Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 3, Chapter 10 : Christian Behavior (Hope) | Summary



Lewis addresses the theological virtue of hope in this chapter. Hope is not escapism and in fact tends to give birth to virtuous action. We have trouble with cultivating real hope for heaven, Lewis argues, because we have been guided by our culture to focus exclusively on the present world. Lewis says hope for something outside of this world hides deep in human hearts. It is largely unrecognized or mistaken for a desire for some specific earthly thing that can never satisfy our yearning.

We can deal with our frustrated hopes in several ways. "The Fool's Way" is to blame dissatisfaction on "the things themselves" and to keep searching the world in vain. "The Way of the Disillusioned 'Sensible Man'" is to give up and become complacent. This second way would be fine, Lewis claims, but for the fact "one really can reach the rainbow's end." The third way, Lewis observes, is "The Christian Way." In it, he reasons that we do not have a desire unless there exists the possibility of satisfying that desire. Since our satisfaction cannot be found in this world, it must lie in another. The Christian remains grateful to the earthly conditions that "arouse" this hope and "suggest the real thing," while at the same time making his primary goal "to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same."


In this chapter Lewis says there are three ways a person can deal with the existential unrest and dissatisfaction that he implies is a fundamental characteristic of human life. Lewis implies people spend their lives chasing worldly success, pleasure, and experiences in the mistaken belief these things will bring them the happiness and satisfaction they yearn for. Because it is impossible to find happiness and satisfaction apart from God, sooner or later each person adopts one of three strategies to deal with his frustration and despair. But for Lewis, the first two strategies—to keep searching the world for happiness or to give up and settle for mediocrity—cannot result in success because they deny fundamental truths. The third strategy, the seeker's adoption of the Christian path, is the only one that relies on fundamental truths and therefore is the only one that can bring happiness and satisfaction.

Lewis's other main point in the chapter concerns hope. Hope for the future beyond this world paradoxically provides the motivation to improve present conditions. It is essential, not optional; cultivating hope for heaven is "one of the things a Christian is meant to do." Hope works with charity by sustaining it.

Lewis illustrates the activist quality of Christian hope by pointing to "the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade." The history between slavery and Christianity is long and complicated. In fact the text of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, gave early Christian explorers the justification they sought for the Arab-controlled slave trade and the intertribal slavery they observed in Africa.

Genesis 9 recounts how Ham, a son of Noah, saw his father naked and drunk. He called out to his two other brothers, Japheth and Shem, who covered their father while averting their eyes. Noah awoke and praised Japheth and Shem, blessing their descendants, while he condemned and cursed the line of Ham. The genealogy in Genesis 10 mentions one of Ham's sons was Cush, a name that these European explorers knew belonged to a tribe of people who lived near the Nile in Africa. Therefore, when the European empires expanded to the Americas, these Christian Europeans thought they were enacting the will of God as presented in the Old Testament by their enslavement of Africans. Furthermore, they would further please God by converting these slaves to Christianity, saving their souls. Further support for slavery is found in the New Testament, in the letters of St. Paul and St. Peter.

While some Christians were finding justification in their religion for the slavery that enriched them economically, certain members of a denomination known as Quakers were actively campaigning against it. Established in 1652, the Quakers were themselves persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the gifts of the spirit are for everyone. Quakers played essential roles in the abolitionist movements both in the United States and England, as did other Christians from minority denominations. The Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807.

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