Mere Christianity Summary Sheets

Lectures at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport

Dr. Louis Markos

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOKS I AND II

A.        Lewis begins Mere Christianity by noting something peculiar about human beings: we constantly appeal, in our statements, to standards of behavior.

            1. The fact that we quarrel over who is right shows our tacit agreement of a fixed code to which an appeal can be made; if we did not accept this code, we would have to fight it out.

            2. We don’t argue whether the code is correct; rather, we argue that we have come closer to fulfilling it—or, if we have broken it, we argue that we had a legitimate reason for doing so.

            3. Even a professed relativist, if someone cuts in front of him in line, will be upset—and he won’t excuse the behavior if the person says that in his “culture” it’s ok to cut people off!

            4. Lewis argues that this moral/ethical code is universal and cross-cultural and is written in our conscience, and, if that is the case, it must have a super-natural source.

5. In another of his books (The Abolition of Man), Lewis calls this code the Tao.

            6. The Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals not only presupposed the existence of the Tao, but that the Nazi’s (like all people) were aware of it but chose to break it.

            7. The best way to define the Tao is thus: it is the way we expect other people to treat us!

            8. Many anthropologists argue that morality is not cross-cultural, but varies wildly from culture to culture; but that is simply not true.

9. Since Freud, moderns have taken marginal, abnormal behavior and treated it as if it were the norm; but the only reason we recognize psychopaths is that we know right from wrong.

10. In an appendix to The Abolition of Man, Lewis basically proves that the Tao is universal and cross-cultural by lining up quotes from diverse cultures (Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Native American, and Anglo-Saxon) and showing that the core values of all these cultures are virtually equivalent.

11. Some critics say the Tao is not super-natural but is made up by prophets, but that too is false: the true role of prophets is not to introduce new laws but to remind us of the old ones. 

12. Prophets who make up new moral codes are false prophets.

13. Other critics say the Tao must be man-made for we teach it to our children; but we also teach them math and we don’t make that up.  Morality/math are not invented but discovered.

14. Yet other critics argue that ethical behavior is merely the acting out of a natural instinct (for survival, for procreation, to defend one’s family), but that is only partially true.

15. We do follow natural instincts, but what happens when we must choose between two instincts that are at odds with one another; the only way we can choose is by appealing to a third thing (tertium quid in Latin) that will allow us to choose which instinct to follow.

            16. But if this third thing allows us to choose between instincts then it cannot itself be an instinct: the ruler we use to tell us which piece of wood is the right length for the room we are building cannot be itself one of the pieces of wood; if we want to know which note we should play next on the piano, we appeal not to the notes on the piano but to the score.

            17. The fact of the matter is that we (unlike the animals) are moral/ethical creatures; only man does (or does not do) what he ought or should

18. Animals merely follow the laws of nature, while we follow the laws of human nature that are written in our conscience (the Tao).

B.        Though we know that we must keep the Tao, we find we cannot: every religion (and every person) knows this, but only Christianity takes it seriously. 

1. While religion tells us that we can’t follow the Tao but we should try anyway, Christianity seeks a more radical solution to sin.

2. If, as most moderns believe, Jesus Christ was only a good moral teacher, then he really has little to offer us; Christ, inasmuch as he was a prophet, merely restated the universal Tao.

            3. The solution to our ethical dilemma cannot come via a restatement of the Tao (even a perfect one like the Sermon on the Mount); it is clear that we have not and never can keep it.

            4. The main mission of Christ was not to teach but to invade; our world, writes Lewis, is enemy-occupied territory and “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed . . . in disguise” and is calling us to join his cause.     

5. In contrast to the belief (initiated by Rousseau) that men are perfectible creatures who lack only proper education, Lewis asserts we are “rebels who must lay down [our] arms.”     

6. The problem with man is not ignorance and poverty but sin, rebellion & disobedience.

7. We can neither perfect ourselves nor our society by our own efforts; the evil that prevents us lies not in a few key villains or in bad social planning or in widespread illiteracy, but in the heart of every fallen human being.

            8. Christianity begins with a humble confession that we cannot satisfy the requirements of the Law (the Tao) and a surrender of our whole self to Christ.

            9. Christ is God himself in human form; through his suffering and death on the cross, he brought us back into a right relationship with God (and the Tao).

            10. Though he resists defining the exact nature of the Atonement, Lewis makes it clear that salvation rests not in the Tao but in sharing in the Life of Christ.

C.        In his most famous apologetical statement, Lewis gives another compelling reason why we cannot dismiss Christ as merely a good man and nothing more.

1. Christ claimed to be the Son of God and to have the power to forgive sins; if he was not, in fact, who he claimed to be, then he was either a raving lunatic or the greatest liar (and blasphemer) that ever lived.

