Mere Christianity

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperOne edition of Mere Christianity published in 2015.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed […] If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first part of his book, Lewis makes a counterintuitive argument: the fact that so many people argue and fight over the “right thing to do” actually proves that there must be a right thing to do; in other words, there must be some objective, universal standard for how human beings should treat one another. Any two beings—human or animal—can argue and fight with one another; what distinguishes humans from animals is that human beings can cite the existence of moral law and attempt to obey it (or shame others for not obeying it). Thus, Lewis argues, all human beings are innately aware of the moral law of the universe (i.e., God’s laws), and are trying to approximate this law in their own lives.

It’s useful to set Lewis’s argument (the “argument from morality,” one of the traditional proofs of the existence of God) in the context of the 1940s. At the time when Lewis was writing Mere Christianity, Europe was engaged in World War II—a brutal, bloody conflict that challenged the faith of millions of Christians. In response to the conflict, Lewis offers the argument from morality—implicitly encouraging his contemporaries to continue believing in the universality of moral law instead of rejecting it in the face of World War II. It’s also worth mentioning that Lewis was reacting to earlier philosophers such as Nietzsche, who had argued that morality was a human invention. Lewis strongly reiterates the universality of the moral code—and with it, the existence of a good, moral God. Many thinkers have criticized Lewis’s claims on the grounds that arguing, contrary to Lewis’s claim, does not presuppose the existence of an objective law. Nevertheless, the argument from morality continues to challenge and inspire many thinkers and theologians.

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Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

Or put it the other way round. If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In Book One of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis makes the controversial argument that moral law is a real thing—a universal, timeless set of guidelines for how human beings are meant to behave. But toward the end of Book One, Lewis goes even further and makes the argument that the existence of a universal moral law implies the existence of a powerful being who created the moral law. As Lewis argues, moral law is an abstract concept—therefore, it seems likely that its creator is a non-material being. Or, “put the other way round,” a non-material being, like God, can only reveal itself to humanity through nonmaterial messages, such as a moral law.

The passage is noteworthy for what it suggests about material science. If God tried to reveal his majesty to all of humanity through any material means (for example, a miracle like a burning bush), then science would come up with a scientific explanation for the miracle, diluting its power to make people believe in religion. Thus, the only appropriate way for God to reveal himself to all of humanity is to communicate through morality—God “speaks” to all human beings in the form of laws of Right and Wrong. Notice that the “God” we're talking about need not be a Christian God—for the time being, Lewis’s goal is just prove that there is an almighty, nonmaterial being, Christian or otherwise.

Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

As Lewis comes to end of the first part of his book, he’s reached some important conclusions about God. He’s shown that God is an all-powerful, deeply moral being: he creates a code of Right and Wrong that all human beings instinctively follow (or feel guilty about breaking). And yet Lewis ends Book One explaining that it is impossible to become a Christian simply in order to reap God’s rewards. It’s surprising that Lewis makes this point, since Christianity often seems to advertise Heaven and salvation as rewards for belief in God and Christ (as it says in the New Testament, whoever believes in Jesus Christ will live forever—a clear example of the “quid pro quo” of the Christian religion).

Lewis’s point is that it wouldn’t be entirely ethical (or even sincere) to believe in Christianity simply to get the eternal reward of Heaven. Implicitly, Lewis’s argument responds to the famous thought experiment, Pascal’s Wager—the argument that an atheist “might as well” believe in God, on the off-chance that Heaven turns out to be a real place. Lewis would disagree with Pascal on the grounds that no true Christian can worship God primarily for the sake of a reward. True Christians choose to worship God as a way of escaping their own sinful nature. In the third part of Mere Christianity, Lewis will explore the methods by which a good Christian can escape sin through ritual, prayer, and belief.

Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

In Book Two of Mere Christianity, Lewis studies the Christian view of God, and contrasts the Christian religion with Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam, among other religions. One of Lewis’s most important points is that Christianity believes that evil is a real thing, and that God wants us to fight it with the “weapons” of morality. Lewis acknowledges that not all religions see the world in Christianity’s terms. Hinduism, he claims, is a pantheistic religion, according to which everything in the universe is divine, and therefore beyond the petty categories of “good” and “evil.” The implication would seem to be that a Hindu person cannot conceive of fighting evil—since even evil, in the Hindu religion, has some redeeming good behind it.

There is much to praise in this passage, and also plenty to criticize. Notice that Lewis offers no proof that Christianity’s philosophy of good and evil is superior to that of Hinduism—Lewis simply states that Christianity differs from pantheism in the way it schematizes these concepts. Even though Mere Christianity is a defense of Christianity, Lewis has a lot of respect for non-Christian religions, and one can sense his respect here. However, Lewis’s description of other religions seems overly narrow and even uninformed (he calls Muslims “Mohammedans,” an obsolete term, based on the false view that Muslims worship Mohammed in the same sense that Christians worship Christ). Hinduism, one could certainly argue, is a “fighting religion,” too—it encourages its followers to do good in the world and help other people.

Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In Mere Christianity, Lewis seeks to defend the Christian religion from its atheist detractors. Here, he attacks atheism on the grounds that it offers an overly simple, facile view of the universe. Atheists, Lewis suggests, are eager to criticize Christianity for being contradictory, overly complicated, and illogical. In place of religion, atheism offers up a deceptively simple view of the world—there is no God, everything is a construct, nothing has meaning, etc. Lewis’s point is that such a worldview is more complicated—and contradictory—than it seems to be. In order to argue that the world is meaningless, he says, one would have to have some notion of what “meaning” is; thus, the atheist’s attacks against Christianity only have the effect of reinforcing Christian doctrine.

A further implication of this passage is that doubt strengthens faith. It is only possible to question Christianity, to feel a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with the faith, because God creates human beings to crave salvation and enlightenment. Implicitly, Lewis encourages doubters and nonbelievers to interrogate their own feelings further; Lewis is confident that if they do so, they will “come around” to the Christian point of view. (Lewis himself was an atheist for many years, until—by his own account—he saw reason and converted to Anglicanism.)

Book 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 41-42
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most famous passages from Mere Christianity; in it, Lewis offers a deceptively simple defense of the complexity of Christianity. During his time as a Christian, Lewis claims, he has often been challenged by Christian doctrine. There are many times when God and the Bible instruct him to do something that seems vaguely wrong or irrational. And yet, as Lewis explains here, it’s good that Christian doctrine challenges his moral instincts from time to time. If a religion simply confirmed one’s instincts, it wouldn’t be a very strong religion—in fact, it would likely be a human invention. The world is a complicated place, and therefore, doing the right thing is a complicated undertaking. Thus, it’s only fair that religion and morality should be complicated, too.

The implicit message of the passage is that, sooner or later, Christianity will impel a good Christian to do something that feels wrong. Grappling with one’s instincts—and yet having the faith in God to ignore these instincts and obey the Christian doctrine—is an important rite of passage for any mature believer. Lewis will continue to talk about the importance of doubt and uncertainty in Book Three of Mere Christianity.

Badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lewis argues that badness and goodness are not equal opposites, as they’re sometimes said to be. Lewis is trying to refute the so-called Dualistic view of the universe; the idea that an all-powerful God is fighting against an all-powerful Devil for control of life. Lewis’s rebuttal to the Dualistic worldview is that Bad is inherently different from and inferior to Good; unlike Goodness, Badness by definition cannot exist “for its own sake”—put another way, people either do bad things with the full awareness that they’re being bad (for example, a shoplifter who feels guilty later on) or because they’re trying to achieve good things (for example, a criminal who robs a bank because he’s deluded himself into thinking that he deserves the money, or who gets pleasure—a good thing—from the robbery or money). In Lewis’s view, badness can never exist on its own terms; badness is just a kind of “spoiled goodness.”

