meme Log

July 16, 2014

Mere Christianity (7.0)

Filed under: Books — Lynn Fikstad @ 15:11

The book gave me a good understanding of Christianity, and it had no effect on my own beliefs; in fact, after reading the book, I am a little bit more averse to Christianity – not Christians though. I would rather be right and possibly a little less content than wrong about the nature of reality. However, contrary to what Lewis wrote throughout the book, I think being a Christian is a lot easier than being a non-believer. He writes about all the challenges of Christianity, but good grief, a Christian is spending a relatively miniscule amount of time battling sin and becoming Christ-like for an eternity of bliss. In addition, once a Christian accepts Christ into their heart, the challenges are substantially lessened. It’s an ontological dream come true.

I hoped to learn how Lewis went from being an fervent atheist to a being a devout Christian, but that journey is not in this book. I thought he would explain himself when he wrote, “But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it [it being Christianity]”. There was no explanation of this reasoning, only this hint, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” But he didn’t follow up, and it appeared he just thought this statement was obvious. By making it, I believe he was implying that our desire for eternal life makes it a fact. I see this as an obvious non sequitur. But I can’t really accuse him of faulty reasoning when I was just interpreting his thinking process.

Initially, I thought he came to his beliefs through faith, but he has two chapters about faith and didn’t write about faith bringing him to God. Instead he claimed to have come to his beliefs by logic and reason, using faith to hold on to those beliefs when they were challenged. He used the analogy of anaesthesia, losing faith in the knowledge of its safety when actually undergoing it. I’ve been under anaesthesia, but I don’t feel safe because of my faith. I trust in it because I have good reasons to believe it is safe. It is knowledge that assures me, not faith.

I think his book, Surprised by Joy, describes his conversion. I’ll probably read that someday just to get a better understanding of how someone like Lewis can possibly make this radical change. I don’t think I could or ever will, but I’m sure Lewis believed the same before he converted.

One thing that I found interesting was his discussions on humility and its relationship to the depravity of our nature. I don’t find this unbearable sin notion a very appealing philosophy or theology, and I now better understand Nietzsche’s objections to Christianity. Lewis doesn’t run away from this obsession with sin, he embraces it and it becomes the core of his belief and the reason he needs a Savior. I think a lot of people, including Christians, would find some Lewis’s honesty about the depth of Christian sin offensive. I had a hard time accepting it, and I’m not even a Christian, but I learned to understand this point of view and how it could help bring one to Christ. Maybe if we didn’t suppress our unconscious sinful nature we would all need a Christ or some other belief that would allow us to live with our true selves.

He was pretty hard on the mystics, which I suspect would include the Christian mystics. His form of Christianity believes the individual survives death; I’m not sure every Christian believes this, but most do. I think the advances in neuroscience and research on consciousness seem to validate the mystics notion of the self, not the Christians. The discoveries since the 1990’s are beginning to make the notion of individual survival after death untenable. In fact, what we even think of as our individual self may be a trick, an illusion. If it is, then the question of its survival is not even a sensible question. What a trick though! It is such a trick, I’m not sure that anyone can truly believe it without experiencing. It is something many people experience.

But that is off the subject of this book. Like I wrote earlier, in 1944 when Lewis wrote Mere Christianity he dismissed these mystics. I am not sure he would be so dismissive had he been born decades later, but it really doesn’t matter. He is who he is wrote when he wrote. His writings are worthwhile considering how many Christians there are in the world. His views will probably survive many more decades because Christianity isn’t going anywhere any time soon regardless of what new discoveries science makes concerning consciousness, self, and being.

He said atheism is too simple (location 660 on the Kindle). The illusion of the self I wrote about earlier could be part of an atheist ontology or even with someone who is very “spiritual” but not religious. Getting it through your head that the self is an illusion is not something that could be convincing in a 200 page book; it’s a complex idea. Lewis took a gratuitous swipe at atheists, and I’m not sure why. Oh the other hand, he also gives atheists who harshly denounce Christianity a pass, possibly because he understands their thinking. He says that if you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, then you would have to believe He was a lunatic or even the “Devil in Hell”. That is harsher a criticism than almost any atheist makes.

There are a lot of interesting ideas spread throughout the book; not that I think they are true, but things don’t have to be true to make them interesting, especially when so many people believe them. For instance, the greatest sin is pride chapter is worth reading because it is so unusual (also so untrue (in my humble opinion)J).

The one thing I didn’t understand before reading this book is why true believers aren’t harassing everyone they care about to become Christians, given the stakes are so high. It’s your eternal (a very long time) soul! Perhaps many believe it would be ineffective (probably so), but there could be another reason that I never thought of until I read the book…Once you realize just how full depraved you are, that has to change everything. It did for Lewis and I’m sure it does for others. This could be why Christians aren’t on every street corner and on every rooftop shouting at people. The ones that are doing so may not feel the full weight of sin. They feel they still have something to offer others. It’s just a thought, it’s probably wrong, but I was shocked at the nature of sin Lewis described. I can understand this a little, all of us are all sinful in some ways and we tend to forgive our sins or not think about them. Falling into the depths of sin is almost like falling into the depths of depression. I’ve done neither, but people tell me there seems to be no escape.

If you feel this badly about who you are, is there any desire to help others? I don’t know. There seems to be a desire to help others once the conversion takes place, but the soul of others does not seem to be the primary concern; they are usually helping in more worldly ways.

Once you have given your depraved self over to Christ, He now your guide, your moral compass. Christ didn’t shout, but he did preach. A good Christian probably should be at least that preachy, but they usually aren’t. It’s probably like everything else, some people believe more than others. Lewis writes that it is all or nothing. I understand his reasons for this total commitment, but not everyone is going to be on the Lewis side of the continuum.

As an aside. I went to a Pentecostal bereavement group, more out of curiosity than the help it would provide, but I knew it would not hurt and it ended up being kind of helpful. After it was over the leader preached to me. I wasn’t offended, but I felt so distant from him. He was on a completely different plane of existence. Even his grief was different. I knew he wanted to help me, and unbeliever’s should keep this in mind when true believers preach. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother you at all. I have found it is easy to be kind if you are an unbeliever. If you are right and they are wrong, they will lose everything they love and care about, which for them is a God in heaven and eternal joy. That is a lot to lose!

The book is great for Christians, many who probably don’t know much about their faith. At least that has been my impression when Christians have talked with me. I could be wrong, because most people don’t like to talk about their deeply held religious beliefs, especially to nonbelievers. Lewis says his book is for all sects, but I’m not sure all sects would agree. I think it is also a book for non-believers. It’s always good to have a better understanding of your fellow human beings. Learning what Christians believe made me even more resolute in my desire to let them be. I am not going to try to convince any true believer that their beliefs don’t make sense. Religion is very personal and most people need a purpose in order to live a joyful life. Why would anyone want to take that away?

I know I have expressed my disbelief about religious dogma in this blog, but I’m not trying to convince anyone that Christianity is wrong. Real believers are no going to be swayed by my skepticism, and the shouldn’t be. I am a skeptic by nature and you won’t read anything here that could possibly derail you beliefs, unless you were not that committed to Christianity in the first place. Nevertheless, I hope only non-believers take what I write seriously.

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