Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 4, Chapter 11 : Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity (The New Men) | Summary

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Summary

God's work is transformation, according to Lewis, not improvement. In this vein, Lewis takes up the topic of evolution, which "everyone now knows about ... (though, of course, some educated people disbelieve it)." Many attempts have been made to imagine the "next step" or "thing beyond man." These have fallen prey to the fact that evolution does not always proceed as we might imagine it to.

The evolutionary course takes unexpected routes. Lewis claims many people assume since the trajectory of human development has been ever-increasing control over nature and more complex intelligence, the next step of evolution will be more of the same. Lewis argues that this is false. The next step will be different. And it entails "a new method of producing the change."

Lewis says that the next step has already begun with the incarnation of Christ. The change is "from being creatures of God to being sons of God." Evolution as we know it is now finished. Christ's incarnation was not a natural process. The change that is occurring now "is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside." This evolution moves through the world not through sex but through the "good infection" of Christ's spiritual life, or Zoe. It is unprecedented in that it depends on an act of the will. All of creation has been moving toward this point where people have the choice to "be taken right out of nature, turned into 'gods.'" Until we choose to be born in Christ, we are still unborn selves "in the womb" of nature.

People who are taking this next step are recognizable by certain common virtuous and pleasing traits. They retain and even enhance their individuality. Lewis explains that the Christ-life is like a single light that illuminates the differences in all that it falls upon. Or, he says in another analogy, it is like salt, which draws the individual flavors out of food. The more Christ is in us, the more fully we become ourselves.

In fact, what we commonly call our "self" is a fiction. It is just a temporary intersection of infinite nonself influences. Through Christ, this superficial self falls away and we at last acquire our own "real personality," the only personality, the personality of God. We can't get it by direct seeking but must seek God instead.

This is the root of the great paradoxical truths of Christianity: "Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death ... and you will find eternal life."

Analysis

In this final chapter Lewis uses evolution as a paradigm to discuss eschatology—the study of "last things." Christianity is a religion heavily concerned with eschatology; Christ's second coming is the end of this world, or as Lewis says in this chapter, the end of nature, of evolution. The final battle of the cosmic civil war is fought. God the playwright walks onto the stage and the play is over. The world melts away as God Himself appears in his full glory, which we will experience as horror or love depending on our degree of virtue. Throughout the text, Lewis has presented eschatological justifications for the urgency of choosing to return to God. Now, within history and nature, we have the use of our free will to decide whether we will remain Satan's rebels, attached to the world—or choose the righteous side. Lewis makes no prediction as to when this period of choice will end, but he is firm that it will.

For Lewis, the point of the universe and of all life is a successive evolution to higher and higher stages until people transcend their human nature. This transcendence to a place beyond morality and beyond nature is a return to humanity's beginning. Humanity comes full circle and is restored to the state of guiltlessness and eternity Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden before Eve ate the apple.

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