Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: Mere Christianity

While I do post my reviews of each finished book on my account, for posterity sake I'd like to begin adding them here as well.  Plus, if I run out of characters (which I almost did in reviewing this book!) then I can at least have seemingly more space to yak out my thoughts here.  Beware... this is over 4100 words, lol.

From (full review/opinion)
When you first begin to read "Mere Christianity", it comes off more educational than you'd expect or perhaps would even like. Let me tell you though, the book is designed like a fine meal! Each course leading up to a more grand one, and finally you reach this thought-provoking point towards the end that allows you to literally glide through the rest. C.S. Lewis is more remarkable than I'd ever previously given him credit for. I don't believe that even now in our day and age (of intense liberality) that what he wrote about in each chapter doesn't still hold true. His words, wisdom and advice are timeless and really should be required reading for any Christian! What's even better is that this book can be (and should be) read with vigor on a frequent basis for those who are Christians. With each growth spurt you have in Christ, you're sure to discover something new and more miraculous in "Mere Christianity".

Now for those who're searching for religion, spirituality or curious about Christianity -- I think while this book is by far the most candid, modern and yet conservative perspective on Christianity as it should be, it is not a book that may be widely appreciated or understood by those who're merely curious. This book can most certainly better answer the most common questions that agnostics and believers of other faiths ask; questions that are difficult and questions that you may have never thought of. However, I wouldn't expect (as an agnostic) to understand everything throughout the book. Regardless -- if you're curious, read it. It won't hurt.

Below are collected quotations from the book. Some of them I'm merely explaining, as a source of short synopsis (and perhaps for my own self to remember different sections) and others need no explanation whatsoever. Many times you catch yourself staring at just one sentence or paragraph and going, "Wow... yes."

"The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts are merely the keys." (p 10)
He starts off the book building a base of understanding. Between playing with analogies to help those many of us who aren't theological scholars.

"The Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not." (p 17)

"There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake." (p 29)
The modernity of his speech throughout the book adds enough humor, enough realism, enough candidness to let you know that he is a human as well. There's a more personal touch to how he describes everything due to his lack of ego.

"We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody. One is the universe He has made. If we used that as our only clue, then I think we should have to conlcude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place). The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds. And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built." (p 29)
Building from his base, chapter-by-chapter, you begin to be able to imagine at least the very basis of why anyone would even believe in a God in the first place. Many Christians who were simply born into their religion (to later fall in love with Christ on their own) aren't capable of speaking or taught about why we inherently believe in God. For those of us who may have only simply questioned but never ventured into the abyss of doubts, this quote here really provides one with just that perfect answer. People do not like to hear just theological definitions or seminary terms. Instead they want things related to tangible things; actual moments; actual events. Lewis provides that in nearly every explanation so that it's easier for anybody -- believers and non-believers -- to fully fathom.

"A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line." (p 38)
While it may seem so unimportant, the development he makes here about mankind's idea of "right" and "wrong", despite religious beliefs, really adds a definitive quality to the morality of Christians. He naturally ties in the every day, the common sense, to allow us to see how much faith we ALL have (despite believing in Jesus Christ or not)... it's just a matter of whether or not we are rejecting the original Creator of "right" and "wrong".

"Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity." (p 41)

Book II, Chapter II "The Invasion" -- All I can say is that if you're not a believer, you may want to read this chapter at least. If you read only one chapter in this book, read this one. Perhaps then Lewis can persuade you that his thoughts are not so bad after all.
"Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." (p 48)
It isn't until people begin hitting their teens that they begin to encounter the element of free will with religion, particularly the Christian faith. Beautifully summed up, Lewis explains how it is very possible for free will, time and a God who is loving to exist.

"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." (p 50)

"I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, 'because it must have been so easy for Him'. Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child." (p 58-59)
The key to this entire bit is "...but were possible only because He was God." So many of us forget this, but it is what rightly validates Jesus' perfect life as man and yet being God all the same. I could have quoted further on into the analogy of child and teacher and yet another one he goes on about, but it would have taken nearly a page.

"If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man's fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work." (p 64)
I'm convinced this is a re-wording of Matthew 7:3-5. Though with that re-wording I believe he's helping us tie in how we are all one body in Christ. We're all different working parts, with different functions and needs, and we're all needed. We are to take care of ourselves and our souls before reaching out to correct someone else. What good are we if we aren't fully functional in the body of Christ?

"Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine." (p 69) (Machine being the collective machine that mankind is)
Again, using the analogy that is popular amongst Christians, that mankind is one living body and each of us different parts of that body. With that analogy is also the explanation to why we must follow "rules" or have any sort of morals. This quote isn't going to change your life or perspective, but the paragraph (or even chapter) that it stems from might. He really does well on explaining why we do have morals; why they matter and how they actually benefit society as a whole. So eloquently does he point out that all your actions will inevitably cause a reaction that will affect someone else -- even if it's a decision you make solely for yourself.

"He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head." (p 77)

"One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as 'intemperate' as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals." (p 79)
I wanted to shout out, "THANK YOU" when I read this. I really did. We are so deceived by what we deem as "good" and "bad" that we don't see that there is, in fact, too much of a good thing. Just because you're not out drinking until you're out cold, doing drugs until your money is out and your organs, or have some obsession with pornography doesn't mean that your obsession (which, for so many of us, we define as "hobbies") is being practiced with temperance. Temperance is what creates in us the self-discipline to know that there is a time for everything -- but not time for everything. Priorities can be accomplished when you practice temperance.

