The sooner we get started on that lesson though, the sooner we can get close to God. And that's what we want right?Well, there are a lot of other great morsels in these chapters but I have gone on long enough for one night. Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts. I am getting a lot out of this.

  • On top of everthing else I been doing, I've been reading the Compendium of Social Doctrine. Found this and will share it:In fact the narrative of the first sin (cf Gen 3:1-24)describes the permanent temptation and the disordered situation in which humanity comes to find itself after the fall of its progenitors. Disobedience to God means hiding from his loving countenance and seeking to control one's life and action in the world.