on August 2, 2003
I'll be right up front with my own religious orientation and say that I'm an atheist. As such, I suppose I am the ideal audience for this book, since CS Lewis undertakes to explain the fundamental unifying beliefs of the various Christian denominations in simple language and analogy that should be clear to anyone. In this, he succeeds admirably, although his tone often comes off as condescending. In the end, however, I was not persuaded. I am put off by his views on homosexuals and the role of women as well as his acceptance of the Christian's permission (if not obligation) to kill in cases such as war or criminal punishment.
I was also not convinced by his basic premise that God must exist because humans everywhere share a basic moral sense. It is easier for me to believe that we evolved certain behaviors because they allowed us to coexist relatively peacefully in communities; these behaviors had survival value for us because we are best able to thrive in communities. Being the intellectually complex beings that we are, we have developed sets of religious belief to explain these behaviors and tendencies to ourselves.
These problems notwithstanding, "Mere Christianity" is a readable and illuminating introduction to Christian thought and merits reading.
on July 13, 2002
This is a very easy read, and it gives much insight into how Lewis saw religion and Christianity. It is very dated; I wonder how many people here would agree that it is a woman's duty to obey her husband.
I was kind of surprised at the number of very weak arguments and ridiculous assumptions in this book. One example is the circular logic of using scripture to try to convince us of Jesus' divinity. We believe he is the son of God because the New Testement shows that to be the case, and we believe the New Testement is correct because we believe that Jesus is the son of God. In fact, I think this is the only time Lewis tries to make a case for Christianity in Mere Christianity; he does try many times to make a case for theism.
I find Lewis' strategy to discredit those who disagree with him very similar to the strategy creationists use to try to discredit Evolution. They take certain unproven theories of evolution, and use the fact that they are not proven to assert that the FACT of evolution (that life forms tends to change over time) is false, even though they understand it as fact themselves. Lewis will attack weak claims made by some of the opposition, and then assert that the entire opposition has been discredited, even though the entire opposition doesn't make those weak claims. It's disconcerting to witness someone fool so many people using these kinds of dishonest tactics.
Well, this has mostly been very negative, but I am glad I read Mere Christianity. It is well-written, and it is extremely insightful in a number of ways.
On the issue of critics of this book getting few "helpful" votes... That some of the critics are not backing up what they say is merely an excuse. Many reviews that praise the book without backing the praise up AT ALL are getting all or almost all yes votes. I have provided examples in my review and it is going to be infested with many hypocritical no votes, not because I didn't support my assertions enough, but because people merely disagree with me about C.S. Lewis and religion.
on June 15, 2002
I read this book for an introduction to Christianity class this past term, and despite my high expectations for a wonderful insight into the nature of Christianity, I was sorely disappointed. Although this book is easy to read and approaches humor in some places, this is where the charm of the book ends. C.S Lewis was obviously writing for a war-time audience, addressing his readers to fight evil in the same way that we fight against enemy-occupied territory. Throughout the book, Lewis charges his readers with being separate and apart from the rest of the world to be truly Christian. In addition, this book is not for moral relativists, as Lewis starts with the assumption of absolute morality to deduce the existence of God. He attempts to refute Nietzsche's "herd morality" concept by discussing how morality favors what is good for society, against individual desire, ignoring the fact that the herd morality advocated by Nietzsche does favor the herd, society, not the individual. Lewis continually personifies God (God thinks, God wants, God desires, etc) then tells his readers that God is ineffable and "more of a drama" than anything else. Any Christians who are familiar with the theologies of either Reinhold Niebuhr or Martin Luther will see glimmers of their theories bleeding into Lewis' work, but Lewis taints these theologies by adding his own concepts that only offer contradictions to these works. Bottom line: don't believe the hype. This book disappoints anyone who wants an objective view of Christianity - instead, it is meant to convert the agnostic unbeliever who despretly would like to be Christian. Lewis' assumptions and small contradictions can be easily overlooked by someone who doesn't want to see them.
