It has been several years since I have sat down and read C.S. Lewis’ famous classic, “Mere Christianity.” I recently picked it up and rediscovered this gem of spiritual wisdom. To whet your appetite, I’m including seven of my favorite quotes from this book.
Mere Christianity Quote #1:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Later on in this passage he discusses how if there is no meaning in the universe, why do we struggle with the concept of meaning? And if there is no (spiritual) light in the universe, how do we understand the concept of dark? We would have nothing to compare “dark” to “light.”
Mere Christianity Quote #2:
“God created things which had free will. That means creature which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
Here Lewis tackles the issue, in part, of evil and wickedness in the world. God did not want robots or automatons. In order for us to be truly happy and fulfilled, we have to have the freedom to choose. And that means there has to be some “other” for us to choose: evil over good.
Mere Christianity Quote #3:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
Lewis explains this so clearly, there really isn’t much need for me to comment further except to say that “not” choosing IS a choice.
Mere Christianity Quote #4:
“We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it — whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue,’ and it is this quality or character that really matters.”
He goes on to discuss about how God does not want people that follow some set of moral rules: He wants people that are transforming into people in which these virtues are a natural part of them. And these virtues (he mentions prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude in this chapter) are eternal, not something “just” for this life.
Mere Christianity Quote #5:
“I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
This particular passage has stuck with me years after I read it. This is one of the reasons why I picked up this particular book at this time because I have recently seen the obvious effects on a person’s life of his choices. The choices he is talking about here, are, of course, moral choices, not whether to have jelly or honey on your toast. We are constantly bombarded with moral choices on a daily basis and we are given the opportunity, over and over, to choose to be “good” (unselfish) or to be “bad” (selfish) and that affects the state of our soul. When a person repents of a bad choice, God steps in and helps straighten out that kink or twist in his soul so that he isn’t as likely to make that bad choice again. If one doesn’t repent, it becomes easier and easier to keep make the same choice for self over and over until finally, tragically, there really is no choice at all, one automatically chooses for self.
Mere Christianity Quote #6:
“Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.”
I find this quote somewhat terrifying for it is the thoroughly bad man that we must be wary of, for our own protection and for fear of us becoming him. It does not sound like you can reason with a thoroughly bad man, as he will not understand when you call him bad. Lewis goes on to give several analogies about how a sleeping man only understands sleep when he is awake, a drunkard can only understand drunkenness when he is sober, and you only recognizes math mistakes when your mind is working properly. Lastly he states “Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”
Mere Christianity Quote #7:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
This is from his chapter titled “The Great Sin”, which in the Christian world is Pride. This is a tough, very convicting chapter with something for everyone. Another key statement he makes is that if you want to become humble, you have to acknowledge how proud you actually are. If you refuse to admit that you struggle with pride, you are a very arrogant man (or woman) indeed.
C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity