Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Critique of "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis

Following are two lengthy excerpts from separate e-mails sent to my favorite Aunt and her husband (my Uncle by marriage), who had presented me with a copy of this book. I had promised that I would faithfully and dutifully read the same, as time and occasion permitted, notwithstanding my own previously-held strong opinions to the contrary.


Date: Sat, 20 Nov 2004 ...

I am still trying to plow through "Mere Christianity" as I am able. But I have now read enough so far that I think I can attempt a limited, qualified response. I will attempt a fuller response later when I have actually completed it.

The woman who wrote the foreword (forget her name right now) mentioned that Lewis' book was very much a product of its time, place and audience. And she was definitely right. This book is clearly addressed to an audience of (mainly) servicemen, of average intelligence. Despite Lewis' almost universal reputation as a brilliant "Christian" intellectual, I find nothing intellectually brilliant or sparkling in this book. I have read far deeper probings into the workings of 'God' and Universal Mind in the writings of Nietzsche, Whitman, Thoreau, Schopenhauer, and Joseph Campbell, just to name a few. However, I freely admit that perhaps Lewis had intentionally 'toned down' his thinking for an 'everyman' type of audience, so maybe he was really far more brilliant a mind than this book would indicate.

I myself have also, by the way, already considered, examined (and rejected) most of the points and connections which Lewis makes in this book. I simply don't think he is using sound logic here--as, for example, where he says that if 'God' is a completely, totally 'good' God, he must necessarily hate and abhor all 'evil' 'negative' actions of mankind. Well, I simply disagree. A 'good' God, in my view, if he is to be consonant with what is said about him in scripture, must be so completely 'good' that there is absolutely no 'hatred' or 'negativity' or condemnation in him whatsoever. "God is light," saith the scripture, "and in him is NO DARKNESS AT ALL." Well, I believe that statement, together with its logical corollaries. I will perhaps be able to go into more detail on this (and other related points) later on, when I attempt a more rigorous, exhaustive analysis.

I have no doubt that this book is very popular with a 'Christian' audience. But that is rather like 'preaching to the choir', is it not? Or praising one who helps to prop up a flimsy house of cards. It will not successfully persuade a thinking, intellectually HONEST doubter, still less one who (like myself) actually KNOWS better, who has actually followed the "Yellow Brick Road" to the "Emerald City" and personally seen and witnessed the "little man behind the curtain." It may not be popular or safe or a good idea to stand up in the midst of the crowd and announce that the Emperor has no clothes on, but that is what one must nonetheless do, if one is to be intellectually honest with what one knows to actually be the case.

And that is, after all, only what I am here trying to do--only be intellectually (and spiritually) honest; not offensive--and please try to forgive me if that seems so, but rather, merely honest--forthright--not hesitating or dissembling.

I have a great respect for C.S. Lewis. After all, he commanded a great deal of respect from many other (very respectable) people. So he should deserve at least a basic level thereof from myself as well. But (at least from this one book) he has not moved or persuaded me in the least. I have access to facts and knowledge and ideas which (evidently) Lewis never considered or was even exposed to. And that is sad. Perhaps if he knew what I (and some others) now know, he would have had to recant. But these 'new' facts are not, in fact, really 'new' at all: educated Europeans have known about most of them for many hundreds of years already--among whom was the well-known (and well-done) philosopher Giordano Bruno (murdered by the Church because of his radical beliefs in the year 1600). Shakespeare said it rather well: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Thus would I speak to C.S. Lewis, had I the chance. I think it is intellectually (and spiritually) hazardous to attempt to draw too many firm, unbendable conclusions before all the facts are in; and I think Lewis has done just that. There are clearly a great number of historical and cultural facts (FACTS, mind you) to which he pays no heed at all, or simply was not even aware of (and this is very strange, considering his wide reputation for erudition). Now, of course, I do not presume to possess all the facts, either; merely a great deal more of them than C.S. Lewis apparently did. And these facts lead me to quite different conclusions than those to which Lewis was led.

How I would have loved the opportunity to have discussed these things with him personally! But, as you can see, he himself died the very same year I was born.

