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Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis

Instead of starting with a wall of Christian dogma and then following it with layers of arguments, C. S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity in very familiar territory to atheists, Buddhists, and Christians alike—your mind. As he explains:

Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, ‘Why is there a universe?' ‘Why does it go on as it does?' ‘Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were?

Now the position would be quite hopeless but for this. There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men.

As the title to the first part of the book, Right and Wrong a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe, implies, he bases his entire case for Christianity on the reader's own moral intuition. Once the reader admits to having a conscience that judges between right and wrong, then Lewis uses the existence of good and evil to steer through all the common objections to Christianity. And he knows the obstacles to Christian belief well because he was a long-time atheist. His reasoning is clear and accessible. For example, when he opens the book with his contention that there exists a universal moral law he carefully explains how the common act of arguing supports his claim:

Now what interests me about all these [argumentative] remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: "To hell with your standard." Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

Once he makes his case for the existence of a Christian God, Lewis goes on to explain Christian beliefs and morality with the same brilliance and appeal to common intuition. In these parts of the book he is no longer giving a proof. Instead he carefully explains Christian dogma, as he understands it, then tries to open the reader's mind to the possibility that the beliefs are true. For Lewis the only proof of Christianity is in its practice—all he is trying to do in Mere Christianity is remove blocks to becoming a Christian. Since he used to be an atheist, Lewis knows all the points where people get hung up and expertly gives the reader a new way to understand a particular belief. For example, he concedes that understanding how communion works is difficult. Are we really supposed to believe that Jesus Christ's spirit is passed on by consuming bread and wine in a certain way? Lewis responds with a question of his own. How was your life and consciousness passed to you? The reason we exist at all and can think, will, and desire is because our parents had sex some years ago. By some mysterious process that fateful sexual act led to your existence. At first this seems counter intuitive (many children will argue fiercely that a stork brought them into the world). However almost every adult believes that sex is how life is passed on—they've seen it to be true. Why then is it impossible to believe that Christ's spirit is passed on by an equally mysterious process?

Through Mere Christianity Lewis offers a compelling invitation to Christianity to people who have been turned off by cloudy religious thinking.

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