Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | 10 Things You Didn't Know


C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity is a classic of "Christian apologetics"—an attempt to advocate Christian thought and tradition in a rational way, taking into account various objections against faith. Mere Christianity was composed from the transcripts of three interviews with Lewis between 1941 and 1944 and was published as a book in 1952.

With Mere Christianity, Lewis wanted to reestablish a theological conversation that he felt had been lost in the world, particularly in the face of the atrocities and violence of World War II. Lewis's profound insights and clear, reasoned defense of Christian faith have led many to convert after reading Mere Christianity. In fact, the original broadcasts were conducted by a radio host, James Welch, who'd been moved by one of Lewis's earlier works. Today Mere Christianity is considered one of the most powerful modern defenses of Christian spirituality ever written.

1. Despite his fame as a Christian theologian, Lewis was an atheist during his youth.

Although Lewis's literature is inseparable from Christian tradition, and he is remembered as a renowned theologian as well as a writer, he didn't believe in God for years during his youth. Lewis was raised in a Christian family, but he became disillusioned with religion after his mother died of cancer and he believed that God had done nothing to save her. Lewis spent years identifying as an atheist, convinced that the prevalence of evil and suffering in the world was a rational argument against God's existence. After years of intellectual and spiritual turmoil, he changed his mind, describing himself as "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

2. Lewis was convinced to convert to Christianity by English writer J.R.R. Tolkien.

Lewis's works—particularly his masterpiece fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia—are often mentioned in the same breath as those of J.R.R. Tolkien, famous for his The Lord of the Rings series. The two authors were good friends, and it was actually Tolkien who led Lewis back to Christianity after his years as an atheist. Tolkien and Lewis both shared a love for stories of fantasy and magic. He convinced Lewis that, despite the evils in the world, these stories were grounded in reality—particularly the reality of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. In this way Tolkien convinced Lewis that God existed in the aspects of the world that he treasured instead of those that caused suffering.

3. Lewis hated typewriters and wrote everything by hand.

Despite being a prolific author, Lewis chose to write everything by hand. Lewis shunned typewriters despite the convenience they presented. He believed that the sound of keys clacking interfered with the appreciation of the English language as he wrote, and he argued it was important to pay attention to "how the writing sounded." Lewis once spoke openly against typing, advising potential authors:

Don't use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.

4. A famous evangelical leader owed his conversion to Mere Christianity.

Charles Colson, who was senior presidential aide to Richard Nixon, experienced a journey to conversion that was strange and dramatic. Colson was publicly disgraced after the 1972 Watergate scandal—in which the Nixon administration was caught bugging an opponent's room and attempting to cover it up—landing Colson in prison for his involvement. Colson, known as "Nixon's hatchet man," was described as ruthless and cold, once claiming, "I would walk over my grandmother for Richard Nixon." Later in life, however, he became deeply remorseful for his actions in the political arena after converting to Christianity and serving as an evangelical leader. Colson attributed his conversion entirely to Lewis's Mere Christianity, explaining:

[I] found myself face-to-face with an intellect so disciplined, so lucid, so relentlessly logical that I was glad I never had to face him in a court of law ... As I read, I could feel a flush coming to my face and a curious burning sensation ... Lewis's words seemed to pound straight at me.

5. An estimated 90% of Lewis's earnings from his books went to charity.

During his lifetime, Lewis was extremely philanthropic with the profits from his books. Lewis made a lot of money from royalties on his works—particularly his hugely popular Chronicles of Narnia series—and reportedly donated at least 90% of this income to charity. Mickey Maudlin, a publisher at Harper Collins and a Christian who converted after reading Lewis's work, said of the author's generosity:

There was a level of authenticity. He wasn't flying in jets, or showed signs of getting rich off of his books ... I wonder what he might have been tempted to say if he was worried about profits.

6. Lewis's translation of Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid was thought to have been lost in a bonfire.

In addition to his theological texts and fantasy novels, Lewis also worked on an English translation of Virgil's Latin epic, the Aeneid, which tells the story of the mythical hero Aeneas settling at Rome. The lengthy project was thought to have been completely destroyed by a bonfire in 1964, a year after Lewis's death. However, in 2011 it was discovered that Lewis's secretary, Walter Hooper, had salvaged the translation, which was published as C.S. Lewis's Lost Aeneid. The volume's editor explained:

Although it had been known that Lewis had worked on this translation, no one realized that portions still survived until Walter began sifting through his material. The bonfire, it was assumed, had consumed the most significant fragments of Lewisiana.

7. Lewis often engaged in witty banter with his gardener, and he even included the man as a character in a novel.

Lewis had a close friendship with Fred Paxford, his cook and gardener. Although the two were from very different backgrounds, they got along splendidly and often exchanged jokes with one another, particularly in regard to how they were both bachelors of the same age. Lewis immortalized his friend by writing him in as the character Puddleglum in his 1953 novel The Silver Chair. Lewis described the character, and by extension Paxford, as "an inwardly optimistic, outwardly pessimistic, dear, frustrating, shrewd countryman of immense integrity."

8. Several popes have praised Lewis and his work.

In addition to receiving acclaim from literary critics and theologians, Lewis's work also earned him papal approval. In 1994, during an interview, Pope John Paul II said of Lewis, "C.S. Lewis knew what his apostolate was, and he did it!" Pope John Paul II also promoted the translation of many of Lewis's works in his native language, Polish. The pope's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, also praised Lewis's theological writing. Although Lewis never identified as Catholic, scholars have noted how his work has cut across schools of thought in Christianity and, to an extent, helped unite them.

9. Lewis died approximately one hour after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Despite his immense popularity, Lewis's death was overshadowed by a catastrophic political event: the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Lewis and Kennedy both died on November 22, 1963, within an hour of each other. Since the world was reeling from the presidential assassination, Lewis's death was scarcely reported by the media at the time.

10. An Oxford walking tour takes visitors to many of the same places Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien visited.

Lewis and Tolkien used to stroll the grounds of Oxford University together, taking long walks to clear their minds and discuss literature and theology. To pay homage to this pastime, a walking tour takes visitors to many of the authors' old haunts. Lewis was an avid walker, and he incorporated long walks as part of his daily routine. Although Lewis and Tolkien often walked together, Lewis advocated for silence during his walks much of the time, explaining:

Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one ... who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared.

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