Mere Christianity

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Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Morality, Religion, and Reason Theme Icon
Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Christianity and Practice Theme Icon
Faith, Works, and Salvation Theme Icon
Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Mere Christianity, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” Theme Icon

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?”

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Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life” Quotes in Mere Christianity

Below you will find the important quotes in Mere Christianity related to the theme of Christianity and the Two Kinds of “Life”.
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.


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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.