Mere Christianity : a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behaviour, and Beyond personality

by C. S. Lewis

Paperback, 2001

Status

Available

Publication

San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Description

This volume discusses the essence of Christian faith and the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a discussion of Christian belief that rejects the boundaries that divide Christianity's many denominations. The author finds a common ground on which all Christians can stand together, and provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for their faith.

Media reviews

I am well aware of Lewis' writing talent and he is clearly an intelligent individual, so I feel unqualified to "critique" Mr. Lewis. However, I would like to comment on why, at least for me, Lewis' arguments for the existence of God are uncompelling.
1 more
Cotton candy apologetics - engaging and conversational but shallow.

User reviews

LibraryThing member nperrin
As a nonbeliever, I began reading Mere Christianity with the expectation that C.S. Lewis would give me a good argument to wrestle with mentally for a while. I had heard so much about this book, especially from people who got much closer to Christianity because of it, that I assumed it was not only well written but also persuasive and well thought out.

About a third of the way through, I was wondering when the persuasion and thoughtfulness would kick in. I had heard of the lunatic, liar, or lord trilemma but was disappointed in its simplistic and completely unsatisfying resolution. Most of the arguments seemed empty and the leaps of logic too glaring. Lewis's characteristic discomfort with women and sexuality was also evident throughout, though that was less of a surprise.

On the positive side, the overall tone of the book was very appropriate for a work of intellectual apologetics directed at the reading masses. Lewis's prose is very readable and this is a quick read, not dry or dull.
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LibraryThing member Terpsichoreus
It is no wonder that Christians should revere a miracle-working carpenter. I think one must be the son of a god to build an attic before the rest of the house.

There is no fundamental basis for Lewis' arguments. I was hoping to find something more thought-provoking and convincing, but it just felt like the same old ideas Aquinas and Descartes bandied around. These are no longer sufficient in a world of thermodynamics and evolution.

The skill and intellect of Lewis are without question, but the way he meanders about duality, truth, social darwinism, pathetic fallacy, comparative anthropology, and scientific process tends more towards self-justification than any profundity.

Lewis clearly wants to believe, and wants to bolster and justify those beliefs, but he never overcomes a reasonable burden of proof. Since belief seems so important to him, Occam's Razor suggests that he doesn't have a 'secret vault' of excellent religious proofs which he failed to elucidate here. He's put together the best indications he could find, but they don't add up to much.

Every time Lewis embarked on a thought, it would grow and blossom in intriguing ways until he would simply bunch together the whole bundle, tie it with a bow, label it 'god's handiwork' with a reverent bow, and move on before reaching an insight. It made me think the allegory in Onan has been widely misread.

The righteousness of his belief contrasts hypocritically with the way he blithely writes off any other faith or reason. To believe everyone else is so faulty but still think yourself infallible is not only insulting, but a black mark on any otherwise reasonable mind.

I like Lewis, both his tone and his mind. In many ways, I found I wanted to find something compelling in him. I wanted to find something that made sense. I sense Lewis also wanted to find something that made sense, something he could attach himself to. After being alone and afraid in a grand world ripped by World Wars, he wanted meaning.

He found it. He found a meaning he could cling to, but in reading this book, I found his grasp was too tentative. I cannot share it with him, because it does not find its tenacity in reason, but in romanticism, in idealism, in fear, and in self-blindness.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Published in 1952, the book is based on a series of wartime radio broadcasts on Christianity. By "mere" Christianity Lewis means "common or central" Christianity. He says in his preface he made an effort to discuss those ideas that are without denomination, and he sent the second part, "What Christians Believe" to Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic clergy asking for criticism to make sure he was right on the mark. He says he finds this particularly important in addressing his "unbelieving neighbors" and the book is an apologia, or argument for and defense of what he considers the Christian core beliefs--and as such particularly addressed as much or more to atheists as to believers. As an atheist myself who was raised as a Catholic, I can't say I find him convincing--or even enlightening about Christian belief.