Lewis’s ideas might seem unusual or contradictory, because we’re so used to thinking about evil people as the people who are “bad for the sake of being bad.” Lewis insists that it’s impossible to be bad for the sake of badness, though; goodness must be corrupted or spoiled to produce evil. To illustrate his ideas metaphorically, Lewis points to the story of Lucifer—the “fallen angel” who becomes the Devil. In the same way that the Devil was once a good being before he became corrupted, all bad behavior began with the recognition of good or a good instinct of some kind.

Book 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Jesus Christ
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another one of the most famous passages in Mere Christianity; to understand it, one has to keep in mind that, during the time when Lewis was writing his book, it had become somewhat trendy to praise the ‘historical Jesus Christ” in theological and academic circles. According to such a point of view, it’s possible to respect and admire Jesus Christ as a moral teacher without necessarily believing in the resurrection, or any of the miracles he is said to have achieved. (Notable advocates of the “historical Christ” argument include Thomas Jefferson, who published a version of the Bible with all descriptions of Christ’s divinity omitted!)

Lewis’s response to the “historical Christ” movement is simple: he argues that we must either believe that Christ was divine and a great moral teacher, or that he was mortal and a lunatic or liar—it’s impossible to believe that he was a mortal and a great moral teacher. If Christ were “just a man,” then he must have been insane or lying—who else would claim to be divine, to forgive people for their sins, etc.? In all, the passage reinforces Lewis’s dissatisfaction with modern trends in theology, reminds us that one cannot be a true Christian without believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and argues that one must reckon with Jesus in some manner—and by his very nature he must either be condemned or believed.

Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

What [science textbooks] do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The pictures are there only to help you understand the formula. They are not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real thing but only something more or less like it. They are only meant to help, and if they do not help you can drop them. The thing itself cannot be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same boat here.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Lewis has been talking about the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the notion that Christ died for mankind’s sins. Lewis argues that it’s not strictly necessary for Christians to understand how, exactly, Christ’s sacrifice redeemed mankind’s sins—the important point is that human beings get a second chance; we can go to Heaven if we worship Christ. Lewis offers his own theory of how Jesus Christ died for mankind’s sins, but qualifies it by saying that he’s just guessing. Much as physics textbooks offer convenient approximations of the shape of the atom in order to educate budding scientists, religion offers convenient metaphors and stories to convey complex theological concepts.

In effect, Lewis is saying that it’s possible to be a good Christian without understanding every detail of the faith—grasping the essential points is enough. Moreover, the passage is important because it allows Lewis to qualify the arguments he will make throughout the book. Lewis suggests that his arguments aren’t always the exact truth; they’re designed to give his readers a general understanding of the way Christianity works. Put differently, the passage suggests that the “spirit” of Lewis’s arguments and illustrations are more consequential than the “letter” of these arguments and illustrations; even if Lewis’s points are flawed from time to time, his book is still worth reading.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

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 […] I am not saying anything about which of these three things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that. Anyone who professes to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all three, and that is enough for our present purpose.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Lewis claims that a Christian needs to believe in God, be baptized, and engage in some kind of concrete ritual, such as Communion or Mass, in order to truly be considered a Christian. His definition of a “true Christian” is both rigorous and loose: he insists that all Christians must be baptized (a rigorous interpretation of Christianity that many Christian sects would disagree with), and yet he also suggests that different religious sects can take different approaches to worshipping God, as long as they’re clear on the three main points he’s outlined in the passage.

In some ways, the passage is a good example of Lewis’s liberal, accommodating interpretation of Christianity. Unlike many Christian thinkers, Lewis believes that many different Christian sects worship Christ in meaningful ways (in other words, just because Lewis is an Anglican doesn’t mean he wants everyone else to be an Anglican). But at the same time, the passage is a good example of Lewis’s own specific interpretation of Christianity, which contradicts that of many other theologians. Many Christian thinkers have argued that faith in Jesus Christ (“faith alone”) is sufficient for salvation; Lewis seemingly disagrees with such a point of view, arguing that most Christians must engage in Christian practice, not just believe in Christian ideas.