2. Christ, that is, is either a Liar, a Lunatic, or the Lord (Lewis’s Trilemma); the one thing we cannot say about him is that he was a good man but not the Son of God.

3. Indeed, if Jesus was not the Son of God, the Pharisees were right to condemn him!

            4. The Trilemma only works because Jesus was a Jew and therefore a monotheist; had he been a Hindu and claimed to be one with God, his statement would not have been blasphemous.

5. For the Jew, Muslim, or Deist, God has no son; for the Hindu, Buddhist, or New Ager, we are all sons of God—Jesus is unique because he claimed to be the only-begotten Son of God.

6. The Trilemma cannot be extended to all holy men and prophets (Moses, Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed): these prophets only claimed to have heard from God and to have been a conduit for his word; Jesus claimed to be God himself in the flesh. 

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOK III

A.        Morality is not interference but a way to keep the human machine running

1. The young Lewis wanted God to leave him alone, but our God is actively involved.

2. Lewis compares humanity to a fleet of ships: morality is needed not only to keep the ships from colliding (the sole focus of modern “morality”), but to keep the individual ships in working order and to give them a purpose and destination that will keep them on course.

3. The classical, pre-Christian world knew the four cardinal virtues (wisdom/prudence, temperance/self control, courage/fortitude, and justice), but only through Christ and the New Testament did the world learn fully the three theological virtues (faith, hope, love/charity).

B.        Virtue is not an emotion but a quality of character gained by practicing just actions.

1. A brave man is not someone who feels brave but who acts bravely even when afraid.

2. Charity is not feeling pity for the poor but helping them; charity is an act of will.

3. Virtue is its own reward, for the more you practice virtue, the more you enjoy virtue.

4. If we do something evil (or good) to a person, we will come to hate (or love) him.

5. The man who no longer loves his wife should begin to treat her as if he loves her; if he does, the feeling of love will return—true also for wives who no longer respect their husbands.

6. Sexual morality is not about feeling (“being in love”) or about what is “natural”: marriages based only on being in love will not last; following natural impulses leads to sin.

C.        God does not judge us by our raw material but by our moral choices.

            1. We should not judge, for we don’t know what kind of choices we might have made had we been raised the same way as Hitler’s henchmen and then given absolute power.

            2. That does not mean we overlook sin, but understand the full nature of moral choice.

            3. If a man has acrophobia, and a therapist cures him, he does not therefore become brave; he has merely been put on a level playing field—he still must choose to be brave. 

            4. Our choices make us into creatures of heaven or hell; though all sin is sinful, the sins of the soul (pride, greed, hypocrisy) pull us farther away from God than the sins of the flesh.

D.        God calls on us to love the sinner but hate the sin; that sounds impossible, but it is not!

1. Everyday we hate ourselves for doing cruel or petty things, but we still continue to love ourselves; in fact, the reason we hate the sin we committed is because we love ourselves.

2. We should hate the sin others do, not because we are disgusted by the sin, but because we know the sin is hurting the other person (as well as others around him).

3. If we are happy to hear someone is worse than we thought, we are on the road to hell.

E.        Hope is not escapism/pie-in-the-sky; great reformers of earth had their eyes on heaven.

            1. If we seek only the world, we will lose it; if we seek heaven, we get it and the world.

            2. Some say Christians are mercenary because they seek heaven, but heaven is our proper reward; a lover who seeks to marry his beloved is not mercenary (but he is if he seeks money).

F.         Faith does not just mean the moment we accept Christ: faith is something we live by.

            1. Some say that people accept Christianity because of emotion and then reject it because of reason; this is sometimes true, but it is more often the opposite: we accept it because it makes sense and then abandon it when our emotions are assaulted by anger or fear or grief.

            2. In “Obstinacy in Belief,” Lewis says that when you become a Christian, “You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a person who demands your confidence”—Christianity may start as a philosophical proposition, but it ends as a relationship.

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits, and Restoring Beauty.

MERE CHRISTIANITY—AN OVERVIEW OF BOOK IV

A.        Theology is not a collection of dry, dusty books, but a map to navigate by.

1. If my fleet of ships had to sail by a rocky coast, I’d rather have an “impersonal” map based on centuries of collaboration than the personal diaries of 3 people who live on the coast.

2. Theology is vital, for without the map, we keep repeating the heresies of the past.

B.        Jesus, the Nicene Creed tell us, is the “only begotten Son of God . . . begotten not made.”

1. A woman who gives birth begets a child that is of the same kind as herself; if she were to make a perfect statue of a child, it would be like a human child but not of the same kind. 

2. We were made in the image of God and share some of His nature, but only Christ was begotten of God—we are not naturally children of God; we must be adopted through Christ.

3. We all possess creaturely life given us by God, but that life (Lewis uses the Greek word bios) is a created/made kind of life that will eventually run down and decay.

