“Meeting” C S Lewis C S Lewis walked the road from Atheism to Christianity. I was walking the same road, but in the opposite direction. Through Mere Christianity I met C S Lewis on that road and felt compelled to walk with him a little way back from whence I came. My Early “Religious” Life I was baptised into the Church of England, and whilst growing up I was sent regularly to Sunday School where I was regaled with "nursery" stories about baby Jesus and an inn that was a bit short on accommodation, en-suite or otherwise. This was later supplemented with enforced visits to adult church services where I wrestled with the sung and spoken liturgies that were slightly less boring and unintelligible than the sermons from the pulpit, and marginally more stimulating than watching paint dry. At the age of about 12, along with some of my friends – and much to the consternation of my parents, who were wary of any other way of looking at religion except through the established Church – I joined a group called The Crusaders. The motivating force was not so much a thirst for religion, as the knowledge that the Crusaders sometimes had "fun" evenings, summer camps, and an annual stage review in which we were the "stars". The serious side, to be endured by way of payment for our fun and games, was that on each and every Sunday afternoon we would assemble in a school room for prayers and lessons on the Bible. Entering Adulthood As a young adult I returned to regular Church-going. I felt that if I didn’t I would suffer in some indefinable way. In fact I became so dogmatic about it that I talked my new girl-friend into regular church-going as well (against her better judgement, it has to be said), and furthermore I talked her into going to Confirmation Classes on the basis that if we were going to be married then I wanted us both to be participants in Holy Communion. Such was my arrogance. After we were married, (in which the old fart of a vicar insisted on making my future wife promise to OBEY me) she eventually lapsed, and that left me going to Church on my own from time to time. I felt guilty if I didn’t, but I later concluded that the guilt was an automatic response to childhood indoctrination. I began to think more seriously about what I was doing and what it was all about. I began to notice the astronomical number of Christian sects and churches in existence. I began to notice how many other religions there were, and how they too split up into rival sects. I began to wonder why it was necessary for all this liturgy to be repeated ad nauseum week after week, why we were singing these dreary hymns with strange words, why the clergy had to be dressed up in cassocks and surplices, fancy adornments and funny hats. Why were we read to from this Book written in a language that no one used any more? Why were the insides of church buildings adorned with all these riches? Why was I baptised into a Church that was founded purely to satisfy the marital whims of an English King with a taste for headless wives! By the time I was 40 I had settled into scepticism, and decided that if God existed I could communicate with Him (or Her) (or It) without all this paraphernalia. Faith Atheism and a belief in God are both, to my mind, Acts of Faith. In spite of attempts by some people to do so by pure logic you cannot prove the existence of God, nor can you prove that he does not exist. I therefore believe that atheism is no more defensible than theism. Without an Act of Faith – in one direction or the other – I believe that anyone who cannot believe in God has only one honest position, and that is one of Agnosticism. On my better days I believe in God, and on my less good days I am an Agnostic. To insist to my friends or neighbours that God exists is unreasonable, though I may reasonably tell him that I personally believe that He exists. By the same token, on my less good days, to insist that God does not exist is equally unreasonable. The Mind of C S Lewis Lewis makes a very strong case for mankind being the product of God, imbued as we are with an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong, and enjoying the ability to choose between them. This makes us unique amongst all the life on this planet. I am almost completely persuaded by Lewis’s arguments in the first few chapters of his book that God exists, but I begin to part company with him later on, when he starts falling into the same trap as all other Christian commentators and exponents: he would have us believe that the only way to know God is through Jesus. There is another trap in which he is ensnared as well, but I will deal with this one first. If I am prepared to believe that we are all children of God, then I am prepared to believe that this is true of the hundreds of millions of humankind who are not Christians (either nominally or practising). Lewis’s assertion that Christianity is the only game in town consigns Moslems, Hindus, Jews, and all the rest of mankind who are not Christian to the celestial garbage bin. And what about all those people who have gone before us who never even – through no fault of their own – had the knowledge that such a thing as Christianity ever existed? Are they damned eternally? Lewis skates round this problem briefly towards the end of his book by conceding that most other Faiths have at the heart of their teaching some things that approximate to the Christian message; that is to say, if you follow the teaching then you approach a Christ-like state. The other trap into which Lewis falls is the frequent use of such phrases as "God thinks …" "God doesn’t want…" etc. How does he know?! How does anybody know?! This is a way of rationalising a belief in God in our puny human terms. Preachers today are constantly telling us what God thinks and what God wants. Bloody arrogance. I’m not having it. How and Why? The universe is so vast and incomprehensible that it beggars all belief and understanding. Even if scientists come up with new hypotheses every day about the nature of matter, how it formed the universe as we "know" it, and so on, no one can answer the question "WHY?" And if we are then to say "God must have made it", we still don’t know why, and in any case, where did God come from (and why?). What is the nature of NOTHINGNESS? Was there always SOMETHING? Or was SOMETHING preceded by NOTHING? The more you dwell on these imponderables, the more you approach madness. You could almost come round to the view that partaking of the "Tree of Knowledge" was in fact the big mistake we were, allegedly, told it was. Does it help you to know that you live on a large rotating ball? Would it not be more comforting to live in the ignorant belief that our world is flat, and nothing else exists but a large warm light that comes up every day and goes away again at night, after which lots of pretty stars illuminate the ceiling of our flat world? * * * * * And now to some areas where I profoundly