Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity Book 2, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lewis has shown that atheism is “too simple” to be true. Another overly simplistic worldview is the worldview that claims, “God is good,” and ignores the existence of sin, hell, and the devil. In this chapter, Lewis will discuss the relationship between good and evil.
To believe in the existence of good, Lewis suggests, one must also accept the existence of evil.
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The problem with critics of Christianity, Lewis says, is that the religion they’re criticizing is “suitable for a child of six.” But whenever intelligent Christians try to explain their positions, critics of Christianity complain that this version of religion is “too complicated”—since, surely, a Christian God would make his religion simple. This idea is, of course, not true—the world is a complicated place, and so religion must be complicated, too. Indeed, one of the reasons that Lewis likes Christianity is that “you could not have guessed” it. In other words, Christianity is a somewhat unpredictable religion—sometimes, it instructs people to do strange things and go against their instincts. If Christianity were perfectly simple and straightforward, then Lewis would probably think “we were making it up.”
Lewis praises Christianity for its genuine moral complexity and strangeness—mirroring, he believes, the complexity and strangeness of reality itself. This is one of his subtler and less logical arguments, but essentially he’s saying that he partly believes in Christianity because it feels right and true to him on an aesthetic level.
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There are two distinct ways to think about the evil we see in the world. The first is the Christian view: “this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been.” The second way is the Dualistic view that the universe is a “battlefield” in which Good and Evil are constantly fighting one another. While Lewis has a lot of respect for the Dualistic view, it has some notable problems.
Dualism posits that Good and Evil are on an equal level, and constantly striving with each other. One of the earliest religious incarnations of this idea was Zoroastrianism, a religion of ancient Iran.
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According to Dualism, there are two gods: one good, one bad. The two gods are independent of one another—presumably, one is hateful and cruel, while the other is kind and merciful. A question arises—how can humans judge which god is the “good” god, and which one is the “evil” god? What standard can they appeal to in their judgment? There seems to be no way to answer the question without introducing a third thing—a law of some kind, which one god obeys and the other does not. Then, the question becomes, who made the law? In this way, Dualism points to the idea that there must be some being who doesn’t just wield power over the material universe but who also makes and controls the laws of right and wrong.
This passage is very similar to the argument that Lewis made in Book One about human instinct. If there are two opposing gods (or, in Book One, two opposing instincts) then there must be some third term, explaining which one of the two is right and which one is wrong.
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Looking at Dualism from another perspective: if there is a good god and a bad god, then the bad god is presumably a being who loves badness for the sake of badness. But even on Earth, there is no such thing as a person who truly loves badness for its own sake. There are people whose badness consists of enjoying good things to excess (food, money, love, etc.), or getting good, happy feelings from bad deeds. Thus, a bad deed implies the existence of goodness—or, as Lewis puts it, badness is just “spoiled goodness.” Even the “bad god” in the Dualistic worldview must have some understanding of goodness and must, in a sense, be “part of the Good Power’s world,” taking good ideas and deeds and perverting them into evil.
Lewis makes the interesting argument that it’s impossible to be bad for its own sake—or to make badness one’s good. When people behave badly, one of two things happens: 1) they feel guilty, because, deep down, they continue to believe in morality; 2) they get a thrill from breaking the rules—because, once again, they’re still aware of morality. Put another way, one can be ignorant of evil, but one cannot be ignorant of good. Thus, badness isn’t a “worthy opponent” for good; it’s just “spoiled goodness.”
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In all, the Dualistic worldview winds up looking a lot like Christianity: there are two powerful beings, but they’re not on an equal footing. Instead, the evil being is a “parasite,” perverting the powers of goodness. It’s no coincidence that in Christianity, the devil is described as a “fallen angel”—in Christianity, evil itself is a kind of “fallen good”; i.e., good that has been corrupted into something else.
The passage explains that in Christianity, Satan (or evil) is just a fallen angel; a corrupted version of God’s goodness. The passage is also a good example of how Lewis analyzes Christian doctrine and shows that it’s less arbitrary and more morally sophisticated than many people give it credit for.
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Dualism and Christianity aren’t as far apart as some people say—for, in a sense, God and the Devil are fighting one another. The difference between Christianity and Dualism, however, is that in Christianity, the Devil isn’t God’s equal; he’s a petty, inferior being.
Lewis sums up his findings in this chapter: evil presupposes the existence of good, but good doesn’t presuppose the existence of evil. Thus, evil is an inferior form of corrupted good.
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