Lewis addresses a nagging question—if Christianity is such a wonderful thing, then why aren’t Christians always nicer than non-Christians? Lewis argues that the question is half-reasonable, and half-unfair. First of all, it is reasonable to expect a moral awakening to alter a person’s external attitude—presumably, such an awakening would make them kinder.
In this chapter, Lewis tackles a difficult question, which he states upfront: why aren’t Christians necessarily “nice” people?
The question of why Christians aren’t always nicer than non-Christians is unreasonable for three reasons, though. First, the world isn’t divided into Christians and non-Christians. There are many people who are trying to be Christians—people who accept some aspects of the religion, but not others, and who are trying hard to achieve salvation. Thus, the question is imprecise. A second, more important reason why the question is unreasonable is that Christianity tends to improve people, rather than simply “making them nice.” It would be utterly unfair to expect Christianity to make all people nice—rather, Christianity helps troubled people recognize their own limitations and become better.
Lewis clarifies the question by pointing out that there are many people who are “on the fence” with Christianity—indeed, part of the purpose of his book is to sway such people toward Christianity. Another problem with the question is that it assumes that Christianity helps all people become equally kind and loving—a better question, Lewis implies, would be, “Does Christianity make people better than they would otherwise be?”
The final and most important reason why the question is unreasonable it that it implies that Christianity is something that nasty people need and nice people can do without. Christianity’s ultimate goal is not to make people nice; it’s to make them holy and show them a new kind of life. All people, whether they’re nice or not, can benefit from Christianity—they can learn to recognize their own flaws and sins, and seek forgiveness in God.
As Lewis argued in the previous chapter, the purpose of Christianity isn’t to make people nice; it’s to purify their souls and lead them to surrender all selfish, sinful desires. One can be saved without being particularly nice; moreover, both nasty people and nice people can benefit from Christian salvation.
Lewis isn’t denying that it’s important to be nice. Niceness should be one of the aims of human society. However it would be a mistake to assume that, when everyone is “nice,” humanity will be saved. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to say that people are the cause of their own niceness; on the contrary, God provides them with the temperament to be nice. In this way, a nice person who doesn’t embrace Christianity can make the mistake of taking credit for their own niceness, leading them to feel sinful pride.
Niceness is important, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of human nature. One reason why niceness is arguably overrated is that some externally “nice” humans can become arrogant and self-centered internally. Good Christians—whether they’re nice or nasty—must accept that their temperaments come directly from God, and that it’s their choices that really matter.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Christians can be nasty people. Arguably, nasty people are more likely to embrace Christianity than kind people; nasty people are probably more conscious of their own sins and problems, and therefore more likely to seek religious help. Atheists and narrow-minded non-believers cite nasty Christians as proof that there is something deeply wrong with the religion, when in truth, the very fact that nasty people are turning to Christianity for help is a sign that Christianity can help anyone.
In conclusion, Lewis argues that the question, “Why are some Christians so nasty?” misses the point. The fact that nasty people accept their flaws and turn to Christianity for help and guidance is actually a testament to the beauty and openness of the Christian faith.