Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity Book 3, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When discussing the morality of Christ, it’s important to keep in mind that Christ didn’t teach humanity any brand new morality. Indeed, he taught his followers the familiar “Golden Rule” (“Do as you would be done by”). Generally, great moral teachers never introduce complicated new ideas; only quacks do. The business of a moral teacher is to remind people of what they know, deep down, to be true.
Lewis again makes the point that all humans fundamentally understand the basic tenets of the moral law. The revolutionary thing about Christ wasn’t that he introduced a new morality, but just a new way of achieving the morality we already know.
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Another key point about Christ’s teachings: there is no detailed program for how to build a Christian society; in other words, the purpose of Christianity is not to replace ordinary society. Learning about Christianity doesn’t teach us how to cook food or build a house; Christ’s teachings are rather designed to direct humans as they carry on with their ordinary lives.
Lewis begins his analysis by acknowledging the limits of his religion: Christianity was never intended to teach people how to run a government or organize a worker’s union; rather, Christianity is meant to guide people through their day-to-day lives on a moral and spiritual level.
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Some people make the mistake of saying that priests and other religious leaders, rather than politicians and statesmen, should control politics. Frustrating though it might sound, it is up to ordinary people to apply Christian principles to their own societies, rather than depending on their priests. Asking a priest, rather than a politician, to make good, Christian political decisions would be like asking a priest to write a good, Christian novel—it would be better to leave politics to the politicians and writing to the writers, even if we would still hope that the writers and politicians are good Christians.
While some people have interpreted the Bible to justify theocratic forms of government, Lewis insists that the Bible says nothing of the kind; rather, it would be best to leave politics to politicians. Lewis is advocating for the separation of church and state when it comes to overarching policies, but he clearly would still prefer it if more politicians were Christians at heart.
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Even if we shouldn’t turn to priests for political guidance, the Bible offers a picture of what a Christian society (i.e., a society in which everybody is a pious Christian) would look like. Such a society would be cheerful, polite, hardworking, and generous. There would be no “passengers or parasites,” since “if man does not work, he ought not to eat.” In all, a perfectly Christian society would be somewhat economically socialistic, yet very old-fashioned in its code of behavior and family life.
Lewis takes a moderate view of politics: liberal in some ways, conservative in others. Notice also that he defines a Christian society as a place where every individual is piously Christian, rather than a place with any particularly religious form of government or organization. Lewis’s point seems to be that good Christians should concentrate on treating other people with respect and improving their own souls, rather than imposing their beliefs on other people.
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Most of the great Christian thinkers subscribed to the idea that we should not lend money with interest. And yet lending money with interest is one of the cornerstones of modern society (i.e., banking and the stock exchange). Lewis acknowledges that he is not an economist, but feels compelled to point out that the ancient Greeks, the Old Testament Jews, and the Christians of the Middle Ages would have been revolted by “the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”
Lewis modestly admits that he doesn’t have the economic expertise to pass judgments on things like banks and stock exchanges—nevertheless, he hints that such a system of society is out of step with traditional Christian ideals.
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Another point about Christianity and society: the New Testament celebrates hard work, but also charity. Indeed, charity is one of the cornerstones of Christian morality. Lewis argues that people should give away “more money than we can spare.” Charity should be much more common than it is; people should donate a sizeable portion of their income instead of spending money on frivolities and luxuries.
One of the few specific political points Lewis is willing to make is that people should give more money to charity than they do. Giving money to charity isn’t supposed to be easy, either—people have to fight against their own greedy and selfish inclinations.
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Lewis guesses that this chapter of the book has irritated almost everyone who’s read it. Left-wing people will probably be angry with Lewis for not going far enough, while people on the political Right will probably think that he has gone too far. Perhaps this is because people look to Christianity for a confirmation of their political beliefs, rather than for real political instruction. If we are to improve society, we must begin by turning inward to our own souls, rather than trying to influence other people’s actions.
For many people, Lewis notes, the Bible is a way to support preexisting political viewpoints, rather than a basis for political viewpoints. Perhaps, rather than imposing political ideas on other people, good Christians should take care of their own souls and help other people wherever it’s possible to do so.
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