Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity Book 2, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jesus Christ, Lewis begins, was a new kind of man, who introduced a new way of life to the world. The new, Christian way of life is spread and perpetuated in three different ways: baptism, belief, and ritual, “that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names—Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.” Different kinds of Christians believe that these three acts have differing levels of importance; for example, a Methodist might say that belief is more important than baptism or Communion.
In this chapter, Lewis begins to describe some of the specific aspects of Christian doctrine and their connection to belief. Lewis’s definition of the Christian way of life is both specific and open-ended: he acknowledges that there are many different sects of Christianity, each with its own unique interpretation of how to worship Christ, but he also identifies these three practices as fundamental aspects of Christian life (thus taking a more Catholic or Anglican view than a Protestant one).
Themes
Morality, Religion, and Reason Theme Icon
Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Christianity and Practice Theme Icon
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Lewis admits that he doesn’t know exactly why the three forms of Christian life he mentions above should be the “conductors of the new kind of life”—but he takes it on Christ’s authority that they are. The notion of taking an idea on someone else’s authority might seem frightening; but in fact, the majority of the things we “know” are things we believe on authority. Lewis has never been to New York, and couldn’t use science to prove that it does exist; but he takes it on his friends’ authority that it’s a real place.
As Lewis acknowledges, it might seem strange for him to accept an idea without being able to understand it (particularly after he’s spent so many pages analyzing the argument from morality, step by step). However, he cleverly points out here that human beings already take most things “on faith”—otherwise there would be very little we could ever trust.
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Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Christians must try to be virtuous by submitting to the three forms of Christianity—belief, baptism, and ritual. Christians are different from atheists who try to be good, because atheists believe that they, and they alone, are doing good, while Christians believe that their goodness is only possible because of the “Christ-life inside” them. What does it mean for “Christ-life” to be inside us? To be clear, it doesn’t just mean that people respect Christ or think about him often; rather Christ is “actually operating through them,” and Christians are like a “physical organism through which Christ acts.” It is because Christians are a physical organism that they must engage in literal, physical acts like baptism and Communion. Put another way, humans cannot be spiritual simply by using their minds; they must also engage in physical actions to achieve spirituality. That’s why God uses material things like bread and wine to give Christians the “new life.”
The passage can be frustrating because Lewis introduces the concept of “Christ-life,” but then admits that he doesn't know how it works or what, precisely, it is. Lewis only concludes that Christianity is a religion of the body, not just the mind—to believe in Christ is to feel his physical presence. Lewis was an Anglican and also flirted with Catholicism—and according to Catholic doctrine (and some Anglican interpretations) all human beings must physically “accept” Christ by taking communion—ingesting wine and wafer, which literally become Christ’s body and blood. This very physical ritual, then, surely informs Lewis’s notion of “Christ-life.”
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Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
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Lewis used to worry about the people who didn’t worship Christ. But now he realizes that God doesn’t say what will happen to these people—God never said that the only way to be “saved” was to worship Christ. Lewis urges those who worry about non-Christians’ salvation to go out and try to convert as many people as possible.
This chapter is filled with disclaimers. Here, for example, Lewis points out that God never once said that non-believers would be damned—perhaps it’s possible to achieve salvation even without believing in Christ (a rather liberal view for many Christian sects). In any event, Lewis believes that the most certain way to go to Heaven is to believe in Christ.
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Another potential objection to Christianity: if God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he smite Satan and destroy sin? Christians do think that one day, God will destroy evil altogether; however, in the meantime, God is giving humans a chance to join his cause freely—and humans who do so will achieve salvation. At some point in the future, it will be too late for humans to choose sides—thus, humans must choose the “right side” as soon as possible.
Lewis ends Book Two by reiterating the importance of free will. God could make it easier for human beings to be good and moral—but instead, he gives them the freedom to choose between good and evil. It is imperative that humans choose good before they are punished for their immorality.
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Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon