Mere Christianity | Book II, Chapter 2

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book II | What Christians Believe
Chapter 2 | “The Invasion”

Question: According to C.S. Lewis, what is too simple?

Answer: Atheism (as discussed in the previous chapter) and a watered-down Christianity (“there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right”) that does not include “all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.” He calls these “boys’ philosophies.”

Q: Lewis says, “It is no good asking for a simple religion.” What evidence does he offer to say that “real things are not simple”?

A. Lewis looks at the table in front of him with the understanding of modern science and considers how “seeing a table” means his brain is processing light waves that bounce off the atoms of the table that then hit his optic nerve. He then talks about how “a child’s prayer looks simple,” but if you think about “what is really happening—then you must be prepared for something difficult.”

Q. So why is Lewis concerned about a simple version of Christianity?

A. Lewis says this is the version of Christianity that people attack in an effort “to destroy Christianity.” The way a six-year-old understands Christianity is simple, but if you explain it the way an adult understands it, critics will complain “that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made ‘religion’ simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc.”

Lewis says, “You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune.” Christianity is complicated because it includes “certain quite unalterable facts” about the nature of God.

Q. Besides being complicated, what else is reality and how does it help him believe Christianity?

A. Lewis says reality

“is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match—all at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go farther from the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.”

One of the reasons he believes Christianity is because reality “is usually something you could not have guessed,” which is how experiences Christianity. The problem Christianity addresses “is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.”

Q. “What is the problem?” that requires a more complicated answer?

A. The world “contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless,” but it also includes people like us “who know that it is bad and meaningless.” And so there are only two ways of looking at the universe that “face all the facts.”

The Christian view says this “is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been.” The other view is Dualism, “the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war.”

Q. How does Lewis view the idea of Dualism?

A. He thinks “next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market.” But it has a problem. If good and evil are independent powers that have always been around and neither created the other, then “neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view.” However, we can’t really call one good and the other evil. In fact, we can’t actually talk, then, about good and evil. All we have are preferences for one or the other. And if there are no reasons to support one side, how can we say it is good?

Instead, we end up saying “one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.” And this brings us back to something Lewis has already talked about. If there is a good power and an evil power, then there’s something else: “a third thing . . . some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to.” Which means that behind all of this is “the Being who made this standard,” and who is “the real God.” The good power, then, is the one that is in right relationship with this Being—“the real ultimate God”—and the bad power is “in a wrong relation to Him.”

Q. What’s another way of looking at evil?

A. Lewis says that evil must like evil for its own sake, but this is not how reality works. Even with cruelty, Lewis notes that people are cruel because of something that has gone wrong with them or because of “something they are going to get out of it—money, or power, or safety.” Lewis says there’s nothing wrong with these things. They are actually “good things.” What makes them evil is “pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much.” In other words, evil is “the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. . . . Badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”

Q. What does this tell us about the Bad Power?

A. We can’t say that the Bad Power is equal to the Good Power, that the Bad Power loves evil in the same way the Good Power loves goodness. As Lewis puts it, “In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power.” This means evil is not its own thing. Evil “is part of the Good Power’s world: he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.”

Q. What does Christianity say about this Bad Power?

A. The Bad Power exists and has “intelligence and will.” These are good things that come from the Good Power.“ This is why “Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel.” Lewis says this

“is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.”

Q. What surprised Lewis when he read the New Testament?

A. There’s so much talk “about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin.” This is why Dualism is close to Christianity. But Christianity says “this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.” Both Christianity and Dualism say “this universe is at war.” Where they differ is that Christianity does not say the battle is “between independent powers.” The universe is in a civil war and “we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”

Q. How does Lewis describe the world?
A. He says it is “enemy-occupied territory.” He writes, “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery.”

Q. Does Lewis believe in a devil with “hoofs and horns and all”?

A. He’s “not particular about the hoofs and horns.” Otherwise he does. He doesn’t say he knows anything about what the devil looks like. But he has a strong warning: “If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, “Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.”






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