Review of “Mere Christianity” Part I

This series has been cross posted from Straight and Narrow Blog

One of the most quoted non-Mormons by LDS General Authorities is C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist. Considering how much he is quoted by them, it seemed a good idea to compare his ideas to Mormon thought and beliefs..

Book I: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

The first book (or section) starts out discussing the introduction of sin into the world. From the start any mention of the Bible is a few quick quotes and a lot of allusions. It wasn’t hard to understand he was talking about the Fall of Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity.

The key to understanding Christianity, he insists, is to understand ourselves. Science is the study of what can be sensed with our own natural bodies. Because God is outside of nature as a spiritual force, there is no way to study God unless humanity is like God in moral attributes:

We want to know whether the Universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely our own case. (pg 24).

What he finds is called “Law of Nature,” although he doesn’t mean what it does in science. Instead, he is talking about a kind of rules of behavior that anyone can know. A person will know, for instance, that you shouldn’t lie or kill. That doesn’t mean they won’t do either one of them, as most people will at least tell a lie to another. What it means is, regardless of what people do, they know they should be unselfish, courageous, honest, and fair.

In many ways his ideas about the “Law of Human Nature,” to expand the term, is similar to the Mormon belief in the “Spirit of Christ” where everyone can know right from wrong. As Moroni states in Moroni 7:16, “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”

The similarity breaks down when looking at the source of the law. Like most orthodox Christians, he feels there is no substantial difference between God and morality, as they are one and the same. He states humans were created by God, “in order to produce creatures like itself – I mean, like itself to the extent of having minds” (22). He would never agree with Mormons that righeousness was an outside set of laws that God must have, but was seperate from divinity. He also, in the same sentence, rejects any physical similarities between us and God.

Of course, he is trying to convince a non-Christian audience that his faith is the true one. His idea that the Universe and humans are the two evidences of God is hard to believe. If he had stuck with the idea they can help us understand God there would be no problem. He doesn’t do that, but instists that because everyone understands the “Law of Nature” it follows they should realize the existance of God by looking at themselves. This isn’t brought up to compare his ideas to Mormonism, but to show the kind of circular logic that he uses throughout.

The results of this kind of circular reasoning is that some ideas are never fleshed out, but assumed:

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness . . . when you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. (pg. 32).

The implications are mostly ignored. Because Christianity is a call for everyone to repent and we all know the “Laws of Human Nature” even when not paying attention, then there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know they have sinned. It seems his point is more about those who don’t know anything about Christianity and its saving power. Of course, Mormons believe Christ’s atonement has something to say about that, as it covers innocent guilt. He does explain later in the book that the salvation for those never hearing of Christ is (although he says it differently) more missionary work in this life (pg. 64). That will be covered in the next section.

Perhaps his best summation of the necessity of the atonement is his statement, “They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the Universe we live in” (pg. 8). It is also the two facts that bring into focus the faith in Jesus Christ as Savior shared by Mormons and himself.

*next time Book II: What Christians Believe*

4 thoughts on “Review of “Mere Christianity” Part I

  1. I remember reading Mere Christianity back in 2000 and I was completely unprepared for the sheer strength of Lewis’ arguments. He made a series of eminently reasonable arguments for morality, and hence, for God, that blew me away intellectually.

    It’s a tour de force, no doubt one of Lewis’ great products. In my opinion, everyone should at least read it and be exposed to an actual intellectual.

    I strongly suspect the reason that it is universally ignored in philosophic and academic circles is due to the fact that it is very difficult, if not nigh impossible, to refute Lewis. (Aside from the fact that said circles are cesspools of spiritual corruption, but that’s another issue entirely.) They don’t even try to refute him and so ignore him entirely, which is what they do to all the truly great geniuses of modern times.

  2. To be honest MT, I am not that impressed with him as my criticisms here demonstrate. My future posts will continue to be critical and especially compared to Mormon beliefs. Like many who admire him, he often doesn’t understand the full implications of his arguments. At other times he stands on presumptions that if not accepted causes shakey ground.

  3. Well certainly I don’t read Lewis with the expectation of finding explicit Mormon doctrine a la McConkie or Maxwell.

    He was a WWI veteran athiest-turned-Anglican who knew nothing of the LDS aside from the fact that we don’t drink tea, which he immediately poo-pooed.

    Aside from this, I can read him and appreciate his many profound insights while at the same time not holding Mr. Lewis to my own doctrinaire standards of understanding. This is how I enjoy reading the Qur’an or the Bhagavad Gita or anything else.

    One thing to keep in mind about Mere Christianity is that was originally a radio broadcast series. He was reading his hastily-prepared chapters on the air. It wasn’t one book that was prepared as he wrote Screwtape or some of his other works like The Four Loves, etc.

    I definitely look forward to reading your continued analysis of C. S. Lewis.

  4. I agree with you that he should not be read, “with the expectation of finding explicit Mormon doctrine a la McConkie or Maxwell.” The problem is that there are a lot of Mormons who do, or rather who think that if they read him they would. He has been quoted by Apostles so many times that he has been given the nickname of unofficial General Authority. With that in mind I decided to read his best known and general theological work to test how close he came to Mormonism in his arguments. My conclusion was, well, you’ll see in future posts. I am not saying he lacks intelligence or is a poor writer. He just doesn’t live up to my own expectations.

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