In the fourth part of Mere Christianity, Lewis studies the process by which a human being spends a lifetime preparing for salvation. In Lewis’s view, there are two distinct kinds of life: first, the material, biological life of earthly beings (or bios); second, the spiritual, eternal life of Jesus Christ and his followers (or zoe). Lewis develops a complex theory of how humans transition from bios to zoe—in short, a scientific (or, depending on your point of view, pseudo-scientific) model of Christianity. Moreover, he argues that zoe is ultimately more fulfilling and satisfying than bios—essentially, rebutting Mark Twain’s famous observation that “singing hymns and waving palm branches” in Heaven would get boring after a while.
As Lewis sees it, earthly life, or bios, is selfish, materialistic, and ultimately self-defeating. By default, humans exist “for themselves”; in other words, they prioritize their own survival and happiness over the survival and happiness of other people. Partly as a result, humans living in a state of bios tend to accumulate material possessions: they’d rather pursue money, food, property, etc., than share these things with other people. Furthermore, the pursuit of worldly possessions forms the basis for what we typically call “personality.” When we describe someone’s “personality,” Lewis argues, we’re largely describing which material possessions they prefer (as well as some more abstract matters, such as one’s religion, personal ambitions, etc.). But the critical flaw in bios is that material pleasure is, by its very nature, transient. As humans go through life, the material things that give them pleasure invariably become less and less satisfying. Thus, the human being who lives an ordinary, strictly material life will gradually become less happy with his or her existence, and feel a deep yearning for longer-lasting sources of joy. In the end, Lewis argues, bios points the way toward zoe.
In Lewis’s view, the Christian religion is a set of instructions for moving from earthly life to a divine, selfless form of existence—zoe. By worshipping Christ through prayer and ritual, human beings move from bios to zoe in two senses: first, they begin to feel a selfless love for Christ, God, and the Holy Trinity; second, and even more radically, they gradually become divine; in other words, their entire spiritual and material nature changes, so that when they die, their souls rise to Heaven.
As Lewis freely acknowledges, the fact that he hasn’t yet experienced the afterlife weakens his theory of bios and zoe; he doesn’t know exactly what zoe is like. However, based on the glimpses of zoe that he’s experienced in the act of prayer, he argues that zoe is the most satisfying, fulfilling form of life that humans are capable of: zoe provides Christians with a deep, joyful connection to God and to their fellow Christians; a connection whose pleasures never fade. Lewis further claims that it is only possible to be one’s true “self” in Heaven, independent of material things or material desires. To clarify the point, he compares the heavenly state of zoe to the “life” of the different organs in the human body: each organ “unselfishly” works for the common good of the body, and yet the various organs are entirely different from one another. In much the same way, saved souls in Heaven are united in their common love for God, and yet are utterly different from one another. In all, Lewis uses his theological study of bios and zoe to reinforce the importance of prayer and worship, and to refute one of atheists’ most nagging criticisms of Christianity—“wouldn’t Heaven get boring after a while?”
Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” ThemeTracker
Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” Quotes in Mere Christianity
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.
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.
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.
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.