Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity is a Christian apologetic book by C.S. Lewis. Published in 1952, it argues for a set of basic Christian beliefs which he considers all Christians can agree upon. The ideas for the book came from a series of radio talks he gave during World War II. These talks were subsequently published in books Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behavior (1943), Beyond Personality (1944). Mere Christianity compiled those ideas into one book where Lewis edited the content to better reflect his later understanding of Christian doctrine. He explicitly avoided discussing issues that are contentious within Christianity because he thought they had little apologetic value to non-Christians.

"So, now I have to ask myself why I once thought Mere Christianity was so special. Because it told me what I wanted to hear. As a freethinker I am now no longer satisfied with mere assertions, with creative rehashings of myth. Freethought demands evidence in place of analogy, data over dogma."

Dan Barker[1]

Lewis often uses arguments from analogy, which are a particular form of inductive reasoning. However, this type of reasoning is better suited to illustrating an idea rather than persuasion because any analogy needs to be shown to be valid, which requires yet more argumentation. He would be better off skipping analogies and discussing the evidence (assuming there is any).

"There are places where Lewis’ argument is weak or patently flawed, but rather than trying to shore it up by presenting additional facts, he simply restates it as a metaphor. This does not make his case any stronger.[2]"



  • Mere Christianity -- core values and teachings of Christianity that all denominations can agree upon.
  • Law of (Human) Nature -- "decent behaviour", an absolute standard of behavior which people obey or disobey. This law is created by God. Also known as the "Rule of Right and Wrong".


Lewis's admits avoiding controversial doctrines because that would be less persuasive:

"And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son"

Critics have pointed out this is a deceptive tactic:

"If a person converts to Christianity because an evangelist has concealed from him some relevant fact that might have deterred him from converting had he known it in advance, then his conversion was made under false pretenses – it came about as the result of a lie."


Book 1 - Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe[edit]

Book 1 argues for the existence of absolute moral law. This moral law is impossible to obey consistently, which leads to a "need for forgiveness". Christianity is asserted to be the solution to this problem. While arranged like an apologetic argument, it makes so many unfounded assertions that it is really just a statement of Christian dogma.

Chapter 1 - The Law of Human Nature[edit]

Chapter 1 is primarily about the argument from the normativity of morality. The Law of Human Nature encompasses human behavior and moral codes. Lewis observes that everyone appears to believe in a "standard of behavior that everyone expects one another to follow." Lewis argues that the majority (if not all) societies know and refer to the Law of Human Nature as if it were real and universal to mankind. Based on this, he concludes that the Law of Human Nature exists metaphysically. This ignores other possible explanations for why people to act as if the Law of Human Nature was real.

"[You may find] an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right. If they were not, then all the things we (s)aid about the war were nonsense. What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practised?"
"I know the some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own."

However, Lewis does not justify the claim that Natural Law really exists, apart from using wishful thinking. Although he does not say it yet, it is obvious that he is trying to set-up a platform on which he can build the notion that God is the necessary law-giver of this "Law," and the ultimate cause for its prevalence in human societies. Lewis also does not address the is-ought problem in that he uses a descriptive statement "humans believe they ought to behave in a certain way" as the sole justification for the prescriptive statement "humans ought to behave in a certain way", which is a non sequitur.

Lewis is defeating his own argument before it even begins. If every society that exists today operates on some basic principles of morality (be compassionate, courageous, charitable, etc.; do not murder, steal, rape, etc.), and this is a profound reason as to how a society flourishes and grows, then it grants itself to conclude that it is not a supernatural cause which is to be credited for these moralities. Societies who admire murder and theft, and scoff at compassion and charity, naturally fail to organize into productive societies in the first place. Such societies inevitably destroy themselves, or are destroyed by more socially-productive civilizations.

The claim that the concept "good" is only meaningful if it is absolute is a common apologetic tactic. However, good could simply be a human construct or a result of psychology. Like every member of the primate family, humans are generally not solitary animals, and depend on social interactions to increase the quality of their lives and the chance of their survival. Thus, individuals who do not exhibit a moral sense, who murder and steal unscrupulously from others for example, will not be able to join any functioning society, just as any society that fails to function will itself not survive. Lewis makes the mistake, right from the first chapter, of ignoring any plausible naturalistic explanation for human morality, and falsely assumes that one has to grant him his premises of a supernatural cause for his "Law of Nature." This makes it an argument from ignorance.

Cultural differences are significant between cultures and groups within those cultures. Lewis provides a few examples he considers culturally universal but these too are questionable. People and groups still disagree over these cases. "Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle" - many groups of people are pacifists and are admired for it. "Selfishness has never been admired" - if only Lewis could see modern consumer culture. "Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked." - swingers and those in open relationships probably would disagree. The argument cherry picks the evidence by considering similarities while ignoring the differences.

"How can anyone claim with a straight face that all societies throughout history have had essentially the same moral code? Has Lewis never heard of Mormon and Arab polygamy, ancient Greek pedophilia and infanticide, Chinese foot-binding, Japanese ritual suicide, Aztec human sacrifice, African female genital mutilation, Islamic ritual murder (“honor killings”), terrorism and suicide bombings, medieval European totalitarian monarchy and inquisitions, Nazi eugenics and racism, even Christian-inspired slavery and colonialism, oppression of women, and anti-Semitism? [...] The very few commonalities that can be found, such as prohibitions on murder and theft, do not need divine revelation to explain them; these laws are universal in human history precisely because any society that did not have them would soon collapse into chaos and would never enter history in the first place.[2]"

Lewis even goes on to contradict himself when he discusses public decency in Book 3:

"A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally 'modest', proper or decent, according to the standards of their own societies [...] At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages and different types do not all acknowledge the same standard"

An additional problem is that even if people generally believe in a moral standard, that does not necessarily correspond with what is absolutely good. Satan or some other force could have everyone believe that evil is the law of human nature. There is no easy way to distinguish between God and Satan with regard to the decree of a super-powerful morality giver.

He finishes the chapter arguing that even though everyone is supposedly in agreement about Natural Law, everybody commits sin.

Chapter 2 - Some Objections[edit]

Law of human nature is not a herd instinct[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Lewis denies that the law of human nature is one of the herd instincts because it is a faculty of being able to choose between the instincts, strengthen and weaken the instincts, and defines what you "ought to do". This is rather like the philosophical concept of will and Wundt's ideas on human volition:

"Volitional action rises from the choice between different motives, clearly or obscurely conscious. [...] this latter involves a decision as between various conflicting motives, the feeling of our own activity rises in it to that of freedom. [3]"

Herd instincts are "a ​situation in which ​people ​act like everyone ​else without ​considering the ​reason why". [4] This is similar to the argument from conscience. Lewis claims this faculty is not a herd instinct because it selects between other instincts, which does not really follow.

