(audio) book review: Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis (read by Geoffrey Howard)

wonderful behavioral insights; less convincing on the philosophy

I will likely listen to this book again.  I listened to it because (a) I loved Lewis’s Narnia chronicles at various points in my life and was interested in more, and (2) leaders of my church have often quoted this particular book, so I figured I’d see what all the hubbub was about.  Essentially C.S. Lewis here outlines Christian doctrine as he sees it and then discusses virtues which are essential to Christianity (not – to be clear – claiming that Christianity has a corner on them).  I’m far from a philosopher (and so – as he admits in the book – is Lewis), but I found the first part not entirely convincing.  While I enjoyed some of his doctrinal elucidations, I found some of his reasoning unclear, and he occasionally used the terrible “obviously” (using that rather than good reasoning when a point was not obvious, at least to this muddled reader). I got a little bit bored.

His behavioral expositions, on the other hand, were deeply insightful.  He both made points that I had never considered before and will review and also reframed behaviors I believe in with novel perspectives.  Either way, I highly recommend the book on that point.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook read by Geoffrey Howard, who did a solid job.  Also, the entire book is available on-line.

Below, I quote a few passages I really enjoyed.

On charity: I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,’ if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. (Book 3, Chapter 13)

On making people uncomfortable: When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. (Book 3, Chapter 15)

On temptation: A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -the only complete realist. (Book 3, Chapter 21)

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