4. What we need is not more bios life, but a new kind of indestructible life (zoe) that only God can give.  To be saved is to have our bios life killed and replaced by God’s eternal zoe life.

5. Becoming a Christian is like a statue coming to life (as when Aslan breathes on the statues in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and brings them back to life). 

6. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he merely restored his bios life; but when Christ rose from the dead, he rose to a new zoe life that he now has the power to share with us.

C.        Many think that because God foresees the future he must therefore predestine everything.

            1. But God lives outside of time and space; he does not foresee the future, but sees it.

            2. If I see a present action, that does not mean I am causing it; just because God sees me (in his eternal now) doing something in the future, that does not mean he is forcing me to do it.

            3. As creatures made in the image of God, we have free will: that freedom does not mean we can do anything we want but that we are moral/ethical creatures who must choose.           

D.        According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is his own dynamic community.

1. When the Bible says “God is Love,” it does not mean he is the Platonic Form of Love, but that he is Love in action: for all eternity the Father has loved the Son and the Son the Father.

2. And that Love between Father and Son is so real it is itself a Person: the Holy Spirit.

3. Becoming a Christian does not mean winning a “get-out-of-hell-free card”; it means joining in the dance, the drama of the Triune God.

4. Each time we pray we get a glimpse of this: Father above us, Son beside, Spirit within.

5. Christianity is a kind of good infection: if we want to get wet, we must get in the water.

6. Orthodox doctrine of theosis says God became like us so we could become like him.

E.        Following Christ is not like following Plato or Marx; we’re called to be mirrors of Christ.

            1. Rather than merely imitate Christ, we are to allow his light/glory to shine through us.

            2. Like the Virgin Mary, we are called to let Christ be born through us into the world. 

            3. Christ doesn’t want some of our time and some of our money; he wants all of us.

            4 We may go to Christ the dentist to get a tooth fixed, but he will insist on giving us the full treatment; we are not to be painted but dyed, not to be improved but transformed.

            5. We only truly become ourselves when we give ourselves to Christ; to gain our life we must lose it: how monotonously alike are all the tyrants; how unique are the saints.

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ and The Myth Made Fact.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SIN: C. S. LEWIS WRESTLES WITH HELL

I           According to Lewis, hell is not only necessary, it is always something we choose.

            A.        We choose either to be in God’s presence for eternity (heaven) or to cling eternally to our selves and to our sin (hell).

                        1. The damned are successful rebels; the doors of hell are locked on the inside by those who refuse to let go of themselves and embrace God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.

                        2. If God’s gift of free will is a real one, then he must allow us to reject his love; hell is the only place in the universe that lies outside his omnipresent being.

                        3. If we desire to be left alone, he will ignore us; if we choose ourselves and our sin over God and heaven, he will leave us to our terrible, self-enslaving freedom.

            B.        But how, Lewis asks, can one not desire heaven? Or, how can one chose hell?

                        1. To answer this question, let us think of hell not as a destination but a process.

                        2. For Lewis, hell is not so much a pit that we are thrown into on account of some heinous, mortal sin, as a marsh that we slide into one peccadillo at a time.

                        3. Each time we chose ourselves or our sins over God and others, we surrender another spark of our humanity: we (literally) de-humanize ourselves.

                        4. Matthew 25:41 suggests hell was intended to house fallen angels (not fallen human beings); therefore, if we are still “human” when we die, we have a chance of heaven.

                        5. In Screwtape Letters (#12), a senior devil (Screwtape) explains to a junior devil (Wormwood) that the size of the sin doesn’t matter, only its effect on the human soul:

                        6. “It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

II.        In The Great Divorce, Lewis takes us on a fanciful bus ride from hell to heaven, allowing us to eavesdrop as saved souls try to convince damned souls even now to forsake their sin.

            A.        Lewis adopts a unique case-study approach to sin that uncovers the insidious psychological process by which human souls are reduced to mere shades.

                        1. At one point Lewis ponders the damned soul of a garrulous, grumbling woman who won’t cease her “pity-party” long enough to listen to the saint sent to help her.

                        2. To Lewis, she does not seem an “evil” woman, only a grumbler; but that, his guide (George MacDonald) tells him, is the whole point: is she a “grumbler or only a grumble”?

                        3. If there’s even an ember of humanity left inside of her, the angels can nurse the flame till it blazes again, but if all that is left is ashes, nothing can be done. 

                        4. In another case study, the damned soul of a landscape painter (the Ghost) meets up with the blessed soul of another landscape painter (the Spirit).

                        5. When the Ghost sees how beautiful heaven is, he kicks himself for not having brought his painting gear, but the Spirit reminds him that the real reason he became a painter was not to capture the landscape but to use his art to reach the light behind the landscape.