"The thing that says to you, 'Your herd instinct is asleep. Wake it up,' cannot itself be the herd instinct."

The herd instinct is really a group of competing instincts. Instincts could have a complex interplay with some modifying the strength of other instincts. There is no problem in conceiving the law of human nature or conscience as also instinctual.

Lewis then argues that the law of human nature is distinct from the instincts because the instincts are amoral, while the law of human nature is always good. This is an arbitrary distinction and does not separate the law of human nature from the instincts.

While Lewis addresses "herd instincts", the moral law may be one of the non-herd instincts.

The problem with basing his argument on volition (will) is that it is (currently) unobservable externally and therefore not scientific. We are hardly objective observers of internal mental states because they are themselves part of our minds.

"But we have reservations about these concepts. Today we no longer believe any of this is true. The 'inner world' is full of phantoms and illusions: the will being one of them."

Friedrich Nietzsche
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

In psychology, the study of volition has largely been overtaken by behaviourism, which is based on externally observable phenomena. On the other hand, a minority psychologists insist it is still a viable field of study. [5]

Law of human nature is not social convention[edit]

Lewis argues that the law of human nature is transcendent and non-contingent on humans in a similar way to mathematics. He supports this by pointing to the general agreement of human societies (which is cherry picking and ignores naturalistic explanations) and the idea that "moral progress" is an objectively real thing.

"If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality."

That simply isn't true: one can prefer one moral system over another without recourse to an absolute standard. We don't need an absolute justification to have a preference. Also, the argument is reversible: I am sure that many Nazis thought that their morality was superior to their enemies and at the same time as their enemies believed the opposite. This implies that there is no external absolute standard because Nazi morality cannot be simultaneously better and worse than Christian morality.

Defending the idea of absolute morality by basing it on absolute moral progress is pretty much begging the question.

"The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring both by a standard, saying that one of the conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either."

That is an unsupported assertion. Moral systems may be compared directly without invoking the existence of a third external moral system. This is simply done by claiming one's own system as the best system and measuring all others based on their similarity. Of course, this does not make the comparison absolutely true.

Lewis concludes the chapter by distinguishing between morality and beliefs - if we believed as those in former times or in other cultures, we probably would act on those believes using the same universal moral code. He uses a rather odd example of witch burning:

"if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did."

This is a consequence of his belief in a timeless law of human nature. However, differences in cultures do not simply amount to differences in factual beliefs.

Chapter 3 - The Reality of the Law[edit]

Can we say a person ought to act other than he does?[edit]

Some philosophers consider human behaviour, along with everything else, is deterministic and saying something "ought to be other than it is" is pointless.

"The single human being is a piece of fatum from the front and from the rear, one law more, one necessity more for all that is yet to come and to be. To say to him, "Change yourself!" is to demand that everything be changed, even retroactively."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Can saying a human "ought to behave other than he does" be compared to saying "the weather ought to be sunny today", which is just fanciful thinking? Lewis argues that physical laws, including the weather, are not strictly "laws" but descriptions of how things work. In contrast, the law of human nature is prescriptive because it says what things ought to do. Law of human nature is not simply what is beneficial or inconvenient for us, since we often believe we ought to do things that are detrimental to ourselves. His point seems to be the laws of nature are unlike physical laws, so the original analogy breaks down. Lewis does not seem to address the possibility of determinism, which arguably rules out free will, something that Lewis depends on for his moral system to work.

Law of human nature that benefits society?[edit]

Perhaps the law of human nature arose because it is beneficial to society? Lewis doubts this is a fundamental motivation and asks what is an individual's motivation to act in such a way. He thinks the only response to "why should I act to benefit society" is "because you ought to be unselfish", which he considers to be a fundamental ethical precept. He then equates "Because you ought to be unselfish" to "decent behaviour". For this reason, he claims the argument is circular. This may be true but moral system generally have to start at some assumptions because of the is-ought problem and the Münchhausen trilemma. Lewis is expecting an explanation for what can arguably get accepted axiomatically.

The principle of unselfishness is not a universal standard or even a general Christian standard; consider the followers of the prosperity gospel. Christians also expect their Earthly unselfishness to be personally rewarded in heaven, which precludes genuine charity.

The law of human nature exists metaphysically[edit]

Interestingly, Lewis argues that without moral law, "most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense", which is similar to the transcendental argument.

Lewis then argues that the prescriptive law of human nature exists metaphysically, because it appears distinct from physical processes.

"It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men's behaviour and yet quite definitely real"

This extraordinary conclusion is not supported by the evidence presented.

Chapter 4 - What Lies Behind the Law[edit]

World views[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Lewis discusses what he considers to be the two main world views: materialist and religious. Materialists believe that everything is an accident and without purpose. The religious view considers the universe to have purpose:

"what is behind the universe is more like a mind than anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, and has purposes, and prefers one thing to another. [...] because after all the only other thing we know is matter and you can hardly imagine a bit of matter giving instructions."

Just considering this limited set of world views is a false dichotomy. The attributes of what is "behind" the universe need to be properly established and not just accepted because the view is popular.

Matter can give rise to minds since the mind is a function of the brain (Cartesian dualism has no evidence to support it). Therefore, matter can give instructions.

Lewis does nothing to dispel the possibility of a material explanation for the apparent existence of the law. This is probably the biggest flaw in his argument.

Science cannot address God but our experience can[edit]

Science cannot answer "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or address the purposes of things. This is sometimes expressed as "you cannot put God to the test".

"But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes-something of a different kind-this is not a scientific question. If there is 'Something Behind', then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. [...] 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."

The idea that God is unobservable is another unsupported assertion. A creator can interact with his creation and does not need to resort to quirks in psychology. The Bible is full of direct interactions with God.

Lewis then argues that the only way to access knowledge of the ultimate purpose of the universe is via our knowledge of the law of human nature (as discussed in earlier chapters). This is where his argument claims its advantage over scientific methods: we have experience of being human. He seems to dismiss any other form of apologetic argumentation as hopeless.

"There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we known more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. [...] The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave a certain way."

More unsubstantiated assertions. Since we are human and not external observers, that would seem to make us susceptible to subjective notions, which rather undermines the reliability of the argument.

It is quite possible that advances in science could explain these (or any other) mental "phenomena" in terms of material causes. Since this is hard to rule out, Lewis is making a God of the gaps argument.

In a final note, Lewis discusses "life-force philosophy", which is a belief that the universe is guided but not necessarily by a mind. He considers this to be identical to the religious view if the life-force has a mind, and the materialist view if it does not.

Chapter 5 - We have cause to be Uneasy[edit]

Putting the clocks back[edit]

Lewis first addresses the accusation that the religious revival he wants is "putting the clock back" (appeal to novelty). He does this by arguing there is something wrong with the modern world (which may have some weight since the original version of these arguments were written during World War II).

"And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake."

Unfortunately, this is posed as a false dilemma between the modern world and his idea of a religious revival. Other options may be even more attractive and these have not been ruled out by Lewis.

Interestingly, Lewis does on to say that the argument from design is insufficient to demonstrate a good God because "the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place".

God as a judge[edit]

He then stresses that being "good" does not necessarily mean being indulgent or soft. If God is the creator of Moral Law, he is unyielding. He refuses to consider the alleged merciful attribute of God saying that "only a person can forgive" which is again an unsupported assertion. If a thing "more like a mind than anything else" (possibly unlike the human mind) can create moral law, surely it can forgive? Lewis is trying to avoid the implications for the incompatible attributes of God.

Lewis argues that a "good" God could not make exceptions in individual cases while still being "good". This confuses a "good" God that creates moral law and a "good" god that judges humans with that law. For all Lewis knows, moral law was created and now the deistic God no longer concerns himself with individual human actions. In that case there is no need for forgiveness. Alternatively, God could consistently forgive every wrong action. Saying we know the attributes of God is rather premature when Lewis has not even established God's existence.

The need for forgiveness[edit]

Lewis says that humans are in a quandary because they are subject to a law they have no hope of consistently following. He essentially says we live in a fallen world.

"This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, them all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless. We cannot do without it and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from."

This is an excellent summary of the Christian world view and sin in general. A good God would not allow this state of affairs to occur by creating laws that cannot practically be followed.

He also references the argument from the meaning of life by claiming that life without absolute goodness is "hopeless". This is subjective wishful thinking. In what sense is it "hopeless"? Lewis does not make this clear.

Lewis finishes by claiming that Christianity is the solution for the above problem. Everyone has a "need for forgiveness" and this is what Christianity provides. This view is rather like cults that attempt to undermine their member's self-esteem to make them dependent on the cult. Why a different God could not be also a solution is not explained.

"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 need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power-it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you know you are sick, you will listen to a doctor."

Friedrich Nietzsche argues that Christianity works by making people sick and then offering a cure:

"Physiologically speaking: in the struggle with beasts, making them sick may be the only way to make them weak. The church understood this: it sickened and weakened man — and by so doing 'improved' him."

Lewis does not consider the possibility of a God that always forgives without being asked.

Book 2 - What Christians Believe[edit]

Book 2 is more focused on explaining Christian theology rather than trying to persuade by argument. Lewis briefly discusses alternative views of God but nots not attempt to argue between the different forms of monotheism. He covers a surprisingly wide variety of theological topics in these chapters, but gradually works towards saying Christian atonement is a solution for the "need of forgiveness" that he tried to establish in the previous book.

Chapter 1 - The Rival Conceptions Of God[edit]

Competing views[edit]

Lewis starts by claiming that Christianity is a more "liberal" view than atheism because it accepts what the majority of people think who are religious as having at least having an element of truth. This is a non sequitur: siding with a majority view does not make it liberal. Lewis does believe that Christianity is the one true religion.

He next discusses the theism/atheism views of God. He claims that the majority of ancient and modern religions agree with Christianity and "against the modern Western European materialist", which is factually incorrect because there are other groups of atheists throughout history, such as atheist Buddhists and atheist philosophers since at least Heraclitus. Not only that, but there have been many other views of god or gods which have been held. Lewis seems to be relying on the majority argument here.

The next distinction in theism Lewis discusses is moral/amoral gods. He states that pantheism is the belief in amoral divinity and basically identical to the universe itself, while the Abrahamic religions consider God to be moral and the universe is separate from God. Lewis argues that evil in the world is incompatible with a moral God, which makes the separation between the universe and God necessary. Although this chapter does not argue that God is moral, Lewis did so in earlier chapters.

The problem of evil[edit]

Lewis argues that when critics refer to the problem of evil, they rely on evaluating the universe as just or unjust. However, if they are not absolute standards of just and unjust, which the skeptic often denies exist, they must rely on their subjective evaluation. Lewis then equates our subjective evaluation of the universe to calling it unjust merely "to please my fancies". This is an unreasonable argument because all our a posteriori beliefs contain some subjective aspects. If we were to reject all subjective beliefs as just our fancy, we have to reject all belief in anything that exists! Lewis says of the problem of evil:

"Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality-namely my idea of justice-was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning"

Just assuming justice exists does not make it exist in reality. This is rather like the argument from the origin of the idea of God.

Atheism does not itself claim that the universe has no meaning (although some might say the demand for meaning for the entire universe is itself meaningless). Also, not all atheists use the problem of evil as an argument. That is a straw man argument.

Chapter 2 - The Invasion[edit]

Argument from religious complexity[edit]

Lewis uses an unusual argument from religious complexity:

  • Reality is complicated and defies expectations.
  • A mature understanding of Christianity is complicated and defies expectations.
  • Therefore, Christianity is more likely to be true because it reflects reality and no one can make that kind of thing up.
"Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up."

Dualistic cosmology vs. Christianity[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Lewis then compares dualistic cosmology (of which Manichaeism is one form) with Christianity. Dualistic cosmology believes there is one original evil and one good divine force in the universe. In contrast, Christianity believes in a formerly good world that has gone wrong. The problem for dualistic believers is they do not have an objective reason to prefer one God over the other. To prefer one over the other would depend on some absolute good that was created by the ultimate God. Of course, we could simply admit we have no objective reason to prefer one over the other, and carry on. Simply asserting we have reliable grounds to choose one over the other (or objectively distinguishing between God and Satan) is wishful thinking.

He goes on to criticize dualism because we have no example of people who are "bad for the sake of badness". Goodness and badness are not equal and opposite according to Lewis's assertions. Badness is subordinate and therefore dualism is false. This seems to assume that these gods could not "embody" goodness or badness, as these dualists believe. Christians often also believe that God embodies good.

"To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. [...] Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel."

Here he assumes that existence, intelligence and will are themselves good, rather than neutral (or evil). Lewis finishes by apparently saying Satan literally exists.

Chapter 3 - The Shocking Alternative[edit]

Lewis begins with the problem of evil and the typical free will defence. In this chapter, he gives up on persuasion and is just repeating dogma directly. He attempts to head off any criticism with the standard transcendental argument:

"When you are arguing against Him, you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on."

