Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 3, Chapter 1 : Christian Behavior (The Three Parts of Morality) | Summary



In Book 2 Lewis established that the Atonement is the means by which Christians are reconciled with God. He now turns his attention to the process that readies a person for this reconciliation: the practice of morality. We should think of morality as a set of rules meant to help us live with ease, not prevent us from enjoying life. One must approach the practice of morality with perfection as the goal.

Moral rules apply to three types of relationships: "relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him." To illustrate this, Lewis uses the metaphor of a fleet of ships to represent individuals in society. Morality applies to relations between individuals. Metaphorically, it is a means of preventing a collision between two ships. It applies to one's inner life, just as each ship must be kept clean and maintained. It also governs the goal of human life and therefore the goals society and individuals should pursue. It acts as a map that directs each individual ship as well as the whole fleet.

While interpersonal morality is commonly recognized, the intrapersonal and the existential dimensions of morality are often overlooked. A common idea is one may do as one wishes as long as no one else is hurt. Christian doctrine disagrees. Our lives belong to God, and so we have obligations similar to the duties a tenant has to a landlord. Christianity also regards the individual self as eternal, and so its concerns are of greater importance than those of institutions like states, which pass away.


In this chapter Lewis shows how Christian morality is more comprehensive than conventional morality. A Christian has moral duties in addition to the commonly recognized ones of not harming others. Additionally, Lewis is clear that the point of morality is not to be good enough; we must strive for moral perfection. If we are satisfied with being just a little less awful than we might normally be, we are missing the point of practicing morality. Lewis has repeatedly stressed morality is an all-or-nothing effort. There is no gray area in the Moral Law, the reader will remember from Book 1.

Because he is aware of how severe this sounds—Lewis is careful to emphasize that while morality is a set of rules, these rules do not actually burden or enslave the individual but bring about happiness. Expanding his metaphor of humanity as a motor whose only proper fuel is God, Lewis describes morality as the operating instructions for the motor.

Morality is commonly realized as a way of negotiating relationships between entities, whether they be people or institutions. But as Lewis points out, our lives consist of two other supremely important types of relationships that most systems of morality do not seem aware of. They are both obligations to God. We must treat ourselves with the moral decency befitting the property of God for Christianity states we do not belong to ourselves but to Him. Additionally, we have obligations relating to our direct relationship with God. This third category is perhaps the most difficult to conceptualize, but it has to do with the path we choose to walk in life. For the nonbeliever, this choice is often overwhelming. For Christians, the third dimension of morality can be expressed by the choice to surrender our self-will and let God's will take over.

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