disagree with Lewis. * * * * * Woman’s Place Lewis (like the Vicar who married us) tries to make out a case for women's obediance to their husbands. Of course this used to be part of the marriage vows, and for all I know, in some Churches may still be. Certainly in the Church of England, to its credit, the woman no longer is required to swear obedience to her husband. The concept is outrageous. To my annoyance, when we were married, it was not required by the Church then, but this particular Vicar insisted that it be included or he would not marry us! What astounding arrogance! In spite of that vow being given by my wife I have never held her to such a preposterous notion. Lewis’s argument is that in the event of an unresolved dispute on a course of action, then eventually someone has to take a decision. He concludes that in this event, the man should take the lead. He is (apparently) more equipped by his position in society to take that decision. My own view is that if a dispute cannot be resolved then there is something seriously wrong with the marriage anyway. I do not think there is an important decision to be taken by a man and his wife in a sound, loving marriage, that cannot be resolved by some means other than automatic reference to the man as the final arbiter. To be fair, Lewis was of course a product of his time, when social ethics were somewhat different to those of today.  Capital Punishment Lewis says that a good man who has committed murder would give himself up to be hanged. He totally accepts the view that a judge correctly condemns a convicted murderer to death. I disagree strongly, on two grounds:– • It is in total violation of the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" If the State decides that a man or a woman should be put to death, by hanging, by lethal injection, by electrocution, by shooting, or whatever, then the State has descended to the same level as the criminal. This is a moral consideration.   • Then there is the practical consideration: a person who has been executed cannot be brought back to life. Why is this important? Because the Courts of the world are littered with cases of wrongful conviction. Policemen and lawyers are only humans after all, and subject to the same propensity to make mistakes, - or even be subject to corruption - like the rest of us. Posthumous pardons make fine words but a family has still lost one of their own for ever. Onward Christian Soldiers? Lewis draws a distinction between pre-meditated murder and "lawful" killing by soldiers. It is, according to Lewis, acceptable to kill people in order to ensure that a Christian society remains in the ascendancy. It is a fight against evil and people must necessarily die. The Christian soldier can do his duty with a clear conscience. There are references to fighting the Nazis in World War II. But we did not fight Germany to rid the world of evil. We fought Germany because of a Treaty with Poland, and for self-preservation. For years Britain and America received reports about the atrocities being committed in concentration camps. We took no action, or chose to disbelieve them. We sat by whilst Adolph Hitler began his Grand European Tour. We even acquiesced in his annexing of Czechoslovakia (said by the British Prime Minister of the time to be some "far-off land of which we know little"). Then when Poland went down, and it became clear that eventually we were going to be threatened with the jackboot too, we started to take the necessary action for self preservation. The British have always been ready to make the cheap jibe against America, "Better late than never" because it was a couple of years before they joined the fight, but in my opinion this is an ignorant approach as well as being insulting to all those Americans who died (not always at the enemy’s hands it has to be said). But, the point is this: the action of the Americans could be said to have been a good deal more "Christian" than the rest of us, because – let’s face it – they were not being directly threatened. All this was going on half a world away (rather more distant than Czechoslovakia was from Britain!). It is little wonder that strong voices were raised in the States against involvement, but to their credit, the USA did the decent thing in the end. Their involvement swung the War in our favour, and I don’t care who hears me say it. Wars to deal with some obviously evil tyranny (e.g.,in Kosovo in the latter part of the 20th century) can probably be justified, but I would hesitate to call them Christian wars. And any war by Christians merely to overthrow another Religious Group in favour of Christianity can never be justified. History is littered and stained by the bodies and blood of people who have fought wars in the name of religion, (and God was always on both sides!!)  For hundreds of years in Northern Ireland, right up until recently, there was a religious fault line running through the community. Protestants and Catholics lobbed bombs at each other, shot each other, tortured each other, and blew up innocent men, women and children not directly involved in their pathetic posturing. This was Christianity at work??!! In the rest of Britain, we do not need to know whether our neighbour is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Moslem, or Seventh Day Adventist, but for some reason in Northern Ireland it seems to be of supreme importance. It’s about time they got real! Conclusion "Mere Christianity" can help you decide whether Christianity is something for you to pursue or reject. It lays out reasoned arguments about the nature of the universe, the world, mankind and our relationship with God, pursued in (Lewis’s eyes) almost exclusively through a relationship with Jesus Christ. With or without the religious aspect, there are valuable lessons to be learned on the nature of human behaviour and how it can be modified to the good of ourselves and the people around us. I started out by referring to the road I was travelling when I "met" C S Lewis in this book. I think I’ll now sit down at the roadside for a bit, to decide whether to carry on in my original direction, or turn round and go back, or perhaps just set up camp where I am now. I'm still sitting at the roadside. I have not continued my journey towards Atheism. Other Books There are other serious works by C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, and there are three excellent Science Fiction novels which draw heavily on Lewis’s beliefs: Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. * * * * * Acknowledgment - I am grateful to my e-mail friend in Michigan - Roberta - for introducing me to this book, and giving me something to think about. Lionel Beck November 1999 (re-designed and re-edited November 2006 and June 2008)    © Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top C S Lewis This book was first published in Great Britain in 1952 Henry VIII - founder of the Church of England