He then turns to the problem of how Satan went bad. He speculates that Satan wants to become God. Lewis claims a rebellion against God is impossible because all creation is dependent on God.

Lewis then turns to the subject of Jesus. He makes the argument from uniqueness that no one had ever claimed to be God in the sense of a "Being outside the world, who had made us and was infinitely different from anything else" (incidentally, that last attribute totally destroys all Lewis's analogical reasonings about God). This seems to be factually questionable, as many people have claimed to be an incarnation of God.[6] Many people claim bizarre things. Just asserting this claim is special because it is bizarre is the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

Lewis presents the most famous argument of the book, the Liar, Lunatic or Lord "trilemma" located at the end of the chapter, which is intended to rule out Jesus as simply a moral teacher rather than to argue for the existence of God.

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

This argument has many problems, but mainly it arbitrarily assumes the Bible is true (in that it accurately reports the sayings and doings of Jesus), which is an issue that has not been discussed at all so far.

Chapter 4 - The Perfect Penitent[edit]

Lewis starts with using the Liar, Lunatic or Lord "trilemma" as an argument for the existence of God, which is a false dichotomy. Also the alternatives are ruled out by unsupported assertions.


He then turns to discussing the concept of Jesus dying for the sake of humans, which he considers central to Christian belief. There are many different theories of how this works and a great deal of inter-denominational disagreement over the specifics. Lewis argues the exact detail of how atonement works does not matter, as long as the core belief is true. He compares it to knowing food will reduce hunger - however this is a poor analogy because we know about the effect of food empirically, while atonement has no observable effect (in the here and now). He also claims it transcends our understanding because it is miraculous.

"The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. [...] We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and the by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed."

However, this detail does matter to skeptics because it is nonsensical for "God coming to life and sacrificing himself to himself to serve as loophole for a rule he created". [7] Given this is supposedly the most important event in history, we should expect Christians to actually agree on the details. Since they do not, their beliefs are likely human inventions that do not reflect reality.

"A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it."

Here Lewis says that belief must come before the justification for that belief.

Views of Atonement[edit]

He then outlines various versions of atonement, including substitutionary atonement and repentance. Lewis describes one theory in that God has to become incarnate because he needs to help us with suffering, surrender and death, which could not be done without Jesus. He addresses the argument that the suffering of Jesus was less because he was actually an immortal God by saying it may have indeed been easier of Jesus but that does not negate the sacrifice.

"I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, 'because it must have been so easy for Him' [...] The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them?"

Lewis ends by again stressing that specific theories of atonement are not as important as the core belief:

"if it does not help you, drop it."

This seems to give license for cherry picking Christian theology.

Chapter 5 - The Practical Conclusion[edit]

This chapter purport to be a conclusion but it is mostly an explanation of dogma rather than the completion of an argument. Lewis claims that Christianity is the next stage of human evolution:

"People often ask when the next step in evolution-the step to something beyond man-will happen. But on the Christian view, it has happened already."

This is a misapplication of biological evolution because Christians are genetically similar to non-Christians. It may also be a sly nod toward Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch, which he discusses again in Book 4.

He goes on to discuss common Christian practices:

"There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names-Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods."

He accepts this on the authority of Jesus (as described in the Bible) and points out that an argument from authority is acceptable if the authority is reliable. Lewis then outlines his ideas about Christian moral actions being motivated by Christ operating through Christians. The fate of people who have never heard of Christianity is left as an unknown. He then briefly tries to justify why God does not immediately intervene in the world to remove evil:

"But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. [...] God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream[...?]"

Why does God want people to choose sides freely, particularly since he already knows the outcome? Also, God would not want people to believe in him while at the same time not provide evidence of his existence. Apologists counter this by saying proof of God would undermine free will.

Claiming people can't choose at the end of the world based on the circumstances is a non sequitur. According to the Bible, God intervened in human affairs many times. This did not apparently violate peoples' free will. Therefore, in the presence of God at the end of the world, we would still have free will. It does raise the question: can an atheist change their mind after death?

Also, God could clearly intervene without the world ending (as often described in the Bible). Lewis's assertion that this is God's only choice is without basis. [2]

Lewis argues that God does not end the world because he is giving people a last chance to choose his side.

"God is holding back to give us that chance."

This seems odd since the longer God waits, the more people get sent to Hell. No good God would do that. Also, how does Lewis know this is the case? This is not a standard part of Christian theology, so it seems to be making it up has he goes along. Related problems include the problem of non-God objects and if God can create Heaven, why bother creating the Earth (or Hell) at all?

"We must take it or leave it."

Since Lewis has not shown God exists, this is meaningless.

Book 3 - Christian Behavior[edit]

Lewis outlines what he considers to be Christian morality and, with the exception of sexuality, finds it mostly compatible with the ideals of British society of his time. Most of it involves adopting particular attitudes to other people, one's self and God. Addressing social problems does not seem to be on his agenda and is indicative of the moral failure of mainstream religion.

Chapter 1 - The three parts of morality[edit]

Lewis launches into another barrage of analogies to illustrate his points about morality:

"Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole"

He claims they are all necessary and dependent on each other.

Chapter 2 - The 'cardinal virtues'[edit]

Lewis discusses four 'cardinal virtues': prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude, mostly by defining the meaning of each. He also considers morality to not be just about following rules but as ultimately about developing the right sort of people. This is supposedly to have people who are suitable for heaven - which raises the question why did God just not created the right sort of people in heaven in the first place?

Chapter 3- Social morality[edit]

In keeping with Lewis belief in one absolute moral standard, he claims that Jesus simply reiterated already known moral principles. Christianity has no detailed grand social plan because it is not adapted to any single form of government. Lewis emphasises that lay (non priestly) Christians need to take the lead in adapting Christianity to their contemporary situation since they have expertise in economics, law, politics, etc. He then outlines a Christian society based on the New Testament: on social issues it would be "Leftist" or socialist, and on obedience to authority it would be traditionalist/conservative (e.g. wives should obey their husbands). He doubts people visiting such a place would accept all its practices and would cherry pick what they liked. Lewis then points out the traditional teaching on usury (lending money at interest) has been abandoned but he says he has not the expertise to say that is the cause of our societal problems. He finishes by discussing charity, the amount to give and the need for it while we have imperfect society. Lewis points out the all too common practice of mining the Bible to support ones own political views.

Chapter 4 - Morality and psychoanalysis[edit]

"I have said that we should never get a Christian society unless most of us became Christian individuals."

