Some unexpected help with Resolution #2

So, in light of the resolutions I've made this New Year, and the time I'm going to need to invest in them, I decided yesterday to finish reading Lewis', Mere Christianity (since I'm nearly finished anyway), but to discontinue doing posts related specifically to the reading group that I've been participating in. As much as I love and admire Lewis, I've been underwhelmed with this particular work and really dislike playing the part of a critic, especially of a man of his caliber.

And with that in mind I headed off to bed with Mere Christianity in hand. There I hit upon a section so poignant, and so relevant to my #2 New Years Resolution, that I changed my mind and have decided to post about it. But rather than skipping right ahead I'll go ahead and sum up briefly what I've read between my last post and this. I've been in the section titled "Christian Behaviour". There have been quite a few gems in it, along with points I can't say I agree with at all. For instance, I love his treatment of the "Cardinal Virtues": prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. I also found the section on "Social Morality" - the role of Christians in society at large - insightful and worth reading. I found his foray into "Morality and Psychoanalysis" odd, overly man-centered, and rather speculative. Take this assumption as a brief example: "...since Christian morality claims to be a technique for putting the human machine right..." Well...I guess...kind of - I don't know if I can agree with that as a starting point or not. This is a section where I found the absence of a scriptural framework frustrating. His discussion of the effects of sin on the human is interesting, and true as far as it goes, though I'd prefer to see more emphasis placed upon sin's offensiveness to God. But even here there are a couple of gems: "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". I can certainly attest to the truth of that! And this one: "Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either."

His sections on Sexual Morality and Christian Marriage, though rather unremarkable, contained a few gems as well. For instance, I really liked his discussion of propriety: "...while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes....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." I also appreciated this bit about being "in love": "Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life." And this, "It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill...if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life." Well, I suppose wise old Solomon would have to utter an "amen" to that one. He closes the section with a discussion of why there should be headship at all in a marriage. I wish he'd just stuck with Scripture on that one rather than scraping together some possible pragmatic reasons God may have had in establishing it that way, but I'll leave it at that.

Now to the point I was getting at in the first place - what Lewis had to say to help me with my #2 Resolution: Mortify the sin of harboring dislike toward folks who don't like me (I could also call it learning to genuinely love my enemies and love my brothers and sisters in Christ from the heart). This probably would have been better placed at Number One, but it's too late for that now. Chapter 7 in the Christian Behavior section is titled "Forgiveness". Lewis says, "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive..." Well, that's about as true a statement as I've ever heard; and he goes on to explain how to "learn how to forgive". Part of learning how to forgive, he says it to learn "what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?" And here begins one of the most practical, and convicting, explanations I've ever read of what it means to "love thy neighbor". And from here I'll let Lewis talk: "Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently 'Love you neighbour' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive.' self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving their enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are....not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do....Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them....But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if in anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again."

Now here is an ever more biting paragraph: "The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." Now higher theological details aside, this is deeply insightful into the nature and character of sinful man. This characterized exactly the person I was becoming before God intervened in my life and saved me. And these sinful tendencies still exist, embedded deeply in my 44 year old flesh. And to the new me who lives now, in this well-worn flesh, with its deeply ingrained sinful tendencies, (and think of it: indwelt by the holy Spirit of God!), the me who longs to mortify this sin in my life, Lewis has this to say: "...something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it anymore. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.* Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not."
*Or, as John Owen would say, "always be killing sin or it will be killing you."

That section, in and of itself has made my continued reading worthwhile. Loving your neighbor as yourself is, after all, the second greatest commandment; and I'm grateful to Lewis for helping me toward obedience and the mortification of sin.


David Porter said…
Wonderful post Laurie. I haven't made it that far in the text yet. Sounds like something to look forward too!

I look forward to reading this section and chewing on it.
Anonymous said…
Your reviews are spectacular, Laurie. Thanks for putting in the time and effort to produce them.
jeri said…
Lewis comes through with the most helpful of insights and observations, often just when you might begin to grow exasperated with him. I think I'm going to do the same as you're doing, and go ahead and finish the book up. I have a couple of other books I need to get to pretty quickly.

I agree with the others, Laurie, you're great at this kind of review and writing. It's a pleasure to read.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you are continuing to read this book and you do a very detailed review indeed.

I think some of your criticisms may come out of the time, place and the way Mere Christianity came to be written. We are all influenced by our surroundings more than we realize and I believe it was historian Thomas Cahill that pointed out that we are never truly able to remove the period we live in from our thinking. This was a radio program for the general public in England during WWII, not for American theologians of the 21st century such as you, and at the time this was written psychology was still very new. Also, it would have been a stretch to include a lot of Biblical support as there were other programs where the Word was preached; rather Lewis was asked to explain Christianity in the plain English of the day.

So take the gems for what they are but where we can no longer apply his thinking (to quote what I see above) ‘Please be kind!’

By the way, if I remember correctly I found the biggest gem, at least for me, on the last couple of pages.
God bless,

Popular Posts