Book 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

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 harmonizing 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.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Lewis offers a three-part definition of morality: to be “good,” people must 1) cooperate and get along with one another; 2) be good and moral as individuals; and 3) remember the goal of life and for humanity in general—to achieve salvation in Heaven.

One interesting implication of the passage, which Lewis will explore in the rest of Book Three, is that it’s possible to abide by only one or two of the three elements of morality. For example, Lewis suggests that modern politicians and political scientists have largely given up on the second and third aspects of morality and focused their efforts on helping people get along with one another—a necessary but insufficient part of morality. Similarly, Lewis will show that it’s possible to focus too exclusively on parts one and two of morality; in other words, it’s possible to be a good person and get along with other people, and yet lack faith in the possibility of divine salvation.

The passage is important because it provides the framework for the remainder of Book Three of Mere Christianity. Lewis will use his three-part division of morality to talk about many different kinds of sin and immoral behavior.

Book 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

Historically, there has been a lot of controversy over the proper way for Christians to run a society. At various times, Christian thinkers have argued for theocracies—in other words, societies in which holy leaders are responsible for deciding all matters of state—and at other times, theologians have argued that church and state should be separated very strictly. In this passage, Lewis offers an interesting compromise between these two points of view. He rejects the notion that a society’s religious leaders (bishops, priests, etc.) should be that society’s political leaders. However, Lewis does not advocate for the total separation of church and state. Instead, he argues that a society’s political leaders should be godly, pious people—but also well-trained in matters of state. Lewis makes an analogy—just as we should leave writing to the writers and teaching to the teachers, we should leave politics to the politicians, even if we would still expect them to be good, Christian people.

Book 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 91-92
Explanation and Analysis:

In this interesting chapter, Lewis addresses the practice of psychoanalysis, which was in vogue in England at the time when Lewis was writing Mere Christianity. First pioneered by the Viennese psychologist Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis presupposes that all human beings have an unconscious mind with its own independent thoughts, feelings, and desires. Moreover, Freud argued that human beings’ decisions reflect their conscious decision-making process, but also their unconscious, irrational decisions.

It’s understandable that Lewis would devote an entire chapter of his book to psychoanalysis (even though, in the 21st century, the scientific basis of psychoanalysis has been largely debunked), since Freud’s ideas could be interpreted to clash with the Christian doctrine of free will; if one’s decisions are subject to irrational, unconscious influences, then humans arguably can’t be held fully accountable for their own decisions. Lewis’s response is that a human being’s psychological makeup isn’t truly a part of that human being’s “self.” For Lewis, the existence of an unconscious mind doesn’t interfere with the concept of free will—unconscious mind or not, a human being still has the power to choose between good and evil. Therefore, the existence of an unconscious mind doesn’t preclude humans from being held morally accountable for their actions and being rewarded in Heaven or punished in Hell.

Book 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this controversial chapter, Lewis vigorously defends the Christian doctrine of chastity—in other words, refraining from sex before marriage (and, a little less controversially, engaging in nothing but monogamous intercourse afterwards). Chapter 5 is one of the most dated in Mere Christianity, not only because of the arguments Lewis presents, but because of the prim, evasive tone that Lewis adopts while making them; one has the uncomfortable sense that even writing about sex makes Lewis feel dirty.

Lewis offers the following analogy as “proof” that something is wrong with modernity’s conception of sexuality: imagine a hypothetical country in which people fetishized food. If there were a “strip-tease” in which someone slowly raised up a dish with a piece of bacon on it, it would be reasonable to say that there was something deeply wrong with that society. By the same logic, Lewis concludes, there must be something deeply wrong with Western society, in which the strip-teases involve actual human bodies instead of pieces of bacon. (Lewis seems not to consider the possibility that coyness, fetishization, and theatricality could all be aspects of the sexual instinct, not perverse corruptions of it.)