That is an interesting claim because many places at various points in history have been majority Christian in belief but have not resembled the society that Lewis expects, such as having a wide application of the golden rule. Lewis argues that Christianity as a fix for the problem state of humans, and compares it to psychoanalysis as developed by Sigmund Freud and says it is largely compatible with Christianity. Lewis seems to respect Freud in psychoanalysis but calls him an "amateur" in other areas of philosophy, which is an ad hominem.

Lewis distinguishes between a moral choice that a person makes and the impulses that preceded the choice. Both Christianity and psychoanalysis think that the impulses can potentially "go wrong". Lewis gives the example of homosexuality as a wrong impulse. Psychoanalysis intends to manage the impulses and morality attempts to encourage the "right" choice based on these impulses.

"However much you improve the man's raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with. The bad psychological material is a sin not a disease. [...] But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it."

Lewis then turns to the idea that following morality is not based on self-interest. He argues that moral choices are part of a transformative process to a heavenly or hellish creature. He also claims that a better man understands the remaining badness in him, while the bad person lacks the self-awareness to see what they really are.

Chapter 5 - Sexual morality[edit]

Lewis discusses the Christian stance towards sexual morality. He equates sexual morality with the concept of chastity outside of marriage, which goes to show how narrow and lacking Christian ethics is on the matter (rape is not even mentioned). He distinguishes chastity, which is supposedly universally applicable, from "decency" which varies between cultures. Lewis reiterates the traditional teaching that sex should only occur within marriage. He acknowledges this is contrary to popular opinion and our instincts but he claims it is our instincts that have gone wrong. He justifies this by a teleology argument that the purpose of sex is procreation.

"The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body."

How he reliably knows this is not stated. He also equivocates between "purpose" generally and "biological purpose", as if biology is the only context of purpose. Additionally, he overlooks the biological mechanism of sexual pleasure, which also requires appropriate biological systems such as senses and a nervous system to experience it, and therefore also has a biological purpose.

"But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function."

Lewis assumes that sex is exclusively for procreation, which clearly is not the case in common society. Perhaps our appetite is just fine now we have contraception? There is no mention of the sexual appetite of healthy young women.

"Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body"

That clearly is not true as most of our "bad impulses" are based in body and all goodness is supposedly "spiritual", according to Christians. Christianity has a general principle of world renunciation.

"Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion"

Actually, Christian involvement in marriage is a recent innovation. Lewis argues there are powerful cultural forces that encourage our sexual instincts:

"There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us."

While that is probably true, it is probably more biological than cultural (since it occurs in most or all cultures). Lewis then discusses why he believes it is hard to adhere to Christian sexual ethics. He finishes by saying sexual ethics is not at the "center" of Christian morality and people should not get obsessed by "putting other people in the wrong".

"For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two."

Chapter 6 - Christian marriage[edit]

Lewis repeats Christian doctrine that a man and a women become "one flesh" in marriage.

"The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, where made to be combined together in pairs"

That overlooks the story of Adam being created first and Eve only later as a "helper" - they were not created "together". Genesis 2:15-22 Bible-icon.png Lewis again makes the teleological argument that sex should be limited to within marriage.

"The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union."

He admits there is disagreement among denominations about divorce, but he says the overall level of agreement about marriage is high (apart from polygamous Christians). He then moves on to the necessity of keeping marriage vows. Lewis also points out the social benefits of marriage with is maintained even if the partners are not in love. He argues that being "in love" is not a good universal basis for behavior because of its inconstancy and constantly changing life partners is mere thrill seeking.

Lewis then argues that Christians should not be pushing their views on others by legislation and suggests the separation of church and state on this matter:

"A great many people seem to thing that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. [...] There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members."

His friend J. R. R. Tolkien drafted a response which he never sent to Lewis in which he criticized the idea of a separate civil marriage because "No item of compulsory Christian morals is valid only for Christians" and "the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church".[8] This seems to be saying Christian customs should be imposed on non-believers.

He then argues for the traditional doctrine that the man should be the head of the household. This is because someone needs to make a final decision in case of disagreement that cannot be resolved by negotiation. Regarding the question of why the man rather than woman is the head:

"Well, firstly is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? [...] There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule."

His final argument is that women are simply too busy with child care to worry about being the head of the household. Lewis has been called an anti-feminist.[9]

Chapter 7 - Forgiveness[edit]

This chapter is primarily about the golden rule "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" Matthew 7:12 Bible-icon.png "Love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:31 Bible-icon.png but also considers it in the context of forgiveness. Lewis observes that it is hard to forgive our enemies and suggests starting forgiveness with lesser transgressions. He interprets the golden rule based on his view of himself, which in the clearest moments he thinks is "very nasty". This conveniently allows Lewis to apply a very vindictive interpretation of the golden rule which allows for punishment and warfare. He is no pacifist, having fought in the front line in the Somme during World War I.

"Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment-even to death. If you have committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy."

He rebuts the counterargument based on the commandment Thou shalt not kill, saying "kill" in this context means "murder". He says military service should be conducted with "a kind of gaiety and wholeheartedness".

The problem with Lewis's argument is he bases his subjective interpretation on his own negative view of himself. This is by no means a universal or absolute basis for morality. Only considering himself commits the spotlight fallacy. He also points out that the New Testament does not teach soldiers should leave the military (however it does teach they should give up their Earthly attachments and follow Jesus, which amounts to the same thing).

In treating with our enemies, Lewis says this amounts to "wish that he were not bad", even while possibly punishing or killing them. If this is "Christian love", it does not seem to count for much.

Lewis appears to forget that Jesus seems to have been a pacifist. Also, the platinum rule is arguably a superior moral code.

Chapter 8 - The great sin[edit]

Pride is considered by Christian tradition and Lewis as the greatest sin, which is the underlying cause of all the others.

"Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. [...] The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. [...] As long as you are proud you cannot know God. [...] Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good-above all, that we are better than someone else-I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. [...] It is purely spiritual [...] Pleasure in being praised is not pride [...] The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. [... Warm hearted admiration] is, of course, very far from being a sin. [... A humble man] will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. [...] If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed."

Lewis talks about the implications of pride and what pride is not, but is rather vague about how this relates to actual behavior. Much of Lewis's morality is just adopting a certain outlook without actually having to do anything differently.

Chapter 9 - Charity[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Christian charity is "love" of God and humans. Lewis says it is a state of will not an emotion. Love, he says, is not being "fond of" or "liking" something. While it is easier to love something we like, it is not necessary. Lewis suggests we get on acting as if we love, and the feeling of affection will often follow.

