Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity Book 4, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about the theory of evolution, the idea that human beings evolved from earlier life forms. Some imaginative writers have tried to imagine what the next step in evolution will look like—but usually these writers, in trying to describe a “superman,” wind up imagining something “a good deal nastier than man.” Mostly, they imagine humans become smarter or stronger than they are now.
In the final chapter, Lewis offers a controversial interpretation of the theory of evolution. Lewis’s argument may be surprising, since many Christian thinkers have rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution as an affront to the text of the Bible. Lewis, however, believes that it’s possible to see Christianity through a Darwinian lens (or, perhaps, to see Darwinism through a Christian lens).
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Lewis speculates that the next step in evolution has already happened, and didn’t involve people becoming smarter or stronger, but rather transitioning from being creatures of God to sons of God. After Christ’s example, people learned how to embrace God and become divine.
The crux of Lewis’s point is that Christianity is an evolutionary leap forward. This point needs a lot of explanation and qualification, which Lewis will attempt to provide.
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The “evolution” of man to Christianity is different from earlier forms of evolution in several ways. First, Christianity isn’t perpetuated through sex, but rather through prayer, baptism, and ritual. Second, Christianity isn’t a biological certainty or a genetic inheritance; it’s a choice that all humans must make. Third, Christianity is predicated on the immortality of Christ; he continues to inspire humans and lead them to salvation. Fourth, the Christian “jump” in evolution didn’t happen gradually; compared to earlier evolutionary changes, it diffused across the planet in “a flash of lightning.” Fifth, the stakes of Christianity are higher than those of previous evolutionary changes, because Christianity concerns the survival of the soul, not just the body.
In Darwin’s theory of evolution, useful traits recur over time because the creatures that possess these useful traits survive to have sex and produce offspring. For Lewis, the “useful trait” of Christian salvation perpetuates itself very quickly over time thanks to ritual (another reason why ritual is such an important part of the faith). Even though Lewis’s Darwinian interpretation of Christianity concerns the human soul, not the body, his point in this chapter essentially mirrors Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest.” Christianity has survived over the centuries because it makes human beings holier and more compassionate, and because humans pass on this faith to other people.
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Christianity has, in short, created a group of “new men.” These people are united in their worship of Christ, even if they’re very different from one another. Many people are frightened that God’s salvation will destroy individuality altogether. In response, Lewis compares the human race to a group of people blundering around in the dark, none of whom have ever seen light. If one were to explain to this group that a light was about to turn on, they might be worried that the light would “destroy” their personalities by shining equally on all of them—when in reality the light would illuminate everyone and show how different they all were.
One of the key themes of Book Four is that people are often frightened of salvation, even though salvation is, by definition, the most wonderful thing that could happen to a human being. One reason that people fear salvation is that they want to preserve their individuality—however, Lewis argues that one can only be a true individual in Heaven, when one is united with God.
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Lewis proposes a second analogy: imagine a foreigner who’s never tasted salt before. If you offer this person a pinch of salt, and then explain to him that many English dishes contain salt, he might reply, “I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same.” In fact, the great thing about salt is that it enhances the tastes of many different foods instead of making them taste the same. By the same logic, Christ’s salvation will make humans into “little Christs”—but it won’t make everyone the same. Lewis further suggests, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.”
The notion that Christians can only be truly true individuals when they’ve achieved salvation seems contradictory. To clarify the issue, Lewis compares salvation to salt—the beauty of salvation is that it “brings out” and fulfills different people’s true, God-given personalities.
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Humans are too hasty to say that their tastes, beliefs, and styles define their “personalities.” But “personality,” as it’s generally understood, is something of an illusion. People base their personalities on all sorts of external influences—propaganda, their friends, alcohol, books, movies, etc. Christianity strips away so-called personality and reveals a person’s true character. Lewis argues, “Unless you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self.”
Lewis distinguishes between a person’s “personality” as the word is generally understood, and that person’s true self, which can only be revealed in Heaven. Although Lewis does not elaborate here, he suggests that “personality,” understood in the usual sense, is an illusion because it’s rooted in material, earthly things, such as possessions, people, etc.
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The strange thing about Christianity is that if people worship Christ in order to “find their true selves,” they never will. In the same way that writers will never be original if they try to be original, or party guests will never make a good impression unless they stop fixating on making a good impression, Christians will only be able to achieve enlightenment, shedding their old selves, when they stop thinking about the rewards of Christianity, and instead just “submit.”
Even though Christianity leads people to salvation, happiness, and a “true self,” one cannot be a Christian simply to achieve these rewards. As Lewis has argued since Book One, Christianity often emerges from a sense of despair—a sense of moral inadequacy, for which the only “cure” is Jesus Christ.
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To be a true Christian, a human being must be willing to sacrifice everything—self, ambition, earthly desires, etc. The only thing good Christians must desire is Jesus Christ himself—and when they desire Christ, they will “find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
Becoming a good Christian can be immensely challenging—doing so involves surrendering one’s entire way of life and selflessly submitting to Christ’s authority. While Christians cannot choose to worship Christ simply because they want to reap the rewards of salvation, good Christians will, in fact, achieve eternal salvation, along with many other rewards, if only they will give up the goal of such rewards and focus on God alone.
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