Friday, January 13, 2006

Mere Christianity Book II Chapter 5

Mere Christianity
Book II, Chapter 5

“The Christian belief is that if we share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy creatures.”

“People ask, ‘What is the next step in evolution?’ In Christ this new kind of man has appeared, and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.”

How does God put life put into us? Someone like Billy Graham might say “It is put into us when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Lewis says that there are three things that spread Christ’s life into us: baptism, belief, and Holy Communion. Why believe that there are these things? We believe it on authority: Christ has told us that this is so.

We believe lots and lots of things on authority; evolution, the solar system, the Norman Conquest, and the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. “A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

But Mere Christianity is supposed to be about things that all orthodox Christians agree upon. Many Christians would say that the sacraments are mere symbols; they are commanded by Christ, but they don’t cause Christ’s life to be put into a person. These are put there by grace through faith. Lewis’s Methodist interlocutor had some problems because he thought Lewis didn’t talk about faith enough.

Why does God not make His existence perfectly evident by “landing in force?” If God is omnipotent why doesn’t he make His existence perfectly evident and eliminate all evil by force? Why is God content to set up something like the French Underground in the devil’s world, when he could just clobber the devil and take over by force? Because he wants for people to choose to follow Him freely. “I would not have thought much of a Frenchman who waited until the Allies were marching into Germany before announcing that he was on our side.”

God will invade (the Second Coming), but when he does it will be the end of the world. Then, it will be too late to choose your side.


Steven Carr said...

'Why believe that there are these things? We believe it on authority: Christ has told us that this is so.

We believe lots and lots of things on authority; evolution, the solar system, the Norman Conquest, and the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. “A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Is Lewis for real?

We believe in the Solar System just because an authority tells us it is true?

Presumably Lewis believed the world was round, because that was what the gossip in the Oxford dining rooms was.

Little wonder that many people read Lewis and then find that they no longer have any common ground with sceptics - neither can understand where the other is coming from.

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: Have you done enough observing of the skies to know that there are other planets that go around the sun? Would you, if you had lived before Copernicus, been able to figure out that the earth goes around the sun and not vice versa, as Ptolemy had taught? If you lived in a culture that thought the earth was flat, would you have been the one to insist that it was round? How about e=mc squared? Think you can figure that one out apart from authority?

People make extensive use of authority throughout their lives. I think Lewis has that one right. If you think you are justified in believing that Christianity is true, then you are justified in believing some things on the authoritiy of the Bible and the Church, just as an atheist might accept claims about how evolution works on the authority of evolutionary biologists, at least where there's a consensus.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Vic, So what if people make extensive use of authority/authorities throughout their lives? Is that an argument? In favor of what? I'd say it's closer to saying nothing than being an argument.

Or it comes close to conceding that the belief that "correct beliefs are everything," is itself questionable. Because people breathe authoritative-sounding creeds, superstitions, enthusiasms and denunciations of different ideas, right into each other's faces from the womb to the tomb.

So we're all influenced by countless authoritative sounding teachings to a very large degree throughout in our lives, from the cultures we are raised in to the books and people each of us happen to encounter during our lives. And each of us can probably only believe what we can believe at any one particular moment, no more no less, based on shifting levels of knowledge about ourselves and the world around us, and differing experiences with others.

The Epistle of James says the demons BELIEVE in God and tremble. Great help that authoritative "beliefs" are to them.

Oddly enough some parts of Lewis's "authoritative" Bible also say God sends people delusions to ensure their damnation, rather the opposite of offering people healthy authoritative beliefs. Or elsewhere in the N.T. it says God creates pots just for destruction. Isaiah has a verse about God creating both good and evil. Which leads to the whole centuries old split between authoritative Christians concerning Arminianism and Calvinism, or even between different forms of Christian dualism and monism.

So yeah, let's agree with Lewis that we all rely on authorities to a large degree, stubborn authorities, like authorities who due to being so authoritative in what they believe, that eventually they don't even wish to worship together under the same roof, even when they are all are Christians.

So what else is new?

Their also are universalist Christian authorities (visit or .org), as well as Christians who believe only their little church will be saved. Go figure.

I read Lewis's MERE CHRISTIANITY twice in college. However, my massuse, a smart Christian lady, read it a month ago for a course at her conservative Baptist church. She said it was one of the most boring reads of her life, analogy piled on analogy, this is like that, etc. etc. etc. She also noted that Lewis refrained from quoting the Bible very much, unlike a lot of study materials at her church.

With my face in the massage table I added only a brief line to the monologue that SHE, not I, had begun, and it was something she didn't mind hearing, namely that "Analogies don't prove anything."

Steven Carr said...

Victor seems to have missed the point.

The evidence for the planets in the Solar System is of an entirely different nature to the evidence for the second coming of Jesus.

Lewis pretends they are both beliefs based on authority.

But if you read Lewis , and then go to a sceptics discussion forum and try put those ideas of Lewis forward, you will get your face torn off.