"Charity means 'Love, in the Christian sense' [...] Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality"

Chapter 10 - Hope[edit]

Lewis starts by saying hope is not escapism for Earthly concerns, without even defining what hope actually is. This seems to overlook the consistent Christian message of world renunciation. He does imply that it is hope of being in heaven. Lewis states that people are often seeking the unattainable in life. He says people repond by continuing to seek for earthly experiences like a "fool", or by suppressing the feeling, or by adopting the Christian attitude that claims there must be some thing that satisfies the desire i.e. heaven exists. This is the argument from desire.

"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. [...] If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. [...] I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death"

Lewis calls descriptions of heaven symbolic and says they do not imply that people literally play harps for eternity.

Chapter 11 - Faith[edit]

Lewis considers faith to be firstly the virtue of holding on to religious belief irrespective of emotional factors that cause people to doubt. This seems to imply that Christian belief is only based on rational thought.

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the world, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods."

He says Christians need repeated exercising of their belief:

"That is why daily prayers and religious readings and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed."

The second meaning of Faith, Lewis says, is related to realizing that a Christian cannot possibly fulfill God's moral law. This leads to the idea that "everyone is a sinner" and then to "everyone is dependent on God".

"The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues is that we fail. [...] I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam, or of a bargain in his mind. The first result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits. [...] God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt. Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from movement to movement, is given you by God. [...] When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work."

Setting a moral standard that is impossible for people to fulfill is just perverse. Even if God is a creator, that does not automatically have any moral implications. Lewis continues to develop this thought in the next chapter.

Chapter 12 - Faith[edit]

Lewis starts by saying the chapter is only for Christians who have reached a particular stage, that he may be wrong and his writing should be taken "with a grain of salt". He probably should have put that disclaimer in the first chapter!

He continues the argument from the preceding chapter by saying it is all about adopting a particular mindset.

"Now, once again, what God cares about is not exactly our actions. What he cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality-the kind of creatures He intended us to be-creatures related to Himself in a certain way."

He does quickly point out that relating to other humans in a certain way is also important.

Lewis argues that we can only know we are sinners by experience: if we try hard not to be and still fail. This brings him to the culmination of his argument, which is referred to as Christian repentance:

"All this trying leads up to the vital movement which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this. I can't' [...] The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. [...] And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying."

He then turns to the issue of whether faith or works is the final criteria for salvation. He dismisses the issue by saying they are interdependent.

"[...] out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come."

Christians seem to be waiting for divine intervention-even a miracle-for humans' problem with morality to be fixed. When a Christian does ask for God's help, it is unclear what God's intervention involves or even if it occurs. There seems to be a general lack of difference in a Christians behavior compared to non-Christians. As far as Christians know, and anyone else can tell, a Christian remains a "sinner" and God takes no action to change that. It is all too likely that their reliance for Jesus to bail them out of this predicament is just a manifestation of their sinful behavior:

"It is a self-deception on the part of philosophers and moralists if they believe that they are extricating themselves from decadence by waging war against it. Extrication lies beyond their strength: what they choose as a means, as salvation, is itself but another expression of decadence; they change the form of decadence, but they do not get rid of decadence itself."

Friedrich Nietzsche

While many Christians agree with Lewis that salvation is a single moment,[10] his conception of Jesus as a "personal savior" from sin is not universally held by Christians. For instance, Catholics believe salvation is a process and not a single moment when you "accept Jesus".[11]

Lewis points to the almost paradoxical idea that personal effort and God's involvement are both necessary, when earlier it was apparently beyond human capacity to escape from sin:

"[...] work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you [...]"

Finally, Lewis argues that while Christianity seems to be all about morality at first, it does suggest a path to heaven.

Book 4 - Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity[edit]

In Book 4, Lewis describes his ideas of the Trinity, how this relates to atonement and what a holy Christian would be like. He makes the claim that the change in converting to Christianity should be outwardly noticeable (and therefore empirically testable). It is effectively a variant of the argument from the efficacy of prayer and belief transforms lives.

Chapter 1 - Making and Begetting[edit]

Lewis starts by defended the necessity of theology and organized religion over just using personal spiritual experiences by saying it is the collected spiritual insight of thousands of people and required to "get anywhere".

"Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compare with which any thrills or pious feelings you an I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. [...] In other words, Theology is practical: especially now."

If God existed, we might expect God to reveal theology directly to people in general. Instead, we must supposedly rely on a human administered religious organizations. This sounds like the organization is getting in the way between God and people.

Lewis seems to assume that the church collects spiritual experiences and wisely incorporates them into a purified orthodox belief. However, there is little evidence that the church actually works this way. This is similar to the common consent argument for the existence of God but applied to theology in this case.

Lewis says he is concerned that people belief many "out of date" ideas, which "real" theologians "corrected" centuries ago.

Lewis again de-emphasises the teachings of Jesus as a "wise man" and stresses his role as a saviour. (Which Jesus contradicts saying he was sent "proclaim the good news" Luke 4:43 Bible-icon.png)

"For when you get down to it, is not the popular idea of Christianity simply this: that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took His advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war? Now, mind you, that is quite true. But it tells you much less than the whole truth about Christianity and it has no practical importance at all. It is quite true that if we took Christ's advice we should soon be living in a happier world."

Interesting that Lewis believes that preventing another world war is of "no practical importance", possibly because humans tend to ignore good advice.

Lewis goes on to discuss becoming a son of God and Jesus was begotten before the world was created (as if the opposing view of Arianism was common). He defines begetting as:

"To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make."

He claims that humans are like God but not in the same sense as Jesus because it was begotten. Lewis is a believer in the superiority of humans, compared to other animals:

"When we come to man, the highest of the animals, we get the completest resemblance to God which we know of. (There may be creatures in other worlds who are more like God than man is, but we do not know about them."

Lewis finishes by distinguishing between biological/physical and spiritual attributes. He says biological attributes are a "shadowy or symbolic resemblance" to the spiritual, which is rather similar to Platonic idealism.

Of course, most skeptics regard theology as fictitious or false.

"Whatever a theologian regards as true must be false: there you have almost a criterion of truth. His profound instinct of self-preservation stands against truth ever coming into honour in any way, or even getting stated."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter 2 - The Three-Personal God[edit]

Lewis uses the argument from uniqueness for the idea of the Trinity:

"If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market."

He then argues that advancing in theology is like having an increasing number of spatial dimensions in that more complex relations can occur. Relationships between personalities can exist in these higher levels that cannot be understood from the merely human perspective. He admits "there isn't any good talking about Him" but says its important to relate to the "three-personal life".