It’s important to keep in mind that Lewis does not argue that sexuality is evil; his point is that society celebrates sexuality to excess. From a contemporary perspective, it’s a little amusing to read Lewis’s critiques of 1940s British society—which was practically Victorian by comparison with 21st century America. Nevertheless, even if Lewis is too quick in his condemnations of the “celebration of sexuality,” perhaps he’s right to suggest that sex and sexuality should be enjoyed in reasonable moderation.

Book 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. […] It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lewis discusses the Christian practice of marriage, and argues that marriage is one of the most moral acts a human being can engage in. In this passage, Lewis defends marriage from one of its most persistent criticisms: that it’s impossible to stay “in love” with one’s partner for a lifetime. Lewis’s response to this criticism is to agree with it—of course it’s impossible to retain the same passion for one’s lover for decades. However, this doesn’t mean that marriage is flawed. Rather, Lewis argues, the beauty of marriage is that unites together young, passionate lovers, and slowly replaces their passion with a different kind of love—a love based on respect, friendship, and loyalty as much as lust or passion. Lewis compares the difference between love and being in love to the difference between swimming as an adult and learning to swim as a child. One could argue that swimming is more fun when you’re a child than it is when you’re an adult—but perhaps adults experience a sense of calmness and peacefulness while swimming that a child could never feel, and they can also swim farther and faster. By the same token, a couple that’s been married for fifty years might not feel the same passion that they felt when they were getting married—but that certainly doesn’t mean that their marriage is a failure, or that they don’t continue to love one another.

Book 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 7, Lewis confronts the concept of forgiveness—traditionally, one of the most important aspects of Christianity, but also one of the most challenging. Throughout history, some Christians have interpreted the doctrine of forgiveness to mean that one should never feel hatred of any kind for other people; others have interpreted it to mean that pacifism is the only moral option for a pious Christian. Lewis offers a slightly different theory of forgiveness: he says that good Christians should, in fact, hate sins, but refrain from hating the people who sin. In practice, it can be very difficult to distinguish one’s feelings for a sin from one’s feelings for a sinner. However, Lewis encourages Christians to think of sinners in the same way that they think of themselves. In other words, Christians should hope and pray that sinners will be “made human again.”

Lewis admits that it’s very difficult for even the best Christians to practice forgiveness as Christ wanted them to practice it. However, they can begin to practice forgiveness by contemplating their own sinful natures. Once Christians realizes that they are sinners, in spite of their piety, they’ll have an easier time forgiving sins in other people and praying for their salvation.

Book 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the Presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 8, Lewis tackles the sin of pride—arguably the most dangerous and seductive sin of all. Lewis defines pride as the self “raising itself up.” A prideful person believes herself to be superior to others, perhaps even God. The great danger of pride is that it can “infect” even the most pious Christians. Indeed, it could be argued that the better Christian you are, the more likely you are to feel pride with your own piety.

Lewis is harsh in his condemnation of pride, recognizing that pride is a horrible sin. There are too many so-called Christians who profess to worship God, but in fact worship an imagined God who seems to approve of them and elevate them above others. Christians who think that their faith makes them better than everyone else aren’t really Christians at all.

Book 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another famous passage from Mere Christianity; in it, Lewis offers up the controversial theory that by pretending to love other people, Christians can gradually teach themselves to love other people. With this idea, Lewis is arguably ahead of his time. The psychology of “positive thinking” and “positive reinforcement” hadn’t yet come into vogue when Lewis was writing Mere Christianity, but its premises are essentially the same as the argument Lewis makes in this chapter: if we imagine ourselves doing things, we’ll be able to do them in real life.

The passage also reiterates the importance of ritual and practice in the Christian faith. While some Christian thinkers have argued that “faith alone” will redeem mankind, Lewis offers a much different assessment of the religion; he claims that good Christians must engage in ritual, prayer, etc. One reason why Christian practice is so important is that it helps to make us better Christians—for instance, by affecting a love for God in prayer, we come to love God sincerely.