The work is divided into four books. The first, "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe" is an argument for Natural Law ethics and for it as a proof of God's existence. Anyone who has taken an introduction to philosophy course knows there are three basic arguments for the existence of God: ontological (that by definition God must exist), cosmological (some great being must have created a universe) and teleological (a watch means there must be a watchmaker, a universe shows complexity and purpose that requires a designer). Lewis' argument is a variety of the teleological argument. All human beings have a common core morality. Such universality means a God must have designed it so. Moreover, it must be God's design, because we have no selfish interest in being moral. Lewis' argument from intelligent design is subject to all the refutations you can find in any philosophy text.

As for morality being something inconvenient and not selfishly "good" for us--I'd dispute that. One commonplace of market and bargaining theory is this. If you're only going to deal with a person once, it's in your best interest to cheat them. But that's not how markets work. We all have to deal with the same people again and again, and it's in our best interest therefore to treat people fairly and honestly. And on a personal level, well think of Scrooge. Who was happier? The miserly Scrooge eating thin gruel and going "Bah, Humbug?" Or the reformed, generous and benevolent Scrooge who became a much loved family member and friend? Virtues aren't something inflicted upon us by authority. That doesn't mean they're easy to practice or don't call for discipline and short-term denial in exchange for long-term payoffs, any more than it's easy to follow a diet even though it might be best for our health. Arguably virtues are the habits of mind and action that best helps human beings to flourish. And that doesn't need a God. As Lewis admits, they're fairly universal and accessible to all.

Even if you believe in God though, there's a huge gap between that belief and belief in the specific doctrines of Christianity. The second part "What Christians Believe" tries to jump that gap and can be summed up this way. Jesus claimed he could forgive the sins of others. Anyone claiming to do so if not God must be a "lunatic or fiend." The Jesus of the Gospels is neither lunatic or fiend, and therefore must be God. This begs the question. I actually don't think there's anything in the picture of Jesus in the Bible that proves that he wasn't delusional or (less likely in my opinion) claiming a connection with God he didn't have for personal ends. History is filled with would-be messiahs from Mohammed to Joseph Smith. There's no reason to believe Jesus or Mohammed or Joseph Smith has a special connection with God except the believer wills it so. And there's a third alternative. That Jesus was neither lunatic nor fiend but was misunderstood and misrepresented by the fallible men that wrote the works in the New Testament.

And speaking of the New Testament, one problem I have with Mere Christianity is if you're going to lay out what it is Christians believe, I think you should carefully parse your sources. I can't recall Lewis ever quoting the Bible, and he definitely mixes things the are core Christianity with elaborations infused with Greek and Roman philosophy. I defy anyone to show me anywhere in the Bible that discusses the "cardinal virtues." These come from the Pagan Greek philosopher Plato's Republic and were adopted into the Christian tradition though theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas familiar with classical philosophy. I would have liked to know what came from what Jesus reportedly said, what came from other New Testament sources and what is simply received Christian tradition. I get Lewis' purpose in trying to argue from the ground up for Christianity for the ordinary person, and not wanting to load it up with a history lesson. But if the book doesn't work for me as a good argument for Christianity, it's also not in my opinion necessarily the best place to explore just what is Christianity.

The third part "Christian Behavior" is where Lewis discusses those cardinal virtues, and the theological virtues (which come from Paul in the New Testament) and such issues as "Sexual Morality." I actually found that particular chapter fairly insightful and full of common sense. But as with the other talk of morality, where it makes sense, I don't think you need to bring in Christianity to argue for it, and when it doesn't make sense (such as Lewis' argument for the man being the head of the household in a marriage) it just focuses attention on a facet of Christianity which I don't think holds it up in an attractive light. For me, the last part, "Beyond Personality" about theology is about as meaningful as an argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For a Christian, Lewis' argument for the truth of the trinity may be profound. For me it was just... well nonsense. And non-sense.

C.S. Lewis is a very lucid writer and his arguments thought-out and presented well if you accept certain assumptions. I can imagine for many readers he has a lot to offer, but I can't say this did much for my understanding of Christianity, and despite Lewis claiming he aimed it at least partly at nonbelievers, I think this might be more for those Christians who want to think about the fundamentals of their faith and what it demands from them.
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LibraryThing member ggodfrey
Falderdash and bowlderall! C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is widely regarded as the great rational defense of traditional Christianity against modernist materialism, but while his prose is exquisitely honed and his case is nicely constructed, his entire enterprise rests on a dubious sand foundation. Mr. Lewis starts out with some absurd propositions regarding conscience as evidence for God's existence, and uses this faulty soil to plant more and more ludicrous seeds which whither and die under scrutiny. Along the way he makes offensive arguments about the necessity for women to defer to men in a Christian marriage (um, sorry C.S.--Jesus didn't spout that nonsense, but rather St. Paul did after Your Savior kicked off (or achieved apotheosis)), and says that Christians are responsible for "nearly all the great poetry of Love." I think Hafiz or Sufi and a few hundred Japanese, Indian, and Chinese poets might object...not to mention some atheists. He also makes no strong case that Christianity is better than or more correct than any other faith.

