Lewis has hinted that he is a Christian—but what does this mean? First, he says, let’s talk about what a Christian is not. Christians need not believe that all other religions are totally wrong. When Lewis was an atheist he believed that all religions were profoundly wrong about the world; now that he’s a Christian, however, he thinks that religions have many good points. To make an analogy: there is only one right answer to a math problem, but some wrong answers are closer to being right than others.
The implication of this passage is that religion can actually lead one to take a more fair-minded, nuanced view of the world. to look at life. Lewis’s own past as an atheist arguably gives his points more weight for the skeptical reader.
Human beings believe in many forms of “God.” One of the most basic questions we can ask about God is whether he is good or evil. Some believe that the division of good and evil is just a “human point of view,” meaning that true wisdom entails the recognition that God is beyond all good and evil—such a belief is called Pantheism. Hinduism, for instance, is a Pantheistic religion. On the other hand, there are many who claim that God is infinitely good, and always favors good over evil. Jews, Muslims (or Mohammedans, as Lewis calls them) and Christians subscribe to such a view.
Lewis divides religions into the pantheistic view and the moral view. His division has been criticized for being overly simplistic and old-fashioned—there are many scholars of Hinduism who would disagree with Lewis’s claim that Hinduism sees divinity as being beyond good and evil. (Lewis also calls Muslims Mohammedans, based on the mistaken idea that Muslims worship Mohammed in the same sense that Christians worship Christ.)
There is a further difference between the Pantheist and the Christian ideas of God. Pantheists often claim that the relationship between God and the universe is a lot like the relationship between a person and their body—so that, in a way, God is the universe. It is because Pantheists believe that God is the universe that they reject the division between good and evil—if God is the universe, then every part must be divine—even something that seems utterly horrid, like a disease or a war. By contrast, Christians say that God created the universe and is distinct from it. Because the universe itself is not God, Christians can say that certain things are good or evil. They believe that God has created a world where “many things have gone wrong,” and that God wants them to make the world right again.
Lewis’s analysis of Hinduism has been criticized for being too simplistic—Lewis wasn’t a scholar of Hindu religion by any means. However, it’s important to note that Lewis never says that Christianity is “right” and Hinduism is “wrong”—he gives Hinduism credit for offering its own unique interpretation of God and the universe.
The difference between Christians and Pantheists leads us to an important question—if God is good, and God made the universe, then how can anything in the universe be “wrong?” When Lewis was an atheist, he kept on returning to such a question. Surely, he thought, the existence of pain and suffering prove that there cannot be a good God—and surely, any attempts to explain otherwise are avoiding the obvious.
Lewis arrives at one of the most basic objections to Christianity—how could a just, moral God create a universe in which bad things happen to good people? For the rest of Book Two, he’ll try to provide an answer.
The contradiction in the young Lewis’s view was that he continued to believe that the universe was “unjust.” But where did Lewis get his ideas of justice, if not from a non-material, powerful being? Of course, Lewis could have given up on the concept of justice—he could have argued that justice was just an illusion. But in that case, he would have had to abandon his initial argument for God’s nonexistence, since it rested on the contradiction between a just God and an unjust world. In all, atheism is riddled with contradictions. Atheists claim that the world is “meaningless”—but such an idea is impossible to formulate unless some concept of “meaning” really does exist.
Before he offers his own theory for why a just God created an immoral universe, Lewis points out that an atheist’s answer to such a question—that God is a fiction—is riddled with contradictions. One cannot believe that God is a fiction and believe that the world is unjust, because, as long as one believes in the concept of “injustice” one must also accept that there is a God (see Book One). Critics have taken issue with Lewis’s argument in this section—perhaps it’s possible to say that the world is meaningless without also reconfirming some overarching form of “meaning.”