Book 3, Chapter 10 Quotes

Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter 10, Lewis offers a brief discussion of the traditional tropes of Heaven—clouds, harps, crowns, etc. As in Book Two (see quote above), Lewis argues that the Biblical imagery of Heaven isn’t meant to be taken literally. For example, the “crowns” that souls are said to wear in the afterlife aren’t really crowns at all; they represent the majesty and splendor with which virtuous souls are rewarded in Heaven.

The passage is notable because it reiterates one of Lewis’s key points: Christianity isn’t always meant to be taken literally, and therefore there is some inevitable ambiguity in human understanding of religious doctrine. But even if we don’t know exactly what Christianity denotes (for example, what, precisely, awaits us in Heaven), it’s possible for us to be good Christians. The passage is also notable because it reiterates Lewis’s attack on atheism—that it’s too simplistic. It’s all-too easy for a smug atheist to ask, “Who wants to spend eternity sitting on a cloud, playing a harp?” Lewis’s point here appears to be that atheists’ attacks on the Christian faith are often as simple-minded as they believe Christianity itself to be.

Book 3, Chapter 12 Quotes

What matters is the nature of the change in itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lewis makes one of his subtlest points. He is discussing the true meaning of the word “faith,” and argues that, sooner or later, any good Christian will reach a point of doubt or despair. A Christian will despair because they realize that no matter how loyally they obey God’s laws, they cannot help but behave sinfully—humans are by their very nature sinful creatures, meaning that, technically speaking, nobody “deserves” to go to Heaven. Many people who reach this point of despair abandon their faith, certain that nothing they do will lead them to salvation. Some Christians, however, will continue to have faith in God’s salvation—in a word, they will find the courage to believe that God will bring them to Heaven, in spite of their sinful natures.

In all, Lewis suggests that faith is an act of supreme humility—the recognition that one’s own abilities are always insufficient for achieving salvation. It could be argued that Lewis’s claim that a good Christian should “leave it to God,” means that good Christians don’t have to try to achieve salvation—they can simply put their feet up and wait for God to save them. However, Lewis isn’t saying that salvation doesn’t take any work. In the end, good Christians must leave it to God—but in the time leading up to this act of total submission, they must work hard to obey the Christian law.

The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,—which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions: but the second half goes on, 'For it is God who worketh in you'—which looks as if God did everything and we nothing.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

In this interesting passage, Lewis offers his own interpretation of a famously ambiguous Bible verse—“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you”—and in the process, he attempts to bridge the gap between the two main branches of Christianity, Catholicism (which traditionally emphasizes the importance of good works and moral actions) and Protestantism (which traditionally emphasizes the importance of faith and belief in Christ). As Lewis sees it, salvation is largely out of human hands—it is almighty God who decides whether or not humans will be saved. And yet, humans must endeavor to achieve their own salvation by working hard to obey the moral law. Although humans are ultimately judged by their faith in God, they’re unlikely to have any genuine faith in God unless they exercise this faith through good deeds.

As Lewis acknowledges in this chapter, both Catholicism and Protestantism have been caricatured for the way they present salvation. Catholicism, with its emphasis on good works, has been attacked as a corrupt religion in which rich people can essentially buy their way into Heaven. Similarly, it’s been suggested that, if Protestantism (with its emphasis on “faith alone”) were true, anyone could go to Heaven, provided that they claimed to believe in God just before dying. Lewis argues that neither criticism is strictly fair—faith and good works are important for salvation; in a sense, they’re two sides of the same coin, and one is impossible without the other. Bridging the divide between Protestantism and Catholicism is an important part of Lewis’s overall project in Mere Christianity, and in this passage, he arguably takes a big step toward doing so.

Book 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it, but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for Him.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In this short chapter, Lewis tries to address one of the most common and nagging criticisms of Christian doctrine—the apparent contradiction between free will and an all-knowing God. The notion that human beings can choose freely whether to embrace good or evil is one of the most basic Christian beliefs. But how, some theologians have wondered, can we say that humans’ choices are “free” if God knows everything? For example, how could it be said that Adam and Eve” “chose” to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, given that God knew what they were going to do? On some level, it might seem, their choice was forced or pre-determined.

