Just as a flower which seems beautiful and has colour but no perfume, so are the fruitless words of the man who speaks them but does them not.
- The Dhammapada, Buddhist Collection of Moral Aphorisms (c. B.C. 300)
When people seek to share the message of Christ, most of their appeals are made in an attempt to speak to people’s hearts. From my experience however, most non-believers take great pride in thinking of themselves as guided by reason. A more effective way of reaching these people then, would be to make the case for Christianity not from an emotional standpoint, but from a logical standpoint.
That’s where you enter the realm of Christian apologetics. While I think it’s somewhat of an unfortunate label in that lends itself to being misconstrued, just realize that when we speak of Christian apologetics, it’s not a method of making apologies and saying you’re sorry for being a Christian, the word “apologetics” in this case is derived directly from the Greek, apologia: a rebuttal or verbal defense.
In having just finished C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”, I want to tell you that it lays out the strongest, most rational case for Christianity I’ve ever encountered.
Again, we’re left with a title that’s a little bit subject to misinterpretation. We’re not speaking of “mere Christianity” here the way you might say a person acts like nothing more than a “mere child”, instead, Lewis borrows the phrase from the 17th century writer Richard Baxter, who wrote of “mere Christianity” as being the essentials of Christianity, the core beliefs shared by Catholics and Protestants alike. Lewis goes on to define it as “an agreed, or common, or central, or ‘mere’ Christianity, which omits the disputed points.” And doesn’t it make perfect sense to start the non-believer from the point where all the denominations agree, instead of getting lost in the points of contention?
At the age of 30 as a non-believer attending Oxford, Lewis says he finally gave in and admitted that “God was God”, describing himself as “perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” It is from that perspective as a former non-believer that Lewis uses his great talents as a writer to document his own evolution from the non-believer to the true believer. In doing so, he makes a compelling case for Christianity.
At 229 pages, Mere Christianity has more thought-provoking passages per page than just about anything I’ve ever read. Allow me to share just seven samples in hopes it may inspire you to pickup a copy of the book yourself:
On being an atheist:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
On the devil:
Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. 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. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil – hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’ I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. 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.”
On free will:
When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of the cleverer and stronger and freer it is – then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best – or worst – of all.
On the oft-repeated “respect” the non-believer gives in saying Jesus was a great teacher:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
On why we need Jesus to properly repent of our sins:
Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it.
. . .
You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.
On propriety, or decency:
The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally ‘modest,’ proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste). Some of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare’s time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by a woman completely abandoned. 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 ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.
There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was ‘the sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it’. And I am afraid that is the sort of idea that the word Morality raises in a good many people’s minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time. In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, ‘No, don’t do it like that,’ because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.
. . .
People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. 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. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.
I’ve done my share of travelling in both directions. I need ask myself of myself more often, towards which state am turning today?
We’re just scratching the surface here, but imagine an entire book of kernels of wisdom like the seven shared here, and for every kernel, even more to ponder as he expands on every thought. Mere Christianity is full of inspiration and full of ammunition should you enter in a discussion of God with the typical atheist who prides themselves on their logical thinking.