Book Review: "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis - Book 2: "What Christians Believe"

Book Review: "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis - Book 2: "What Christians Believe"
"What Christians Believe" by DALL-E

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In our journey through C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," we now turn to Book 2, "What Christians Believe." This section offers a deep dive into the core beliefs of Christianity, contrasting them with other worldviews, and examining the profound implications of these beliefs on human nature and morality. In this review, we'll explore the dichotomy of God's nature as presented by Lewis - the contrast between pantheism and Christianity, and how my own perspectives on metamodernism and transcendent mysticism offer a nuanced view of this dichotomy. We'll also look at the essence of free will and its implications for moral choice and discuss Lewis's interpretation of the Fall of Man and its profound implications for pursuing happiness, contrasting transient pleasures with lasting fulfillment. The concept of repentance, as a transformative change of mind, will be explored, highlighting its importance in personal and spiritual growth.

Finally, we'll examine Lewis's perspective on the evolution of humanity through Christ, connecting this idea with similar concepts across various religious traditions. This exploration will offer insights into the spiritual and moral development that transcend religious boundaries.

Diverging Views of God

Lewis begins with a foundational divergence in the understanding of God's nature. On one side, we have pantheism, a view that sees God and the universe as one and the same. As Lewis notes, this perspective is shared by (many branches of) Hinduism and philosophers like Hegel. In this view, the universe is essentially an extension of God, imbued with divinity in every aspect of its existence. The implication here is profound – if the universe is God, then every part of it is sacred, every moment a divine act.

On the other side stands Lewis's understanding of the Christian view, shared by many Jews and Muslims, where God is seen as distinctly separate from His creation. This transcendent God is not just beyond our physical universe but also morally and ethically superior. In this view, the universe, while created by God, is not divine in itself. It's a creation distinct from its Creator, who exists independently of it.

Free Will

Lewis argues that free will is the crux of our moral existence, a core belief of mine. It's what allows for the possibility of genuine love and goodness. He posits that a world devoid of free will, populated by mere automatons, would be devoid of real value. This notion resonates with my understanding of human agency. Just as free will is essential for moral choice in Lewis's theology, in sociotechnical systems, users' autonomy is fundamental to their meaningful and ethical use.

Discussing the fall of man, Lewis suggests that the root of human downfall lies not in a specific act, like sex, but in the desire to be like God, independent of Him. This concept echoes the themes of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, accomplishments and animalistic emotions are fleeting. Lewis touches on a crucial distinction between transient pleasures and enduring fulfillment. His perspective invites us to consider deeper, more lasting forms of joy and contentment beyond mere happiness, reminding us that true peace and bliss have an eternal source. Lewis suggests that the desire for independence from God led humanity into a state of moral and spiritual vulnerability. 

The duality of free will, as presented by Lewis, is that it allows for both good and evil. This reflects the dual nature of technology – while it can lead to remarkable advancements and empowerment, it also opens the door to misuse and ethical dilemmas. In cybersecurity, we constantly grapple with this duality; the same freedom that allows for innovation can also lead to vulnerability and risk. Expanding on Lewis's perspective, I find it compelling to consider the Stoic concept of 'indifference,' where some choices are neither inherently good nor bad. This adds an additional layer to our understanding of free will – not just as a choice between good and evil but also as a space for neutral, yet significant, decisions. Moreover, free will encompasses the capacity for transcendence. Free will, then, is not just about the immediate moral choices but also about the potential to transcend our current limitations and evolve.

Repentance: A Change of Mind

Repentance, in Lewis's view, is a kind of death and rebirth essential for realigning with God. The historical meanings of repentance in Hebrew (nacham/נָחַם) and Greek (metanoeó/μετανοέω), translating to 'changing your mind' in many cases, highlight that our actions follow our beliefs and perspectives. This process of surrender and transformation is at the heart of the Christian faith and resonates with spiritual concepts across various religions. St. Iranaeus called the supreme example "Recapitulation." Lewis points out the paradoxical nature of repentance: it is most needed by those who find it hardest to achieve. This principle reflects a profound truth about human nature and the challenge of genuine transformation, resonating with our struggles in personal growth and professional development.

Divine Immanence and Transcendence: My Perspective

In reflecting on these views, I find myself drawn to a middle path, influenced by the thoughts of metamodernism and transcendent mysticism. This perspective, termed panentheism, suggests that while God is indeed beyond the universe, He is also present within it. Beautiful minds like Father Richard Rohr, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Eckhart Tolle have embraced this concept, where the divine is both immanent and transcendent. It's a view that sees the universe not just as a creation of God but as a manifestation of God, where the divine spark resides in each of us. This idea resonates with my experiences and beliefs. I often see how sociotechnical systems, while distinct and separate entities, are also intrinsically linked to their creators and users. Just as software reflects the intent of its developer, the universe, in the panentheist view, is a reflection of the divine.

Humanity's Evolution and the Role of Christ

In the concluding part of "What Christians Believe," Lewis posits that the next step in human evolution has already occurred with the advent of Christ. This perspective provides a unique lens to view spiritual and moral development. Lewis suggests that the life that began in Christ represents a new kind of existence for humanity. In my understanding, this aligns with concepts across various religions – the idea of being imbued with a divine essence, whether it's called the Pentecostal paraclete (the gift of the Holy Spirit) in Christianity, enlightenment in Buddhism, or nirvana in Hinduism. This new life in Christ involves embracing death to receive life. It's a powerful metaphor for surrender and transcendence, where we let go of our limited selves to embrace a higher state of being and unity with the divine. 

Book 3: "Christian Behavior"

As we conclude our review of "What Christians Believe," we find ourselves poised to enter the realm of "Christian Behavior," the focus of Book 3 in "Mere Christianity." This next section promises to delve into the practical application of Christian morality and virtues, exploring themes such as forgiveness, pride, charity, hope, and faith. In the upcoming review, we'll examine how Lewis articulates the essence of Christian living, weaving his theological insights into a tapestry of moral guidance. This exploration will review Lewis's understanding of Christian doctrine and offer valuable perspectives on how we can manifest these virtues in our daily lives.

Read Mere Christianity for Free at the Internet Archive

Buy Mere Christianity at Amazon