Notes on C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”
I’m currently re-reading C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I last read it about a year ago, I knew very little (some might say much hasn’t changed), I didn’t highlight, I didn’t post-it note the book, hence my retention and ability to use the data collected for referencing was limited. I generally read 2 books at one time, one I read of a night (in between watching something like “Breaking Bad” or “Stone” and writing blogs) and another is one I’ve already read and haven’t previously post-it noted or highlighted (like “The God Delusion” and “The End of Faith“), which I read when I’m travelling or in the “bathroom“, (and may want to do a re-read once I’ve read a bunch of other things, particularly in the case of the “Gnu Atheist” books, which are always in the limelight, and/or being reviewed, critiqued, and slammed to see if I agree with the negativity, or not).
I’m only 4 chapters in, I’ve just started: “What Lies Behind the Law“, but I guess I can comment on the musings I’ve made to myself and in post-it note from thus far.
I have 2 general thoughts at this moment, (a) that writing, say pre-1960 really disconnects me, as in it tends to be overly verbose and in a dialect I have a hard time associating with (why I own but have not read Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle Descartes etc, yes my childhood suffered due to this!). Obviously this is not Lewis’ fault, and it’s not a criticism of the book itself per se, but it does set up, as something of a disclaimer, why my interpretations of him may be off, so please, don’t take me to be uncharitable in my criticisms. (b) His style of apologetics is very different to the current style I’m used to, again, this may be the writing of the time, whose dialectical flow, eludes me. He seems to take a long time to get to a point (which I will discuss in a moment), you can see he’s an author first, his language is very colourful, very descriptive, but also very distracting, perhaps that is part of his charm as an apologist.
For instance Lewis spends the first chapter setting up morality, just so he can finally get to the point, that he believes morality to be like mathematics, which I judged, perhaps using today’s, re: William Lane Craig’s apologetical standard, to mean: objective and absolute (I felt later on like Lewis was making a transcendental argument, but we’ll get to that). I’m reading pages and pages just wondering when he’s gonna get to “the chase“, so to speak and when he does, he’s not super clear, at least by terminology I’m used to. For example in Pg 12-3, nearing the end of chapter 2:
“We all learn the multiplication table at school… But surely it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention, something human beings have made up for themselves and might have been different if they had liked?… There are two reasons for saying it [morality] belongs to the same class as mathematics. The first is, as I said in the first chapter, that though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great – not nearly so great as most people imagine- and you can recognise the same law running through them all: whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road or the kind of clothes people wear, may differ to any extent. The other reason is this. When you think about these differences between the morality of one people and another, do you think that morality of one people is ever better or worse than that of another? Have any of these changes been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better.” (Lewis Pp- 12-3, 2002)
This quote on morality over time: “though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great – not nearly so great as most people imagine- and you can recognise the same law running through them all “, demonstrates my point, this is all very vague language. What do “differences” mean? What does “not really very great mean“? In the sense that, is a culture such as say the Israelites (while not specifically condemning them, simply using them as an example), and their slaughtering of whole nations (such as the Canaanite or Midianites etc), their penalties for homosexuality, adultery and rape. Their social norms like, slavery, inequality for women etc (Christians like Paul Copan have suggested in William Lane Craig’s book: God is Good, God is Great, pp-134-154, that even these are progressions on morality over their counterparts) and say Western society today vastly differ from each other? I would think so.
I wonder, when a society progresses from more brutal laws and morals to less brutal laws and morals (like the Israelites from their counterparts, and from them to Western society, now), does this constitute a “difference” or is this considered to be “very great” as Lewis defines it? Much like the micro changes in evolutionary time of gene alleles demonstrate the difference between micro and macro evolution, so too it goes with morality? The progression of morality over the last 2 thousands years since the Israelites did their thing to now, show the great river between different countries morality, over time.
I guess Lewis would say this is our moral knowledge progressing, but if moral knowledge can progress, to the point we’re at now, from where we were, then how can he say there is an absolute standard? If we can’t recognise that standard, why must there be one? Because we have an innate ability to see right from wrong? Why must that standard be objective or absolute? Evolution provides a basis for a commonality between people and their base ideas of morality, in the sense that “suffering is preferrable to pain“, in the sense that, for the most part we all feel pain, we all feel happiness, we are the same species with very similar desires, goals etc. It’s the specifics; laws, government, treatment of criminals, the sick, minorities, animals etc that we have to figure out ourselves, precisely because there is no standard we can discover, or at least have discovered yet. If there was and God was it, we would have achieved a higher state or moral purity 2 thousand years ago, but alas, struggle we must.
Moving on, the reason I suggest above, that he’s going toward some kind of transcendental argument (I don’t know if Lewis was a proponent of it), is the use of mathematics as a comparison to morality. He could simply be using the concept of such to demonstrate an absolute, but why would he use an example not created by God, to demonstrate a comparison to morality which he is presumably suggesting is created by God? If we can conceive of a concept such as mathematics, which is absolute and objective, yet not formulated by God, then surely we could conceive morality to be the same. Unfortunately he makes no such transcendental argument thus far, so we shall see where he takes us.
There’s always more to touch on, and I’ve only really glossed on the small part I’ve read of the book, but I guess this gives you my basic thoughts at the moment.
Lewis C.S (2002). Mere Christianity (50th Anniversary Ed.). Hammersmith, London. Harper-Collins Publishers. Pp-12-3.