You are not able to read Lewis and then obtain from him arguments which cut any ice with sceptics. They will just ridicule you.

Anonymous said...

Methinks you're missing the point, Don Jr., along with Victor.
Authority from evidence is not the same as authority from wishful thinking.

Victor Reppert said...

What I said, was that once you accept Christianity, it is reasonable to accept some claims about it based on the authority of the Bible and the Church. I might read a book by a Grandmaster to help me decide what opening to play in chess, it is considerably less clear that I ought to read what a Grandmaster says about whether I should play more chess, less, or none at all. Of course appeals to the authority of Scripture will be worthless in discussions with skeptics, since they deny the authority of Scripture.

Christ told those who followed him to take communion in remembrace of him. That is reason enough for me to do it, and no reason for Steven to do it, since he's an atheist.

Some people object to the very idea of taking things on authority (at least that is how they sound) but that is silly, since we, quite rationally use authority in other dimensions of our lives.

Anonymous said "Authority from evidence is not the same as authority from wishful thinking." Exactly. Lewis says "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells them the weight of the evidece is against it." Also, in Surprised by Joy he says that his wishes were on the side of atheism and that when he thought the evidence was tipping in favor of Christianity he becamee "the most reluctant convert in all England." So regardless of what you might think about it, Lewis is claiming that you should accept the authority of the Bible and the church only if you think it reasonable to do so, if you think the evidence supports it.

Lewis is not, repeat not, advocating the acceptance of any authorities based on wishful thinking. To believe that he formed his beliefs based on his wishes implies that virtually everything he says about how he formed them is false. Why should you believe that. It's one thing to say that he got things wrong. I can understand that. What I don't get is how anyone can think that he went wrong because of wishful thinking, when he says over and over that it was exactly what he didn't want to believe.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you guys still ain't getting it.
There is evidence for other planets, evolution, Columbus sailing to the Americas, etc. That is empirical evidence.
There is zero empirical evidence on whether Christianity is true or false. Just as there is zero empirical evidence that a God exists or doesn't exist.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Don Jr. took issue with my phrase that "analogies do not prove anything." His counter claim was that "analogies make things more clear." Do they? If the analogies are being employed to try and depict unproven beliefs then such "clarity" is only relative to a person's beliefs.

Lewis employed analogy after analogy in Mere Christianity, filling a book with sentences that demonstrated he was quite clear about his beliefs in unseen matters of supernatural history and theology, and equally unable to prove them.

Remember the story of the blind men touching the elephant? Each touched a different part of the elephant and descibed it using analogies of what they knew. None of them had nailed. No analogy can describe an elephant, you have to be able to see it, and even then that's just a visual description, it's still far from all there is to know about elephants. Lewis is likewise working in the dark, coming up with analogy after analogy.

Lewis remains in the dark concerning the truth of lots of unseen matters lying beyond death or even inside "the Divine," analogies don't truly clarify such matters, they only help clarify what Lewis himself claims to believe about them.

Some of his beliefs and intuitions aren't even specifically Christian, though Christians feel free to include them in their overall theology and philosophy of life and baptize them as being part of "Christian" beliefs.

Likewise, various religions claim supersession on each others' inspired holy books, the Christians claiming their books trump those of the Jews. But then, Samaritan Jews only recognized the first five books of Moses as being "holy," while the returning diaspora Jews claimed their wider canon of holy Scriptures trumped the canon of the Samaritans. Muslims and Mormons both believe their holy books and teachings trump both the books of the Jews and Christians. And so it goes. As for Hindus, some of their holy books are among the oldest known on earth, and they accept multiple incarnations of God as well as ways of devotion and belief, while some Buddhists accept savior-like Boddhisatvas. Then there's Lao Tse and "the Tao." The religious world is curious indeed. There's also magazines from Christianity Today to Hinduism Today.

Edwardtbabinski said...


At Wheaton College (the Protestant Evangelical's version of "Harvard" where a host of Lewisiana is stored, including many original manuscripts and writings by the author of "Mere Christianity") a professor was dismissed in 2003 because he had converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, which is still against the rules at Wheaton. "Mere Christianity" indeed.

Oddly enough about that same time Wheaton also did not renew the contract of a biology professor who spoke enthusiastically about evolution and did not give a polite tip of the hat to Genesis understood in a creationistic fashion.

All this from a college with the greatest collection of Lewisiana in the Northern Hemisphere. (I wish Lewis was alive today since he befriended Catholics and was himself pro-evolution. He could then take away the collection of his papers from Wheaton. Maybe somebody ought to make a fuss over at Wheaton to get his papers relocated, maybe to a place where his fellow Anglicans who are Evangelicals, like N.T. Wright, can enjoy them. Bout time.)

Or maybe, just maybe, Christianity with it's 45,000+ denominations and missionary organizations that continue to split and divide, is itself to blame for giving the world the impression that "mere Christianity" is something of a will 'o the wisp that can only be held together by strong governmental power and influence such as the Catholic church once possessed.