To respond to these apparent contradictions, Lewis cites the philosophy of the late classical thinker Boethius, whose book The Consolation of Philosophy is often taken to be one of the first great works of Christian philosophy. Boethius posited that God exists outside time and space, meaning that he can perceive humanity’s past, present, and future at the same time. Thus, there is never a moment when God knows “in advance” what choices humans are going to make; that moment is always “now” from his perspective. In short, Lewis suggests, there’s no real contradiction between God’s omniscience and humans’ freedom—any apparent contradiction arises from humans’ inability to conceive of God as a being outside of time.

Many notable thinkers have attacked Boethius’s theory of omniscience, and Lewis doesn’t offer a robust defense against these attacks here. His tone is light and hypothetical—he never claims that his theory of free will is the truth; he just suggests that it might be a convenient way to think about free will for people who are having trouble understanding Christianity.

Book 4, Chapter 5 Quotes

And the present state of things is this. The two kinds of life are now not only different (they would always have been that) but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final part of Mere Christianity, Lewis offers an intriguing theory for how human beings move from Earth to Heaven. He posits that there are two distinct kinds of life—one which is material and self-centered (bios), and one which is spiritual, infinite, and heavenly (zoe). As Lewis sees it, good Christians spends their lives learning how to transition from the first form of life to the second. The problem with doing so is that bios is, by its very nature, difficult to change. By default, human beings live selfish, materialistic lives—they don’t think about other people or try to help those in need. The only way for humans to overcome their own fundamental selfishness is to lose themselves in love for Jesus Christ.

Lewis’s theory of the two kinds of life is necessarily weakened by the fact that it’s easier for him to speculate about bios than zoe—he has lots of experience with earthly, selfish life, and much less with spiritual life. So perhaps it’s inevitable that Lewis’s observations about bios are more insightful and specific than his observations about zoe. Whether or not one believes in Christianity, one can agree with Lewis’s diagnosis of human existence—by default, humans want to survive and protect themselves.

Book 4, Chapter 10 Quotes

Do not misunderstand me. Of course God regards a nasty nature as a bad and deplorable thing. And, of course, He regards a nice nature as a good thing—good like bread, or sunshine, or water. But these are the good things which He gives and we receive.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lewis confronts another one of the persistent criticisms of Christianity—if Christianity is the best religion (or the best way of life in general), why are so many Christians nasty or mean? Why doesn’t their faith make them more pleasant to be around?

In response, Lewis makes a few key points. He argues that Christianity doesn’t simply make people likeable; it purifies their souls—a process which might take a whole lifetime. Furthermore, Lewis takes issue with the question itself—he argues that a “nice nature,” while important, isn’t the be-all, end-all of human existence. It is possible to be “nice” and have a sinful soul at the same time; indeed, there are plenty of nice atheists who arrogantly assume that they are responsible for their own niceness (when, Lewis would say, their nice nature is actually a gift from God) and therefore veer off in the direction of sin. Thus, Lewis concludes that Christianity doesn’t necessarily make people nice; it actually goes much further by saving their souls from damnation—a process from which anyone, nice or nasty, can benefit.

Book 4, Chapter 11 Quotes

Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapters of his book, Lewis discusses two distinct forms of life: the earthly life into which all humans are born, and the spiritual life that humans can attain through worship of Jesus Christ. Here, Lewis defends spiritual life from the criticism that it’s de-individualizing. In other words, Lewis wants to make it clear that humans will be “themselves” in the afterlife; they won’t just be “sheep” or minions of God. According to his analogy, salvation is like light—it shines on everyone equally, and yet it brings out their fundamental differences, rather than making everyone the same.

Lewis acknowledges that his analogy is necessarily imprecise—he hasn’t yet been to Heaven, and therefore can’t say exactly what it’s like. However, he insists that, because God loves human beings, he will respect their uniqueness and personality (after all, he created them with such uniqueness). Elsewhere, Lewis makes another analogy: the people of Heaven will be like the different organs of a human body—each organ is unique, and yet all organs are united in support for the body.

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