Lewis says theology is like experimental science except that the availability of evidence is dependent on God's initiative. He compares a human to an experimental instrument and poorly kept instruments see God unclearly.

"That is why horrible nations have horrible religions"

That statement might be more telling that than he realizes.

"God can show Himself as He really is only to real men."

That statement is contradicted by all the divine manifestations in the Bible. Also, skeptics do not seek total understanding of God but would like to see some evidence of God's existence. It hardly needs saying that "real men" is the No true Scotsman fallacy. Lewis then reiterates the argument from religious complexity.

Chapter 3 - Time and Beyond Time[edit]

Lewis begins to discuss the problem of a God having to attempt to potentially answer millions of people praying to him at the same time. He uses the idea that God is outside of time to address this. God apparently exists so that the past and the future are the same as the present from his perspective. He briefly considers the problem of Jesus being incarnate and yet also existing outside of time.

He finishes on the predestination argument against free will.

"He does not 'foresee' you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing."

Considering it from God's point of view is just a red herring. The problem with predestination is that the future is already fixed and therefore not contingent (or willed or anything else).

Lewis mentions that accepting this should not be a stumbling block to Christian belief because it is optional.

"It is a 'Christian idea' in the sense that great and wise Christians have held it and there is nothing in it contrary to Christianity. But it is not in the Bible or any of the creeds. You can be a perfectly good Christian without accepting it, or indeed without thinking of the matter at all."

This contradicts his earlier position that theology was a true "map" or representation of the divine, and necessary for Christians. By claiming it is just opinion and optional belief, he says this theology is just a proposition without any reliable way to verify it. He seems to want to have it both ways: that we know theology is true and we don't know theology is true.

Chapter 4 - Good Infection[edit]

In this chapter about the nature of the Trinity, Lewis begins by discussing causality in the case of things that have always existed: he uses the example of two books in a stack. It is questionable if causality can be applied to things that have always been that way, since cause implies a time before. Causality is a pre-existing circumstance that makes an occurrence inevitable. Lewis then applies this to the theology that the Father begot the Son but did not pre-exist him. It is meaningless to say something was begotten "outside of time".

"The Son exists because the Father exists: but there never was a time before the Father produced the Son."

He then turns to the statement God is love and says that implies God has at least two persons.

"If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love."

Didn't Lewis just say God was timeless? He can't now say God experiences time without undermining his previous points.

"And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing-not even a person-but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. [...] I know this is almost inconceivable [...]"

So does God change or not? Does he exist inside or outside of time? Is he personal or not? Lewis does seem to like having God be a paradox. He then talks vaguely about the Holy spirit. He says this theology is relevant because it fulfills our purpose, as determined by God, and so we can be happy:

"There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made."

Chapter 5 - The Obstinate Toy Soldiers[edit]

Lewis uses yet another analogy, this time of toy tin soldiers being changed into living creatures, as a metaphor for the theology of atonement and salvation. He does more directly express the contempt of earthly existence and his world renunciation. The "ideal" man is more a maladjusted victim than anything else:

"The two kinds of life are now not only different (they would always have been that) but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centred, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of others, they exploit the whole universe. [...] And because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, 'killed', He chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn-poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. [...] For the first time we saw a real man."

He talks again about how God meant everyone to be: interconnected with each other (exactly what that means is unclear) and completely dependent on God:

"Every individual would appear connected with every other. And not only that. Individuals are not really separate from God any more than from one another. Every man, woman and child all over the world is feeling and breathing at this moment only because God, so to speak, is 'keeping him going'."

He alludes to how Jesus has changed the situation of all mankind: that Jesus's transformation made all our transformations possible:

"It is just this; that the business of becoming a son of God, being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless 'spiritual' life, has been done for us. Humanity is already 'saved' in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation."
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

It is deeply unclear how this could possibly happen. How can the human race decide to collectively turn away from God and keep it that way? How are individuals forced into agreement with that policy? Theologians might say original sin, which also makes no sense. How does an incarnation of God enable a transformation in others by undergoing it himself? Did Jesus really have a transformation since he was God the whole time? Why exactly was our transition not possible before? Why exactly is it possible now? What mechanism propagates this "offer" to everyone, including those who have not even heard of Christianity? Why is salvation/reconciliation not universal? Why is "accepting Jesus" a condition of this transition? How does the apologist know any of this reliably? (Hint: they don't.) Why didn't Jesus mention most of these details in the gospels, but left it to later writers? It seems like Christian theology was written with a great deal of imagination but not with an eye for coherence, for which we can probably thank Paul the Apostle.

Chapter 6 - Two Notes[edit]

Why didn't God beget/create ideal people?[edit]

Lewis firstly addresses the objection that God could simply create or beget people in the preferred state. He uses the typical free will defence.

"The process if being turned from a creature into a son would not have been difficult or painful if the human race had not turned away from God centuries ago. They were able to do this because He gave them free will: He gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness."

This is all just assertion without any evidence. Why can't a being love without free will? The claim that people turned away from God implies that they were once not turned away from God i.e. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Why can't God just keep creating people in the Garden, to give them the best possible chance? Don't people in heaven, who have "infinite happiness", have free will? Can't they turn away from God? As long as heaven is possible, it provides a strong objection to this line of argumentation.

Lewis then turns to the objection that God begot Jesus who was "Son of God", so why could he not populate the universe that way? Lewis simply asserts that God's nature is non-contingent and could not have been other than it is. How could he know that? He also uses the argument that begotten Sons of God would not be individuals, as if that would be a problem. This is similar to the one-many problem in philosophy.

Same but different[edit]

Lewis then considers the one-many problem in relation to people.

"Christianity thinks of human individuals not as merely members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body-different from one another and each contributing what no other could. [...] But a Christian must not be either a Totalitarian or an Individualist."

Chapter 7 - Let's Pretend[edit]

This chapter brings together many of the earlier chapters into a more concise statement of what Lewis thinks it is to be a Christian. He says he emulate Christ when we pray, that God changes us when we pay to make us more like Christ. We then have a greater awareness of our sinful nature and realize that only God can fix this. "We, at most, allow it to be done to us."

There seems to be very little practical consequence of this, except for waiting on God to "fix" Christians, which does not seem to have happened by external appearances. He is in a sense using the argument from the efficacy of prayer and that belief actually transforms lives.

Chapter 8 - Is Christianity Hard or Easy?[edit]

Lewis says that it is impossible for a person to follow morality by their own efforts. It is very difficult to rely on God to help us, but it is easier than doing it ourselves.

"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self-all your wishes and precautions-to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. [...] It is the only things we are made for. And there are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drain in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right."