But Mr. Lewis argues for a very palatable and tolerant Christianity, and says any truly Christian society must adopt a 'leftist' government. I'll take that over what we have here in the US any time. He's also a gifted writer, with an elegant facility for useful analogy that entertained me throughout, and he is certainly less concerned with judging others than many who profess his faith. I enjoyed the book, and liked working out counter-arguments along the way.
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LibraryThing member martinrebas
C.S. Lewis comes across as a pretty nice guy with a gift for metaphors, so it's sad that his reasoning is so riddled with errors, from the false lord/liar/lunatic trilemma to his baffling inability to understand that secular morality doesn't have to be arbitrary.
LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
Mere crap.

A copy of this book was loaned to me by an Evangelical Free Church member who had come to visit my parents when the latter were shopping for a new congregation. The fellow was a Biblical inerrantist conspicuously lacking in social perception. Lewis' book shows him to be a comical bigot--certainly more intelligent, but not a whit wiser than the man who loaned it to me. I returned the book to its owner along with a long written critique, which I'd be happy to reproduce here, but I didn't keep a copy. All this transpired many years ago.

If you're an intellectually underfed Christian looking for some blithe arguments to justify your existing biases, then this book is for you. Others may read it for a sad demonstration of the sort of rationales such people adopt.
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LibraryThing member thereader
This brilliant work of Christian apologetics really hit home my own beliefs and questions. Mr. Lewis is an unabashed philosopher and mystic when it comes to Christian interpretations, and as a result I have a much better understanding of Christianity. Some of his comments may appear dated, especially in light of feminism, but please don't let this hold you back from reading it, or condemning the whole. A truly beautiful, important work.… (more)
LibraryThing member jimocracy
I just finished reading this book for the second time and I actually changed my rating from two stars to one. I've never seen someone use so many words to spout such utter nonsense and wild speculation. I have no idea why apologist hold Lewis up as the inspiration behind their need to defend Christianity. He provided no evidence but only made bold assertions. It was particularly disheartening to read all the parts where the author either asserted that he knew what God was like or that he knew how God thought. This book (and the fact that so many modern Christians hold it in such high esteem) is absolutely horrifying.… (more)
LibraryThing member zangasta
Mostly waffle. Most of the waffle misrepresents, less or more severely, reality as I have slowly come to know it. As eloquently written as this waffle is, I'm glad I only have read it after I have acquired a more thorough understanding and insight into how the real world is put together.

Lewis thinks the world works a certain way and uses his excellent imagination to 'put across' his beliefs, but what helps that when his basic assumptions are false?

I have just read one more chapter, and have come to realise that this is not mere waffle. It is in fact dangerous waffle.

