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Beyond the Lone Islands

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mere Christianity

I think few readers of this blog will have missed the fact that I'm a C.S. Lewis fan. (Hello! My blog title and my blog name are both his inventions!) In case you did miss it - now you know, because I'm telling you.

I don't think I actually read even the Narnia books until I was in my late 20s; but then I read almost every one of his books, theology as well as fiction, and a few biographies about his life as well. In my third term of college English literature studies, I wrote my essay on the concept of good and evil in the Narnia series. I think I can safely say that no other writer has had as big an impact on my overall understanding of Christianity as C.S. Lewis. Books by and about him (most of them in English small print pocket editions) occupy approximately 50 cm of my shelfspace. (He shares a shelf with Tolkien and J.K Rowling.)

I have kept returning to his fiction frequently; however, it has been a while since I properly reread any of the theology books. Some weeks ago I took out Mere Christianity to look something up. I got caught. The book has stayed on the shelf next to my bed since, and I'm reading it slowly. I'm rather fond of the picture on the cover of my 1979 pocket edition, so I scanned it for you:

The following quotation has been lingering in my mind this week. It's begging me to share it. Lucky me - when I googled, I found the whole book availabe as e-text. I can copy, don't have to type! It also means that if you urgently want to read more of the surrounding context, you don't have to go find the book...

The contents of this book were first given as radio talks. Lewis kept that style in the printed version. If he had lived today, I think he'd have been a great blogger!

'A "talk" on the radio should, I think, be as like real talk as possible, and should not sound like an essay being read aloud. In my talks I had therefore used all the contractions and colloquialisms I ordinarily use in conversation.' (Quote from the Preface)
From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 2:

Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right - leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys' philosophies.

It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of - all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain-and, of course, you find that what we call "seeing a table" lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of. A child saying a child's prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not - and the modern world usually is not - if you want to go on and ask what is really happening - then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.

Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made "religion" simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune. Notice, too, their idea of God "making religion simple": as if "religion" were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. ---
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.


rae said...

You chose possibly the best author ever for your "understanding of Christianity." I think the thing I like the best about C.S. Lewis is that he spent his whole life thinking about God, and wasn't afraid to ask questions, and it shows in everything he writes.

Raven said...

"Reality is something you could not have guessed..." brilliant. I'm sorry that you have had such a rough week. I think that above and beyond the logistics of dealing with aging parents is the vast well of emotion - our inner child who wants to remain that struggling against the role reversal of being put in the role of parent to our parents. It's difficult and painful and beautiful too in some ways, but not easy. I hope things go smoother next time.

California Girl said...

I remember asking my best friend if she thought God watched out for us. She and I had been regular church attendees as children and teens. She was raised Lutheran and I was raised Presbyterian before my dad decided they were too liberal and moved us to the Baptist church.

Her response to my question?

"I believe in God, just not a benevolent God."

Not sure what I believe along those lines but her response has lingered with me for many years.

Jeannette StG said...

C.S. Lewis is a brilliant writer! I assume you adhere to his views?
I guess I'm a little confused Dawn. I saw in the right column that you read Rowling's books of Harry Potter, as well as C.S. Lewis. Hope you know that their writings come from a very different source?

DawnTreader said...

Jeannette! Thank you for your concern. However, I respectfully disagree - about the "very different source".

Because I agree with C.S. Lewis, I have no problem with J.K. Rowling. I don't think Lewis would have had either. Rowling too is a brilliant fantasy writer. Lewis in his works used lots of other mythology than Christianity. Think about it: witches, magicians, centaurs, fauns, dragons, giants, talking animals, magic spells, magic objects, enchantments, parallell worlds... Rowling draws from the same sources - Christianity included. The biblical stuff is just not as obvious in the Harry Potter books. People disagree about it. Some don't see it at all. I do. I have read and listened to these books more times than I can count by now. I also discussed them for 2½ years on an internet forum. In fact I would be as bold as to say the Potter world for me personally helped build up my faith rather than tear it down, at a time when I was very tired of what Lewis calls "Christianity-and-water" (see the above quote). It gave me a new set of imagery, and challenge for thought. Magic in the Potter books can be used for good or for bad. In much the same way, "spiritual power" can be used in the right way vs misused.

Here's another quote from Mere Christianity , which shows Lewis' views on other mythology:

"Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories
scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men." (Book 2, Chapter 3)

Lewis also somewhere, I don't remember the context, called Christianity "God's true myth". Lewis used old myth to create new myth to illustrate spiritual truth. Rowling does the same thing, in her own way, and for our time. Her myth in my opinion is not opposed to Christianity. It pretty much tells a similar story but in different pictures. She picks a lot from the whole anti-Christ idea in Revelations, though (Lord Voldemort). Rather brilliantly done in my opinion. And the end of the story is certainly not the victory of evil.

This my well-thought-through opinion after eight years or so of Harry Potter-study. You are of course perfectly entitled to have another! :)
Monica aka DawnTreader

DawnTreader said...

To everyone: I copied the main contents of my answer above about C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling to a new blogpost in my Harry Potter blog Through My Spectrespecs: J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Myth and Christianity If anyone should wish to continue that particular discussion, I suggest we do it there.

Deedee said...

Monica - I totally agree with all you've said here. To be a Christian does not require that you see evil in absolutely everything else, though some would have us believe that. There is beauty and truth in all religions and myth, whether pagan tradition or fairy tales, Harry Potter included. I'm glad I am open minded enough to realize this. I think C.S. Lewis has a wonderful grasp on Christianity, in all it's mystery and complexity. I've posted about my own spiritual journey if you care to visit my blog.

Suburban Girl said...

Have you read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken? It is not by CS Lewis but the author was friends with Lewis and corresponded with him. Some of the letters are in the book. I think you would like it too.

DawnTreader said...

Rebecca, I have read A Severe Mercy and have a copy of it among my Lewis books. It was a long time since I read it but I remember liking it. Lewis seems to have been a great friend to quite a few people besides all his own writings and public talks. That adds to my appreciation of him as a person.

Jeannette StG said...

Hi Monika,
thank you for taking me serious. With different source I merely meant from a different origin. Hubby and I talked about it after I gave my comment to you, and he brought up the same things you did:). I said to him that people may speak the same language (symbols), but have different definitions, because the point from where they start (source) is different.
I am not judging either one of them, for how they have chosen to write - it is their book, so it is their choice.

DawnTreader said...

Hi Jeannette. I'm not sure I understand in what way you make a difference between source/ origin. I do understand what you mean about people sometimes using the same language or symbols but meaning different things. I just still don't agree with you about Rowling and Lewis using symbols all that differently. I'd say it's more like they're using the symbols differently sometimes but meaning the same thing! J.K. Rowling has declared on more than one occasion that she is a Christian. I'll try and relocate the links to a quote or two. I don't have the time right now but I'll get back to it.

DawnTreader said...

@ Jeannette and others who might be interested:

I have now done my bit of research promised in the last comment above. I put the quotes in a post in my Spectrespecs blog: Some Quotes from interviews with J.K. Rowling


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