Chapter 9 - Counting the Cost[edit]

Lewis says God demands perfection. Christ will supposedly help us to do this but not to do anything else.

"[...] no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints in beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death. [...] If we let Him-for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot not imagine [...] The process will be long and in parts very painful"

Chapter 10 - Nice People or New Men[edit]

Lewis then turns to the argument that if Christians were really transformed, this effect would be evident in their outward behaviour.

"Better songs would they have to sing, for me to believe in their Saviour: more like saved ones would his disciples have to appear unto me!"

Friedrich Nietzsche

He starts with a no true Scotsman defence, which is a fallacy. This could be interpreted as saying people who have adopted a particular world view would act morally, which is very difficult to observe experimentally.

"If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man's outward actions-if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before-then I think we must suspect that his 'conversion' was largely imaginary [...] Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better [...] In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. [...] Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we given them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity itself."

Alternatively, no change takes place in sincere converts because God does not intervene out of choice or because of his non-existence.

The evidence for the transformation Lewis is expecting is mixed, at best. Researchers note that behaviour is modified after a religious conversion but they include participation in religious rituals as a behaviour change and is not necessarily reflective of an improvement in moral conduct. There is actually many shortcomings with existing research but the sheer size of the effect claimed by religion has not yet been observed.

It is actually courageous that Lewis suggests putting his claims to an empirical test. "By their fruit you will recognize them." Matthew 7:16 Bible-icon.png This is another case of modern Christianity not fulfilling biblical signs.

However, Lewis then argues that the world cannot be divide into Christian and non-Christian, so the claim is not practically testable because we have no well defined groups to compare. He also remarks that people are Christian to different degrees, with even some non-Christians having some positive divine influence. This is basically Loki's wager. If a change was significant in even some people within a group, it should be observable even if it is effect is diluted by some pseudo-Christians.

He does say the effect should be noticeable:

  • A Christian will be "nicer" than if they were not.
  • A convert to Christianity would be "nicer" than they were before conversion.

He doesn't seem to suggest, but it would follow, that a person leaving Christianity would act more immorally. Lewis points out that people have different starting personalities from "natural causes" and just comparing a pair of people is insufficient.

"Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works."

A Christian can still be nasty because he has only been improved from a low starting point. The problem of comparing just two people is correct but it can be managed by using larger sample sizes.

He then makes an interesting point: perhaps people with more deficiencies find Christianity more attractive?

"There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expectred to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. [...] Christ said 'Blessed are the poor' and 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom' [...] But do not His words also apply to another kind of riches and poverty? [...] If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. 'Why drag God into it?' you may ask. [...] If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you-beware!"

Lewis says that our natural tendency to do good does not count for much because it depends on God (but doesn't the help God promises to Christians also depend on God?) Also, our natural personality might not survive death and we need to develop our "eternal spirit"... We are back now to saying God improves something that is not observable in external behavior.

Lewis is unclear if he expects Christians to appear better or worse than non-Christians. However, if what he says is true, we should see a different distribution of behaviours between Christians and non-Christians. For instance, the very best Christians would be better than the best non-Christians and vice versa. This is not observed, so his argument fails.

Studying people in longitudinal cohort studies should give researchers a nice unbiased population and avoid the possibility of a sample group attracting people more in need of "fixing". Some of the cohort will convert to Christianity but there is no observable transformation in these people that is attributable to religion - since conversion should generally be a positive change it should be evidence as an overall effect. This type of study would avoid all of Lewis's objections, but of which there is an unfortunate lack.

"We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up 'nice'; just as we must to produce a world where all have plenty to eat."

Lewis finally suggests some practical outcome of an overall vision for Christian society. However, he immediately goes back to worrying about "saving souls". He again criticises the argument that Christians behave no better than anyone else:

"What can you ever really know of other people's souls-of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles?"

We are again back to Loki's wager and hinting at anecdotal evidence without actually giving any evidence at all.

"What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call 'nature' or 'the real world' fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?"

Lewis does not have much faith in his argument if he launches, as an afterthought, into the "What would you say to God?" argument as extra insurance.

Chapter 11 - The New Men[edit]

Lewis compares becoming a Christian to evolutionary processes and Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch/Superman (and perhaps Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead).

"Imaginative writers try sometimes to picture this next step-the 'Superman' as they call him, but they usually only succeed in picturing someone a good deal nastier than man as we know him"

This is not particularly surprising for Nietzsche: "this is my doubt of you, and my secret laughter: I suspect ye would call my Superman—a devil!"

Lewis notes that evolutionary progress is marked by surprises, such as brains being a deciding factor for relatively slow and delicate humans. He speculates the next step in evolution will be similarly unexpected. He even suggest the progress of life might transcend evolution itself; presumably he is referring to spiritual progress.

"Or, to make an Irish bull [logical absurdity], I should expect the next stage in Evolution not to be a stage in Evolution at all: should expect that Evolution itself as a method of producing change will be superseded. [...] Now, if you care to talk in these terms, the Christian view is precisely that the Next Step has already appeared."

However, Christianity regards man as having turned away from God and from their earlier state. It is therefore a return to an earlier state (which practically never happens in evolution) that Christianity predicts. He contrasts the "Next Step" with evolution in that it is asexual (although evolution applies to asexual reproduction), voluntary (evolution is not), rapid (compared to evolution) and the stakes are infinite (as in Pascal's wager).

"Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: bu others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. [...] They will not be very like the idea of 'religious people' which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. [...] In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society."

Here, it is sounding less like the change in converting to Christianity is outwardly visible, as claimed in previous chapters. It is also interesting that he claims most so-called religious people are not like this, as well as the rarity of truly holy people, which hints at the low effectiveness of organised religion. He addresses the possibility that everyone would become the same if they emulated Christ:

"To become new men means losing what we now call 'ourselves'. Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to 'have the mind of Christ' as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be 'in' us all, shall we not be exactly the same?"

As is typical of his style, he addresses this by two analogies: one light that illuminates but shows differences in people, and salt that is used in cooking but does not make everything the same. He goes on to criticize attempting to live without Christ:

"The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. [...] What I call 'My wishes' become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men's thoughts or even suggested to me by devils. [...] Sameness is to be found most among the most 'natural' men, not those who surrender to Christ. [...] Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. [...] Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with him everything else thrown in."

See also[edit]

External Links[edit]


  1. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 [2]
  3. W.M. Wundt, Lectures on human and animal psychology, 1907
  4. [3]
  5. Malcolm R. Westcott, Volition is a Nag in Affect, Conditioning, and Cognition (PLE: Emotion): Essays on the Determinants of Behavior, 1985
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7]
  10. [8]
  11. [9]