I would actually recommend it to any atheists who wish to understand the Christian mindset. They might just find it very enlightening and useful.
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LibraryThing member BritnaeP
I first picked up this book because I was intrigued by the title. Mere Christianity? I had never heard Christianity referred to as ‘mere’ before. Silly, perhaps, or all-powerful. But never such a tiny, harmless, powerful word such as ‘mere.’ I guess at first I expected this book to explain to me why I shouldn’t believe in Christianity; but it ended up being the most powerful argument I’ve ever read for why I should believe in Christianity.
C.S. Lewis makes a smart move in starting out his book without any mention of Christianity. He begins instead by explaining the basic common morals of mankind, regardless of any religion. He points out that all people are guided by a similar set of internal morals. He argues that the very existence of these morals is proof that a higher power exists.
From there, he slowly moves towards talking about Christianity by laying out the common beliefs of religions and compares them. When Lewis does talk about Christianity, it is no single sect of the religion. He clearly points this out in the foreword to the book, and this is where the word ‘mere’ comes from – it is the basic principles of Christianity he is talking about, not differences between, say, Catholics and Baptists. The rest of the book is Lewis stating what he believes to be these common beliefs, explaining them to those who may not be familiar, and then giving strong arguments to those who may not belief.
Though this is a book seeped with religion, the parts I loved most about this book were the parts where no specific religion was mentioned. In fact, the only reason I gave the book 4 ½ stars instead of 5 was because of the instances when he did mention religious specifics such as marriage or homosexuality, and I disliked his thoughts out of personal reasons. Most of the book, however, seems less like a guide to Christianity and more like a guide to being a good human being, which is the fundamental point of all religions. Lewis explains things in a straight-forward, relatable and easy to understand matter; I think there are few authors who could handle the complex thought patterns he deals with in such an eloquent way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who believes in following the morally right way, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.
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LibraryThing member bke
Just another tedious christian apologisits book. Mere Christianity is logically weak, filled with antiquated views, and ignorant of some basic social science. Give it a miss.
LibraryThing member satyridae
Not recommended for people like me who don't buy any of the tenets of Christianity to begin with. This one won't convince anyone who doesn't already want to believe.
LibraryThing member maryh10000
Not a bad intro to basic Christianity, especially if you want logic rather than personal testimony and bible quotes.
LibraryThing member homeschoolmimzi
I've read C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces, A Grief Observed and several other of his books, some fiction, fantasy and some essays, but this book was different- it read more like a conversation between Lewis and the reader. Mere Christianity is a compilation of three books which were originally radio broadcasts. I very much appreciated the informal tone throughout, and his quick wit and his explanations of key Christian doctrines. He wisely avoided going into specific denominational stances so to appeal to the larger Christian audience.

Lewis was gifted in how he explained concepts using analogies. There were many analogies that helped me, but one of my favorites was how he tried to explain the idea of God being outside of time:

If you picture time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one; we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all around, contains the whole line, and sees it all.

This book took me awhile to read; I found myself underlining so many paragraphs, and so I think this will be added to my books to re-read shelf. I'd like to read his other works now; The Abolition of Man, Miracles, and The Weight of Glory are but a few on my list!
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LibraryThing member CharlotteN
The problem today with books about religion, whether they be pro- or against it, is that most readers will come to them with an agenda. Those who do not believe in a God will often read them with the aim of confirming to themselves that a deity is a foolish idea and that those who do believe have been duped. Those who do believe in a God will read to prove to themselves that God does exist. As a Christian myself, I admit that I began to read this book with the same prejudice, but quickly realised that this was to miss the point. Lewis was not writing to prove anything to anyone but merely to set out and to explain the main tenets of Christianity as he saw it to believers and non-believers alike. Yes, he does state that to him, Christianity is the only logical belief, but he does not force this down one’s throat.

There were, however, in my opinion, several flaws. On the subject of morality, Lewis makes certain assumptions (which are products of his time) which may be somewhat contentious to a modern mindset – namely on homosexual relationships and a woman’s role in a marriage.
These views, however, should be taken in the context in which they were written – long before Women’s Lib or Gay Rights – and should not detract from other more reasonable demands which Lewis makes. As an intellectual exercise, I found ‘Mere Christianity’ to be a very interesting, if often uncomfortable read. Because of these flawed arguments, many other readers may strongly disagree, finding the holes which one can find too large to get over.
To me, however, his explanations of certain aspects of Christian faith were truly illuminating and perhaps could be a starting-block to improve my own faith. It certainly made me think a lot harder about my own nature and behaviour. But, I underline, this is only my perspective.

Another problem with works on religion, especially those with a didactic tone, is that they can be so personal. One reader may gain a lot from them, another may increase in scepticism. In other words, while Reader A may find ‘Mere Christianity’ to be a helpful spiritual aid, Reader B may scoff at its teaching, but find it worth reading for academic reasons. Reader C, on the other hand, may find nothing of worth for him/her in it at all. In many ways, it’s up to you.
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LibraryThing member xuebi
With this introduction to Christianity, Lewis proves he is one of the greatest Christian writers, and Mere Christianity rightly takes its place as one of the most accessible works both by Lewis and on Christianity. Though not by any means an apologia for Christianity, it reminds its readers of the truly important matters of faith and makes often complex theology attractive and exciting. An essential book for any Christian on any stage of their journey in faith, and for those too who are sincerely inquisitive about the claims of Christianity.… (more)
LibraryThing member xaglen
Mere Christianity, originally given as a series of radio lectures, is an intelligent, popular-level overview of basic Christian teachings. If you're looking for academic philosophy, look elsewhere. If you're looking for what you'd get from a conversation with an articulate friend, dig in.