Well, enough of this. I have shared this with you, only to show (a) that I am seriously reading and considering this important book, out of respect and deference to you, who were kind enough to give it to me, and (b) as a way of showing you some of the current state of my thinking, which (due to my reclusive nature) not many people at all have ever seen, still less the profound thinkers I would truly love to converse and share ideas with. If I did not have respect for both of you as intelligent, humane people, I would never have ventured any mention (still less any extended discussion) of such topics. "Cast not thy pearls before swine," right? I am usually very careful to keep my ideas veiled and hidden from the average person, since such people would simply not comprehend, and would probably misunderstand and misattribute, most of anything which I could say. Nietzsche did the same thing, by the way, which is why so much of his writing is dense and impenetrable to most people. Like he, I mean my thinking to be unattainable to average minds. Such kinds of people do not usually even appear on my own personal radar screen, except when they may happen to catch my interest as sexual objects. I know that this sounds elitist and chauvinistic, but I don't care; and I don't even try to apologize for it, either. "God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man. ..." (Shakespeare again). ...

Date: 9 Feb 2005 ...

I finally was able to finish the book. Not that it was necessarily any kind of ordeal or 'trial by fire', but rather, that my busy work life made reading time scarce (as you know).

Most of my opinion of Lewis' writing you have already heard, so no need to rehearse that. I would only like to add one thing:

What is perhaps the most famous of the quotations from Sir Isaac Newton (and my favourite one) is this:

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Well, I relate this idea to C.S. Lewis: I say that (in 'Mere Christianity', at least) he has only been 'diverting himself with pebbles and shells'--all the while quite unaware of the "great ocean of truth" all around him the whole time. And I say, moreover, that he was (unfortunately) quite mistaken in his ideas and conclusions regarding those 'pebbles and shells'.

To once again quote Shakespeare (I feel it is appropriate here): "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I may say, once again, that I wish Lewis were alive now, for I should surely love the chance to say these things to him face to face. I would have said to him that I know certain facts (not because I am in any way unique or special, but simply that I happen to be aware of them), which have obviously never entered into either his imagination or lexicon, things which would have FORCED him to completely alter his views, if he was to remain an honest man.

During Sunday School class last Sunday (it may seem strange that I attend, but I do), the youth class was combined with the adult class (due to low attendance in a very small congregation), and I happened to voice several rather controversial points and comments (when have I not?). And after the class, one young man--perhaps around fourteen, but more intelligent than most his age--pulled me aside and said that he had agreed with much (though not all) that I had said. Part of my response to him was to say that we should never, NEVER assume that we have the final word on truth or reality, that to do so shows a lack of humility on our part, among other things. I advised him to always keep an open mind, and be ready at any time to alter his previous views whenever they could be shown (upon sound evidence) to have been erroneous. (Don't know what his Dad thought of my ideas--he heard the whole thing, too.)

This is really a much harder thing to do than it sounds, or than most people realize. What if--for example--a new fact (which seems real and factual, as far as one can tell) nonetheless contradicts most or all of what you previously believed? (And this is certainly VERY possible; this is not a mere vacuous exercise.) What then? Will we (like most people) continue to desperately cling to our previous beliefs--even to the point of denying the rational, factual evidence of our senses?

Well, I for one could never allow myself to do this (I am in love with the truth too much), and thus I find myself where I am now in my stage of beliefs and development. I know that neither of you will probably ever be able to completely agree with everything I'm saying here, and that's okay. I will still love you just the same, and I trust that you will do likewise.

I'm also sure that you could have wished for a rather different response to my having read that book. ... But I have progressed to a point in my understanding and awareness of things--really of all life in general--that I find it very difficult to read anything by anybody these days, without (almost automatically and unintentionally) being able to SEE RIGHT THROUGH whatever it is that that person is saying. Surely this is a by-product of the keenly-probing, intelligent mind God gave me. And I think you will here agree that no-one should ever apologize for God's many and wonderful GIFTS--not even those which may separate us from most of the human race, or from all that is 'normal' or 'popular' or 'commonly-believed'.

Well, enough for now. Perhaps I may have (once again) overstated my case. I hope for your continued gentle indulgence, as well as your continued friendship and goodwill. ...