on March 24, 2002
This book sets out to be an exposition of "agreed, or common, or central, or 'mere' Christianity" for non-Christians or doubting Christians. It is important to note that the word "Christianity" can be understood either as the body of Christ or else as the body of Christians. Most people, when talking about Christianity, mean the first. Lewis quite explicitly means the second. In this book he only describes what Christians believe. In the preface he states that some objected that "a person who cannot believe the doctrines expounded in the book can be far more truly Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do". He accepts this objection as very right, but claims that it is not "useful" and that it would be a "disaster" to use language like that. This cannot be true: if it is not belief in the doctrines what makes a person more truly Christian, then the exposition of these doctrines have no place in a book that sets out to be about the central aspect of Christianity. In fact this book very nicely shows that what Christians believe is a mixture of the sublime and the despicable. Let us not forget that a short while ago many Christians believed that slavery was divinely sanctioned, and that it said so in the Bible, not to mention beliefs about the Jews being the enemies of Christ, or about witches being the tools of the devil. For Lewis the defining characteristic of Christianity is doctrine, and therefore this book is really about Christian doctrine, not about Christianity. The problem is not so much that the book's title is wrong, but that non-Christians or doubting Christians who read it searching for truth will get the wrong message.
Much of what is central to the spirit of Christianity, such as compassion, is discussed in only a few pages. On the other hand, much of what is peripheral, such as, supposedly, that a wife should obey her husband, is expounded at length and defended with ...arguments (page 113). Fatally, much that is clearly contrary to Christianity is expounded if only because all major denominations have allowed it: so it is explained that a Christian judge may hang a murderer (page 118), and that a Christian soldier may kill his enemies, even while loving them, forgiving them, and literally wishing them well (page 120). Clearly Lewis is hard at work trying to find arguments to paper over the absurdities and contradictions in Christian doctrine. But this is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy, no matter how cleverly done, is the very antithesis of Christianity. Also, many of his arguments are childishly weak: For example, he recognizes that one of the major stumbling blocks for non-believers is the fact that Christians are as bad if not worse than non-Christians. He even asserts that "Christ told us to judge by results - a tree is known by its fruit" (page 208), but then sets out to prove that it is unreasonable to hold that "the whole world can be neatly divided into two camps - Christian and non-Christian - and that all the people in the first camp at any given moment should be obviously nicer than all the people in the second". This is evidently true, but quite beside the point.
Lewis is fiercely intelligent, writes beautiful English, and this small book is more compact full with ideas than other books three times its size. His capacity for luminous analogy is incredible, beyond the ability of any other writer I know. Most of what is true in Christian doctrine is rendered beautifully and memorably. He is courageous in many points, for example he flatly states that when Jesus said that the rich will not enter the Kingdom he meant the economically rich (page 213). Mercifully, he accepts the theory of evolution. Christians should not use the laws to impose their morality on others - after all "we would be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine" (page 112). The book is uncompromising in its morals, it gives refreshing views into the meaning of Trinity and the Atonement, and most useful of all, it gives good practical advice, such as, splendidly, on how to love our neighbor: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him" (page 131). This is one of the most inspiring books I have read, and at the same time one of the most frustrating.
I think that Lewis is led by the supposedly Christian virtue of obedience to the church. If obedience is a Christian virtue then Christ displayed very little of it, towards the authorities civil or religious, or even towards his own family. I think that Jesus was telling us that the only and undiluted authority is God. Tragically, because Lewis is really a great writer, to him the authority is the church. So he chickens out and refuses to oppose supposedly 'central' church dogma. This includes his long discussion of sexuality, where he jarringly admonishes against even married couples "indulging" in ...[intercourse] (page 97). The argument is that sex, like eating, is a natural function that should be exercised only as far as needed: we should only eat while hungry and we should only have ...[intercourse] when wanting to have babies. The book is only a few decades old and already amusingly outdated: masturbation is a sin (page 202), homosexuality is a perversion (page 89), our wishes are suggested by devils (page 225). Also, unfortunately, its tone is often spoiled by sexist expressions.
All in all, I can only recommend this book to steadfast Christians. I cannot imagine anybody else not being confused by it.
on April 23, 2002
The book, Mere Christianity, is wonderful. See comments below for praise for this book.
The latest audio book version is TERRIBLE. I am currently listening to it on an old, unabridged version read by Michael York that I got from the library. Unfortunatly, the library will have to replace this worn out, but wonderful audio version with the lifeless version now offered by Harper Audio. The reader is lifeless and dull, reading the text so quickly and without expression that I think maybe he was reading it against his will. It's AWFUL. Read the book rather than buying this rotten version. OR - go to the library in hopes that they still have the audio book read by Michael York. He reads with such warmth and caring that I felt that C.S. Lewis was sitting in my car next to me gently explaining things.
on October 17, 2001
Many of the 'bad' reviews given to this book have a point. Mere Christianity is over-simplistic and does have it's logical flaws. Appealing to a 'common morality' among all people is simply too problematic to be useful as a apologetic. He has certainly written better books (see 'The Abolition of Man').