Lewis is particularly good at helping unearth the assumptions that underlie and the implications that flow from our everyday beliefs about life, particularly about morality.

The book is from another generation and is dated in places, but it nonetheless resonates with many readers today. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
What an incredible book.
Britain is suffering a monumental decline in religious belief: if this book were to be compulsive reading for each secondary pupil, that trend would be reversed in an instant. Lewis does not push Christianity: how often do these type of books contain phrases such as, "you would therefore be stupid to doubt the existence of..."? Not here.
The book is a carefully thought out argument in favour of a deity. He makes it very clear, at the beginning of the work, that he is not going to force the correctness of his Anglican beliefs but merely point out the inevitability of a creative entity.
One of the surprising side issues of this book is that it contains the clearest explanation of the concept of time that I have come across. The idea that time is not a linear progression is one that is prevalent in all scientific talk currently and, each time that it is explained, it becomes more confusing. Lewis gives this a perspective which is both believable, and understandable.
The only book which could be perfect (for me) is one written by myself, so, inevitably, there was one issue upon which I would have to disagree with the great man: the subject of women, where Lewis affirms the Old Testament concept that women should obey their man. This is a paragraph, or so, in a book of 200 pages and, I would like to believe that this is a view that he would have amended with more serious thought.
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LibraryThing member kakkerman
A very detailed and thorough view of Christianity. Packed full!
LibraryThing member allenkeith
This is about explaining the fundamentals of Christianity in a simple and profound way. It is what I call a 'fly-over' of Christianity – a survey of its essence. In this classic, C.S. Lewis demonstrates conviction in ardently holding to the pillar beliefs of The Faith. The author provides great examples and symbols that make more keen our senses for dealing with the ironies and the obscurities that make elusive our ability to gasp ultimate truth.… (more)
LibraryThing member LTW
Mere Christianity is very simply that: a straitforward explanation of what Christianity really is. In an age when philosophical and theological modernism seeks to alter and even destroy the essence of Christ's teaching, Lewis makes plain what are the essential and unchangeable tenets of the Christian faith. To those who argue in favor of updated modernist versions of Christian beliefs, Lewis is telling them by inference, that their versions are not true Christian views. His way of explaining Christian doctrine is so logical as to seem irrefragable. But whether or not one accepts these views as truth, Lewis is declaring that this is what Christianity really is. Each one of us is free to take it or leave it.
This treatise of C.S. Lewis is an enormously important book for anyone seeking to understand basic Christianity. It is written in a style that gets to the heart of an idea he is expressing, almost instantly. You don't need to have any sophisticated understanding of theology to grasp the explanations he offers.
His treatment of the three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) and the four Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude) is very good. And everyone should know what he has to say about the Great Sin (Pride), which is so destructive to the self. The chapter entitled "Let's Pretend" explains how and why we should seek spiritual self-improvement, and I'll bet that there are ideas in this section that you never thought about.
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LibraryThing member tangentrider
Such a good thinker and writer. His description of the core beliefs of Christianity is clear and elegant.
LibraryThing member rybeewoods
I never loved this book as much as the rest of christendom did. But it's still a classic. It's like the predisessor (sp?) to Velvet Elvis.
LibraryThing member PeaceUMC
The most popular of C. S. Lewis' works of nonfiction, Mere Christianity has sold several million copies worldwide. It brings together Lewis' legendary broadcast talks of the war years, talks in which he set out simply to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity's many denominations, Lewis finds a common ground on which all Christians can stand together, and provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for their faith. It is a collection of scintillating brilliance that remains strikingly fresh and confirms C. S. Lewis' reputation as one of the leading writers and thinkers of our age.… (more)
LibraryThing member jontseng
Interesting but a number of the justifications e.g. role of women come across as outdated.

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