                        6. The Ghost counters that he has grown to appreciate art for its own sake, not as a means to an end and chooses to leave heaven: the source of the light which was his first love.

                        7. A third case study features a mother who, upon arriving in heaven, insists on seeing her saved son; she is told she must learn to desire God first before she can have her son.

                        8. She insists that “God is Love” and that any God that would not let her see her son, must be a false one: what, after all, can be more holy than her mother-love?

                        9. Her son, or, more precisely, her smothering, manipulative love for her son is her God: if God gets in the way of that, he must go; if God won’t step aside, then she’s ready to drag her son down with her to hell where she can really care for him.

                        10. The theological and psychological problem with the mother is that she worships a virtue that she has made into an idol, not the God who is the source of that virtue.

                        11. Sadly, good things (mother love) make better idols than bad things (drugs).

B.        All the damned souls are utterly narcissistic; they can’t move out of themselves.

                        1. According to Lewis, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'”

                        2. But there is a great irony here: those who chose the former will find themselves growing more and more real, more and more substantial, while those who chose the latter will slowly deteriorate into insubstantial, person-less ghosts.

                        3. I have found that many Americans consider hell “unfair” because they imagine that going to heaven or hell is like getting an “A” or an “F” in a college class.

                        4. But there are two colleges: those majoring in the true, external God enroll in the College of Heaven; those majoring in their own internal idol-God, go to the College of Hell.

            C.        Hell is a necessity both for the sinner and the saint: it is a cosmic quarantine.

                        1. We must never, warns Lewis, fall into that fine-sounding liberal plea that none should be happy until all are; that kind of logic spreads misery and would even taint heaven.

                        2. On earth, a willful child, by refusing to enjoy his trip to the park, has the power to spoil the day for his entire family; in heaven that power is denied him.

                        3. The manipulation that parades as unselfishness, the pity that binds, the love that smothers, all are strictly confined to hell; heaven is free of such petty blackmail.

                        4. God, insists Lewis, will not allow a dog in a manger to tyrannize all heaven.

            D.        To avoid hell, we must free ourselves from two satanic misconceptions.

                        1.  Screwtape tells Wormwood that the difference between Satan and God is that Satan wants cattle that he can turn into food, while God wants servants that he can turn into sons.

                        2.  Satan (whose name means accuser) wants automatons stripped of will; Christ the advocate would give us life to the full (John 10:10) and set us free to be ourselves.

                        3. The voice in our ear that accuses and demeans us is Satan’s, not God’s!

                        4.  Second, the problem with our desires is that they are too weak for heaven.

                        5.  Perhaps there is no marriage in heaven, because there we can love all fully!

                        6.  We are, Lewis says in Miracles, like boys in an attic playing cops and robbers, until we hear footsteps on the stairs, and we are terrified; we don’t want God to come too close.

                        7.  “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased” (taken from Lewis’s best sermon, “The Weight of Glory”).

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist Univ, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.

Retelling the Christian Story: C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ?  I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to.  An obliga-tion to feel can freeze feelings.  And reverence itself did harm.  The whole subject was associ-ated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical.  But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?” C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy enter Narnia through back of old wardrobe.  White Witch rules Narnia; it is “always winter and never Christmas.”  But the Lion Aslan (son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea) is on the move.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver take Peter, Susan, and Lucy to meet Aslan, but Edmund (tempted by Turkish Delights) has betrayed them to the Witch.  Aslan wins, but the traitor Edmund’s life is forfeit to the Witch (Deep Magic).  Aslan offers his own life instead; he is shaved/killed on the Stone Table, but at Dawn, the table cracks and Aslan is restored to life (Deeper Magic).  In Witch’s castle are statues of animals that she turned to stone with her wand; Aslan enters castle, breathes on the statues, and brings them to life.  Aslan defeats Witch and the children rule as Kings & Queens for many years, until a White Stag leads them back to the Wardrobe, from which they emerge as kids.

  1. Aslan not an allegory for Christ, but what Son might have been incarnated on Narnia
  • LWW retells Christian story: Ed is Adam & Judas/Aslan is Christ; atonement as ransom
  • Cracked Stone Table = stone that rolled away + torn curtain in Temple + tablets of Law
  • Aslan breathing on the statues = the power of New Life in Christ: Christ as Second Adam
  • Nature of good and evil; evil is negative, a privation of good; no such thing as perfect evil
  • Aslan is good but is neither safe nor tame: can’t be domesticated; compassionate strength
  • In Aslan we regain the numinous awe of Christ and a sense of the sacred: fun and scary!
  • In Witch is revealed the true (dehumanizing) nature of evil; Satan wants cattle for food
  • Satan/Witch (not Christ/Aslan) is the joyless Puritan, the cosmic killjoy (John 10:10)

Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 22 books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of CSL.  His newest books are From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith and The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes.

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