That said, there are redeeming qualities to the book. Overall, it is smart and educated. Not all of the arguments Lewis uses are so problematic as the aforementioned. And it certainly cannot be dismissed as quickly as some have (after 5 chapters in one case apparently). This is a book that should be treated seriously, for there is much to give thought to.
In the end, there are better books of Christian apologetics. G.K. Chesterson's Orthodoxy being one of the best.
on July 8, 2002
Judging from earlier reviews, you'll either love this one or you'll hate it. A quick scan of the ratings reveals that Christians love it while agnostics and atheists pan it. From 129 ratings out there, only four readers provided on-the-fence "3 star" reviews. By joining this lonely (objective?) crowd, I'm hoping to convince myself that writing review number 130 is not purely an exercise in conceit but can provide a different perspective on the work.
First, let's recognize that this book is really a combination of three prior, separate essays comprising two distinct topics. These topics are an apologetic of the Christian faith and a high-level review of fundamental Christian beliefs held across denominations. Those who offer blanket criticism appear to miss this distinction and view the entire work as an apologetic. In my view, these distinct components differ sharply in intent and quality and therefore deserve separate reviews.
As to the common threads throughout the work, they are largely positive. Readers of other Lewis works will be familiar with his wonderful ability to write in clear, concise, conversational prose and these gifts are on display throughout the book. His capacity for using metaphors and analogies if rightfully renowned and is particularly helpful in explaining complex beliefs and doctrine.
Unfortunately, the pure apologetic section of the work falls far short of it's target of providing a rational justification for the faith. Lewis attempts to structure logical deductive and inductive reasoning arguments to support his conclusion that there is a single God and that Jesus was his only Son. Surprisingly for one of Lewis' obvious intellect, his logic if rife with serious flaws. Two quick examples are symptomatic. First, Lewis states that "Reality is something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reason's I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed." What he means is that the world is complex and therefore a religion that accurately explains the world must be complex. Thus, because Christianity is complex, it accurately explains the world. This logic leaves seekers of religion free to accept any "complicated" belief system (in fact, the more complicated the better). Second, Lewis argues that Jesus must be the Son of God because the Bible makes it clear that he was "neither a lunatic nor a fiend" and that he must be either a lunatic/fiend or the Son of God. In addition to several deductive logic holes, the argument faces an obvious circularity problem (i.e. one believes what the New Testament says because Jesus is the Son of God and one believes He is the Son of God because of the Bible's description of his life). These and other similar examples of poor logic lead me to give a "2 star" rating to this section of the work.
For all the issues with Lewis' apologetic efforts, his attempt to provide an easily understandable, concise summary of the major cross-denominational Christian beliefs is outstanding. One can take issue with the lack of depth and breadth of coverage, but only if one does not clearly understand Lewis' objectives. His discussion of the cardinal virtues, the sin of pride and the trinity are among the most clearly articulated explanations I have seen. While the passage of time has exposed several of his points (e.g. the Christian wife's obligation to "obey" her husband) as no longer falling within the common Christian belief set, on the whole he clearly succeeds in his goals. Thus, I give a "4 star" rating to this section of the work.
The 2 and 4 stars equate to an overall 3 star rating. C.S. Lewis fans should read the book for an interesting perspective on his personal beliefs. Those looking for a clear explanation of those common beliefs that Christians hold dear would get great value from the work. Those looking for a compelling, rational defense of the faith would be better served looking elsewhere.
on March 19, 2003
I read this book twice, about four years apart. While I did enjoy many points that C.S. Lewis makes, and I understand that he is a highly respected author, but I have to disagree with some of the reviewers. I feel that Mere Christianity is becoming out-dated.
Since many people may already know what the book is about, I want to focus on some areas where I feel that C. S. Lewis is becoming out-dated. I feel that Mere Christianity may have been a revolutionary book for its time and helped spark some discussion about Christianity. But as apologists have to update their arguments when new responses have been made, this book has to keep up with new developments in the discussion about Christianity.
