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Reading Classics - Mere Christianity (II)
December 11, 2008
Today we continue reading classics together. We have come to our second reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. We read all of book I, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.”
In our reading we covered five short chapters: The Law of Human Nature, Some Objections, The Reality of the Law, What Lies Behind the Law, and We Have Cause to Be Uneasy. In this first book, Lewis sets out to prove the existence of some kind of universal moral law—what he calls the Law of Nature. Looking to how this law was explained in the past, he writes “The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose to either obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.” This is a universal law that governs human behavior, telling us all what is wrong and what is right. Though there are some who deny such a law, they cannot do so in good conscience, for the moment they insist the law does not exist, you can outrage their sense of morality by doing something they consider unfair. Fairness can only exist in the presence of some higher moral standard.
Once we admit the existence of this universal law, we can examine ourselves (and others) to see that we do not always behave in the way this law demands. “These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” A law exists; we do not keep the law.
Lewis is careful to nuance his argument to insist that the existence of this Law of Nature does not necessarily demand the existence of the God of Christianity. He will get to this God soon, but first he wants to have people understand that there is a morality that underlies all human beings. It is only at the very end of this short book that he suggests how the existence of this moral law ought to make us uneasy, for if this law exists and if it exists because of some law-giver and if we have broke this law, well, then there must be some kind of consequence. Lewis wants the reader to know that, properly understood, Christianity ends with comfort, but only if it first begins with terror.
Just a couple of observations I should make. First, I really enjoyed Lewis’ use of metaphor, whether he was discussing mice or pianos or rocks or clocks. He illustrates his points very well. And second, I find his writing style so consistent with The Chronicles of Narnia. This should not be a surprise, I suppose. But I’m enjoying seeing how his distinctive writing style remains so similar even between genres.
For next week, let’s read Book II. Again, it’s not as bad as it sounds. As with last week, there are only five short chapters that together come in at 30 pages. I think this section is best read as a unit so we’ll treat it in that fashion. So read those pages and come back here next Thursday! Next week we’ll read a less than a whole book.
The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.