Monday, August 23, 2004

I finished reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity a long, long time ago it's just that I never got the time to pick up the next title in my book list so I kept putting this comment thing off. This was my first time to read a book of his and I must say that it's not an easy read. If the 10 page preface is any indication of the coming chapters ahead (you have to read it without pausing or backtracking to get his point) I thought I might be in for some hard read. Good thing I was proven wrong. The book wasn't much of a hard read, thankfully Mr. Lewis managed to keep the original flavor of his radio broadcast in this book. There were lots and lots of wisdom nuggets scattered throughout the pages of every chapter and they don't come off as thoroughly religious (the theme of which tends to scare off people). In fact he appeals to the common sense of the reader by laying everything out in the simplest possible terms. So although the realm of apologetics are relegated to the side by most people it's still by no means not important as we're wont to believe, one can't help but be fascinated with what Christianity is all about.

Clive Staples Lewis starts out by humbly describing himself as "a very ordinary layman," who sees himself to be "out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others" the depth and scope of the arguments he wrote in defence of the Christian faith cannot be denied. He calls out for sobriety in the realm of biblical matters. He reaches out to all who believe to examine their faith a lot closer than before and to think about the creed that they profess outside of the traditions they have gotten used to for Christianity goes beyond labels and religion, "For I am not writing to expound something I could call 'my religion', but to expound 'mere' Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not." The whole book is divided into four as the original contents were published separately when they first appeared. Book 1. Right and Wrong As a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe affirms and discusses the existence of morality (a sense of right and wrong) that, despite the atheists' arguments to the contrary, could not have started with man alone nor would the various theories evolution be capable of coming up with such a thing:

"My reason was that Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. 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." (p. 31; We Have Cause to be Uneasy)
Book 2. What Christians Believe continues the premise that Book 1 has started by elevating the argument further to discussing the popular question "If God is good why does he allow evil?" (he discusses this further in his other book), a benevolent God satisfying His own justice by purchasing our salvation with His own life, the existence of a cosmic adversary that's dependent on his adversary, the concept of free will, and the claims of Jesus as the Messiah sent to Earth to save us from ourselves:

"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 was merely a man and 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." (p. 52; The Shocking Alternative)
Book 3. Christian Behaviour discusses the laws of Christianity, the struggles of a God fearing human being to keep those laws, and how foolish it is to continue on our own without surrendering our cravings and struggles to God in the first place:

"In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.

"We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again." (p. 101; Sexual Morality)

Last but not least, Book four. Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity discusses the doctrine of the triune God, the role of each person in the Trinity with regards to those His followers, the important role of believers towards other people, the simple yet complicated matters of it all, warning against diving into something without counting the cost and judging without first understanding:

"Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call 'good infection'. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else." (p. 177; Good Infection)
If the whole purpose of becoming a Christian is to become a little Christ and the way Jesus describes the cost of following him to be both hard and easy, then you're going to be in for a bumpy ride considering the opposition you're going to face. Christianity doesn't offer a space on the fence for one to sit on, either you belong to His side or not. If you're still wavering between these two sides then I definitely recommend that you pick up this book because it would help you a lot in making the right decision. Of those who made their decision to live for Jesus, Mr. Lewis notes them to be "stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of 'religious people' which you have formed from your general reading." If there's anything that Mr. Lewis helps us to define what made him decide to get out of atheism to become a believer in God, is that he discovered there's nothing 'mere' at all about Christianity.

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