C. S. Lewis' argument against Duality seems to fail. He writes, "Then good would not deserve to be called good." (p. 43) Lewis tries to see the eastern philosophy through a western standpoint. But people who hold the eastern viewpoint do not see any dividing line between good and evil. They would state that reality is completely "beyond" good and evil, and thus there only appears to be a distinction to our culturally conditioned minds, but in actuality, there is no distinction between good and evil, and therefore one cannot even use the words "good" and "evil."
I disagree with Lewis on the idea that everybody lives forever, on a theological basis. Even though he never uses the Bible to support his claims, he writes, "Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false." (p. 74) The Bible states that God "alone has immortality." (1 Timothy 6:16) and that the wicked will be completely wiped out of existence in the last days.
Also, C. S. Lewis' watered-down approach to charity, "If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little," (p. 86) would be an understatement for the wealthy.
I also disagree with Lewis' definition of temperance. He writes, "Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further." (p. 78) Temperance actually does mean abstaining from anything that is bad-alcohol, drugs, and smoking are all bad. It also means moderation in anything that is good-Yes, you can get too much of a good thing-but the Bible does not tell us to be "moderate" in our destructive behavior. The Bible calls us to abstain, to separate from evil, and to be pure. Where is Lewis' scriptural support? None, because he does not have scriptural support.
But then again, maybe this is because C. S. Lewis likes drinking alcohol. He admits, "At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine." (p. 112) Lewis also states that Christians "may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons-marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has then the wrong turning." (p. 79) I disagree because beer and marriage are not on the same level. Alcohol really is bad. It is not the same as eating meat. Discouraging others from refraining from alcohol does not necessarily mean looking down one's nose at others.
I personally feel that C. S. Lewis puts too much emphasis on social morality, and I will explain. On page 84, Lewis writes about Christian literature, Christian novelists, Christian dramatists, Christian society, Christian economists, Christian this, and Christian that. Next thing you know, we might be deciding between Christian toothpaste and non-Christian toothpaste when we shop at the grocery store. Is the point of Christianity to make society Christian or to make Christian products? Personal life-changing seems to be second priority to social change, but Christ's priority was personal life-changing. I don't think the Good News was meant to be a "social gospel."
Next, C. S. Lewis does not use any Scripture to support why the man should be the head of the household, besides just saying that it is the "Christian" way. He describes decision-making in marriage as "voting" and saying that somebody has to have the final say. What about both submitting to each other, which is actually what the Bible calls for, rather than fighting against each other? But rather, Lewis writes, "There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half-ashamed of it and despise the husbands of whom they rule." (p. 113) This is a culturally determined generalization, and since it is not based in logic, cannot serve as the basis of a theological reasoning.
Finally, the biggest contradiction is that C. S. Lewis is a Christian that believes in evolution. He writes, "Everyone now knows about Evolution... everyone has been told that man has evolved from lower types of life." (p. 218)
And this statement is bizarre: "There was a time before sex had appeared; development used to go on by different methods." (p. 220) This seems like it would be hard to believe for an evolutionist, but this man supposedly believes in a supernatural God.
Nevertheless, I do believe that there are some fundamental questions that can be answered in this book, such as "Why does evil exist?" or "Are there absolute truths?" Lewis nails these questions. There were some points that he brought out that affected me spiritually. One statement about pride hit home with me: "The more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others." (p. 122) But, in my humble opinion, I felt that C. S. Lewis rambled a lot, and failed to use good logic or good illustrations for most of his book.
on March 16, 2004
C.S. Lewis book Mere Christianity, offered some excellent insights into the Christian life, especially in the second half of the book, which I found more interesting than the first. However, I was surprised that he considered Roman Catholicism a "Denomination" of the Christian faith. I consider it to be another religion which misinterprets a fundamental teaching of true Christianity: Faith in Christ will produce works. Salvation is not earned by being a "good" person and going to mass. Salvation is a gift and a Christian will produce good works BECAUSE of his faith and the Holy Spirit that dwells within. Salvation cannot be earned.
That being said, the book did offer some good insights into the christian faith. One thing I thought was interesting is a section in the last chapter where he describes striving to become a more sanctified christian as "Great fun." I never thought of it this way, but yes, it is great fun. Especially feeling myself growing closer to the Lord the more I pray, meditate, and ask God for wisdom.
All in all, I would recommend any christian to read this book.