Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 2, Chapter 1 : What Christians Believe (The Rival Conceptions of God) | Summary

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Summary

C.S. Lewis now turns to the specifics of Christian doctrine, and in this chapter, specifically, how God is seen in Christianity versus in other belief systems. Atheists, he says, believe all religions are incorrect, but Christians do not need to believe all other religions are all completely incorrect. If existence were a math problem, Christianity is the answer that comes the closest to being correct.

Most of humanity believes in one of two kinds of god. The first paradigm is pantheism, which regards all the universe as God and therefore good and evil is mere human conception. If the universe stopped existing, so would God. The opposite idea is the Christian idea: there is a God who is righteous, who has preferences for good over evil, and whose preferences extend to our behavior. In this view God is an artist and the universe is his art. In other words God is separate from the universe he created. Pantheism is "damned nonsense," Lewis exclaims, as it holds evil is part of God.

Christianity is for those who care about right and wrong. In Christianity evil represents something going wrong in God's creation. When Lewis was an atheist, he felt God couldn't exist because the universe is so unjust, but when he began to investigate this argument it fell apart. In the same way, we would not know what darkness was without knowing light. Lewis realized that since he was able to conceive of injustice, justice must also exist. Lewis had to abandon his argument against God's existence when he realized justice exists in the universe.

Analysis

Lewis hints at a position known as universalism when he asserts Christianity does not have an exclusive hold on truth. He is firm that it is the truest religion, however, and he explains how this could be by analogy to a math problem. Lewis previously claimed the Moral Law was true in the same way a mathematical expression is true—in other words not open to debate or opinion. By this repeated comparison of moral and religious issues to mathematics, Lewis argues that these issues have objective rather than subjective answers. What is correct, or true, is not determined by humans. Rather it existed prior to humans and will continue to exist if humans disappear—much in the same way two and two always have made four and always will. Mathematics is an abstract property of the universe. Humans cannot change or even argue mathematical truths. It simply makes no sense to argue two and two are five because you are challenging the very structure of the created universe. For Lewis religion and morality are properties that are inherent in the structure of the universe. These properties were put there by God, the artist who created it.

Lewis explains what is known as "the problem of evil," a fundamental issue in theology and philosophy and a common barrier to religious belief. He uses his own experience as an atheist to connect with those in his audience who may object to belief on the same grounds he did. First he separates God from evil: evil exists but God did not create it. One can understand this by thinking how an artist's creation may worsen in condition after the artist has finished it. It can warp, crack, or otherwise become damaged. Lewis completes the argument by claiming our consciousness of evil proves the existence of good. We cannot write God off by exclaiming the universe is a horrible place. His reasoning rests on the assumptions we cannot understand things except in terms of their opposites, and we cannot conceive of something unless it exists. The problem of evil, therefore, loses its validity as an argument against God's existence.

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