In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis uses fiction and fantasy to make a strong argument for the truth and value of Christianity. Surprisingly, though, the novel never offers a specific definition of Christianity; indeed, it would seem that the only two beliefs that a Christian must have are a belief in the existence of God and a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Using this simple, straightforward definition of Christianity, the novel aims to show that Christian morality isn’t a complicated set of arbitrary rules; deep down, it’s just “common sense.”
The Great Divorce makes the somewhat surprising argument that Christianity is the most obvious, intuitive way to think about life, morality, and happiness. In order to make such a point, Lewis makes use of the reductio ad absurdum technique: in other words, he proves that Christianity is common sense by showing that the alternatives to Christianity are irrational, nonsensical, or otherwise ill-founded. The damned souls who refuse to believe in God or the divinity of Christ are deeply confused about themselves and their place in the world. They want to hurt themselves or hurt other people, and some of them even deny the existence of any afterlife at all—despite the fact that they’re in the afterlife. Furthermore, souls who deny the existence of God and Christ often fail to show basic human emotions like compassion, respect, or dignity. Even if non-Christians seem virtuous on Earth, the afterlife exposes their true irrationality and moral callousness—suggesting that Christianity alone can lead humanity to enlightenment and virtue (or alternately, that true enlightenment and virtue only comes from God).
Principled, compassionate atheists are conspicuously (and maybe inevitably) absent from The Great Divorce. Damned souls insist that they’re capable of love and reason, but George MacDonald—the Spirit who guides the Narrator through the afterlife—shows that, in fact, these damned souls are incapable of loving or thinking logically about the world. Even the “fat ghost” who claims to be a reasonable, intelligent man, in spite of denying Christ’s resurrection, is shown to be a foolish contrarian, denying Christ’s divinity for the sake of denial (and not because he really doubts Christ’s divinity). Arguably, Lewis uses a series of “straw men” to make his argument—instead of seriously exploring the possibility that one can be reasonable, good, and agnostic, he invents easy targets like the fat ghost to confirm the rationality and morality of Christianity. But this is also the nature of the work, as Lewis isn’t trying to present an all-encompassing argument for Christianity, but rather a short, entertaining, and hopefully enlightening story—so perhaps he’s allowed to indulge in straw men for brevity’s sake.
Christianity and Common Sense ThemeTracker
Christianity and Common Sense Quotes in The Great Divorce
He had found himself once more isolated and had to become a conscientious objector. The indignities he suffered at this stage of his career had, he confessed, embittered him. He decided he could serve the cause best by going to America: but then America came into the war too. It was at this point that he suddenly saw Sweden as the home of a really new and radical art, but the various oppressors had given him no facilities for going to Sweden. There were money troubles. His father, who had never progressed beyond the most atrocious mental complacency and smugness of the Victorian epoch, was giving him a ludicrously inadequate allowance. And he had been very badly treated by a girl too.
That's one of the disappointments. I thought you'd meet interesting historical characters. But you don't: they're too far away.
I'd start a little business. I'd have something to sell. You'd soon get people coming to live near—centralization. Two fully-inhabited streets would accommodate the people that are now spread over a million square miles of empty streets. I'd make a nice little profit and be a public benefactor as well.
“When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”
"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came—popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?”
Next moment I stepped boldly out on the surface. I fell on my face at once and got some nasty bruises. I had forgotten that though it was, to me, solid, it was not the less in rapid motion. When I had picked myself up I was about thirty yards further down-stream than the point where I had left the bank. But this did not prevent me from walking up-stream: it only meant that by walking very fast indeed I made very little progress.
I could hardly help admiring this unhappy creature when I saw him rise staggering to his feet actually holding the smallest of the apples in his hands. He was lame from his hurts, and the weight bent him double. Yet even so, inch by inch, still availing himself of every scrap of cover, he set out on his via dolorosa to the bus, carrying his torture.
“Fool,” he said, “put it down. You cannot take it back. There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blades of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.”
Whether the Ghost heard or not, I don't know. At any rate, after pausing for a few minutes, it braced itself anew for its agonies and continued with even greater caution till I lost sight of it.
Hell is a state of mind—ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind—is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.
There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he'd mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away.
One grows out of [light]. Of course, you haven't seen my later works. One be- comes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.
“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
“I don't know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they'd say I believed in total depravity: they'd say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They'd call me . . .”
“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.
“Don't you see what nonsense it's talking.” Merriment danced in her eyes. She was sharing a joke with the Dwarf, right over the head of the Tragedian. Something not at all unlike a smile struggled to appear on the Dwarf's face. For he was looking at her now. Her laughter was past his first defenses. He was struggling hard to keep it out, bur already with imperfect success. Against his will, he was even growing a little bigger.
For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition.
Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.
I awoke in a cold room, hunched on the floor beside a black and empty grate, the clock striking three, and the siren howling overhead.