Mere Christianity


C. S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity: Book 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

So far, Lewis says, we’ve reached the idea that human beings derive their sense of a Moral Law from a powerful being of some kind. Lewis acknowledges that some people probably find this idea to be very irritating—they might even say that it’s logically flawed. Perhaps some people have been reading Lewis, thinking that he’ll have some new philosophical ideas to add to the same old “religious nonsense”—only to find that he’s been peddling the same old nonsense all along.
One of Lewis’s important arguments is that the fundamentals of life—like morality and faith—are rarely new and exciting, but require us to simply pay renewed attention to what we already know or have heard.
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Lewis has a few things to say to readers who are annoyed with him for spouting religious nonsense when he promised philosophy. So far, he points out, he hasn’t actually written about God—merely a “Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law.” The only things he’s suggested about this being are that “it” is 1) a tremendous artist, since the universe is beautiful, and 2) interested in doing the right thing—since otherwise, “it” wouldn’t have endowed human beings with a strong sense of right and wrong.
Lewis reiterates that one can believe in the existence of an all-powerful being without actually believing in a Christian God—in effect, he’s trying to convince as many non-believers as possible by drawing them in to his argument, step-by-step.
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Lewis also apologizes to readers who feel that they’ve been “bait-and-switched” into reading a work of religion. The reason that Lewis waited until the last chapter to bring up a divine being is that Christianity doesn’t make any sense until people accept the existence of a Moral Law. When people recognize that there is an unbreakable law, then they realize, sooner or later, that they are living in violation of the Moral Law, in some way or other, and that they had better change their behavior to avoid violating it any more. In other words, Christianity begins out of dismay, not a desire for comfort. One cannot become a true Christian by looking for a way to be happy.
Lewis denies that he was trying to trick his audiences into reading a book on Christian doctrine. Instead, he claims that one can only become a Christian if one first accepts that one is not a perfect moral being. Christianity, he argues, arises from the gap between moral law and humanity’s failed attempts to live morally. As we’ll see, humans turn to God and Christ in the hopes that they can somehow bridge this gap.
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