Lewis tells us to imagine the children’s story Beauty and the Beast, in which the girl kisses a monster, only to witness the monster turn into a handsome man. Now, imagine a story about an ugly man who wears a handsome mask; after years of wearing the mask, he takes it off, only to discover that his ugly face has become handsome because it now “fits” the mask. The two stories can help us understand religious practice.
Lewis reiterates a point he made in Book Three: repetition and performance can engender sincere feeling. For example, an unkind person who goes through the motions of being kind will often eventually become genuinely kind.
The first words of the Lord’s Prayer are “Our Father,” suggesting that, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a good Christian “plays the part” of Christ the Son. But what is the point of pretending to be Christ? Sometimes, by pretending to do something or believe something, we can teach ourselves to be or do that thing, if given enough time. The Lord’s Prayer is a great example of the “power of pretending”—humans play the part of Christ to prepare for their future spiritual lives, in which they will become Sons of God.
The premise of Lewis’s argument here is that the Lord’s Prayer was meant to be spoken by a son of God (hence the word “father”). Thus, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Christians mimic the actions of Jesus Christ himself, rehearsing the part of Jesus so that, in the afterlife, they can become actual Sons of God.
Human beings also have the power to “infect” other people with the spirit of Christ. Indeed, when two people unite in their love for Christ, they increase their Christianity exponentially. But sometimes, people claim that they get spiritual joy from other people—not contemplating Christ. The problem with such a claim is that Christ is the only source of spiritual life; the only reason it’s possible to feel joy when helping other people is that Christ inspires us. Christ is a living being, who continues to influence our behavior.
This chapter is full of analogies—here, for instance, Lewis compares spreading Christianity to spreading a virus. Lewis also reiterates a point he’s made many times in his book: Christ (and God, the Father) is the only true source of happiness. People who say that they get happiness from their friends and family are vicariously getting joy from Christ himself.
It might be objected that it’s possible to lead a moral life without believing in Christ. But a Christian life is unique in two ways. First, Christians doesn’t just perform good deeds; they recognize that their own nature is deeply sinful. During prayer, they become conscious of their own sins, and gradually realize that the only way to become truly moral is to worship God. Second, Christians realize that God is reaching out to them as if they were morally pure already. God treats humans as if they’re “little Christs,” in the manner of a mother talking to her baby before the baby can understand. God assumes the best of us, in the hopes that one day, we will become divine.
As Lewis pointed out in Book One, one can only enter into Christianity by accepting one’s own sinful nature—in other words, by realizing that one can never achieve true purity and goodness by oneself. Nevertheless, a good Christian must aspire to be good and pure, against all odds. By “performing” goodness and purity, humans eventually can achieve these ends in Heaven.