"But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a 'virtue', and it is this quality or character that really matters." (p 80)
We often say, "It's the thought that counts" and yet forget this when we attempt to do the right things -- but only doing the right things not because it is right, but because we want something in return. Like giving a gift only to expect that someone say thank you, or someone return with a gift for you as well. We have quickly evolved into a society that does the right actions... yet with no thought, no heart and no true act of selflessness. There is no goodness in handing over your food to someone who is starving if you're doing it to be acknowledged, rewarded or praised.

"For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear -- fear of insecurity." (p 86)

"When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is the act of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the raw material of his choice." (p 89)

"I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before." (p 92)
Without trying to put any sort of "doomsday" appeal on this, I wanted to, once again, shout "THANK YOU". The fact that every moment, every minute decision and choice matters is perfectly explained within this chapter. I really appreciated how he was able to show the reader how important their choices are.

"When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignoracen or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners." (p 94)

"God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them." (p 99)

"For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing." (p 100)
Don't we hear a lot of that? If you feel angry, or lustful, or resentful, or countless other negative emotions... it's always healthy and reasonable. Not that feeling these things aren't going to happen, but we have come to allow ourselves to think that these are all healthy and reasonable as imperfect human beings when in fact they are not. This... these negative emotions and reactions are why we need God... so that we are not drowning in our own imperfectness.

"A man and a wife are to be regarded as a single organism." (p 104)
And yet so many men and women disregard the fact that they are married or that someone they're interested in is married. Marriage, nowadays, means nothing to society. It's not respected. God created marriage and in within that union He created it to be permanent; the husband and wife are now one... and I don't believe that's symbolic.

"The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intded to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual plasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again." (p 105)
"But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury." (p 107)
Even in his day, Lewis was able to see that just because people decide to room together and/or sleep together doesn't mean they should then get married to just "make it right". While the sin itself is not good, and goes against the morality of mankind, you do not solve unchastity with forcing people to marry. This is taking marriage too lightly when we encourage such "solutions".

"The promise made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love." (p 107)
I could not have agreed more with his brilliant (yet going-to-be-regarded-as-old-fashioned) opinion that it is, in a Christian marriage, the husband and wife's very duty to love when love is no longer there.

"[Love] is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God." (p 109)

"It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it." (p 109)

"What is more, it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening." (p 110)

"You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution." (p 113) (In regards to the man being head of household)
This does not invalidate the opinions or rights of the wife, but I really couldn't have put it better myself.

"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 whom they rule." (p 113)
I can name a hundred sitcoms that show us this very thing!

"What really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature." (p 119-120)

"Pride leads to every other vice." (p 122)
Anyone remember the movie "Devil's Advocate"? Yes, I do... and I always remember loving (because of it's truth) Pacino's line, "Vanity is definitely my favorite sin."

"'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?' The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride." (p 122)
Lewis proceeds a while about how pride is really the culprit of so many of our evils.

"A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." (p 124)

"The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object." (p 125)

"For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense." (p 125)

"We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity." (p 127)
Here he shows a situation that happens quite often, and with young boys. We teach our children to cure their other sins with pride. We tell them they are better than this or that, and many times, for boys, we play on their masculine egos to get them to change. Instead of identifying and attacking the problem, we attempt to quickly change one bad by making him proud and doing what is right only out of pride... not out of genuine interest.

"When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him." (p 131)

"Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance." (p 132)

"Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither." (p 134)

"People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs." (p 137)
With earnest attempts to not laugh out loud, I felt so relieved that he represented the Bible and Christ not as some Christians do. Instead, he allows for the impossible feat that maybe, just maybe, the divinely inspired Bible did contain symbols.

"Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his hand and leave shim unsupported in the water -- or whether he will suddenly cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down." (p 139-140) (On faith)
Faith is so hard for many of us to grasp - whether we believe or not - and it makes it even harder to explain. Yet Lewis does so in a modern and simple way... just as he does so many other important things in this book.

"The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life." (p 141)
Here's your answers (if you read it with context) to the questions on why Bible reading, devotional reading, church-going and prayer are so important in a Christian life.

"No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good." (p 142)

"That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in." (p 142)

"...if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. IN the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to goet to America." (p 154) (why we need theology AND practical religion)
Again, he further explains (wonderfully, I might add) how the Bible, religion and spirituality all complement each other.
"When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others -- not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, thought it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one." (p 164)

"God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel." (p 168)
With earnest attempts, Lewis tells us of how we can have free-will, yet a God who sees everything even if we haven't come to tomorrow yet. You've got to read this chapter a bit more slowly!

"He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not 'foresee' you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him." (p 170)

"It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that." (p 179)
(On giving up ones entire self to God)

"Men are mirrors of Christ to other men." (p 190)

"If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. ... Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictivness are always there in the cellar of my soul." (p 192)

"Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in an illness 'feeling better' is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up." (p 207)

"We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist." (p 223)

"The more we get what we now call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become." (p 225)
Since He, in fact, created us and is trying to help us (with our permission) to become what He created us to be... we are not yet who we REALLY are until we give ourselves up.

"What I call 'My wishes' become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men's thoughts or even suggested to me by devils." (p 225)

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