Ugh. My cat knocked my book into water, so now it’s damp (after drying for a few hours). Luckily it’s still readable, so onto the beginning of Book Two, What Christians Believe, of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I am on chapter one, “The Rival Conceptions of God.”
Right away Lewis gets off the a bad start. He states that “If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all religions of the whole world is simply a huge mistake.” First, he makes it sound as though all religions have the same main point. What is the main point of any one religion, anyway? It seems to me that Christians can’t agree with each other as to what there main point is, let alone all religions sharing one point. And second, atheists only have to disagree if the main point is that a god exists. Buddhism doesn’t have the existence of a god set up as it’s main point, so I don’t have to disagree with Buddhism. I don’t know if God is the main point of Christianity, but I disagree with Christianity on the premise that there is in fact a god.
He then goes on to state that “As in arithmetic-there is only one right sum.” Mathematics is a far more complicated subject matter than I think Lewis realized. Yes, in elementary school they teach us that 1+1=2. Does this mean that math is black and white and there is only ever one answer to any problem? Of course not. Since when does what we learn in elementary, or even high school, reflect the true complexity within any given subject matter?
Lewis continues with a discussion of what he considers the big human divisions. He states that “The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not.” That is the first big divide? Atheists vs. theists? Because I think there are far more concerning human divides than the ons related to religion. And the ones related to atheism vs. theism seem to be quite a bit smaller than the divides between different theist groups. This is also an appeal to numbers: he’s basically saying “well the majority agrees with me, so my claim must be more accurate than the atheists’ claim.” He then explains the second big divide: “People who believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on the subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil…The first of these views-the one that thinks God beyond good and evil-is called Pantheism…The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.” I have a question before I move on: is calling Muslims “Mohammedans” the equivalent of the older generation calling Asians “Orientals”? I don’t think Lewis really understands Pantheism. He later defines it properly as the belief that God is basically the universe (it’s more complicated than that, but it’s more correct than the above definition), but here he’s saying that Pantheists believe God is above good and evil and Christians don’t. If God is the universe, then it makes more sense to me to say that God is simply separate from or ambivalent towards the concept of good and evil, but I’m sure various Pantheists would offer various explanations for their gods’ relationship with good and evil. However, I have heard many Christians say that God is above good and evil. Is Lewis saying that the aren’t real Christians? Or is it more complicated than Lewis is making it seem?
At one point, Lewis says “The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense'” in regards to the idea of Pantheism. He adds a footnote to that stating “One listener complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I say-nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead who believes it to eternal death.” So after he goes on to say that Christians don’t have to call every other religion wrong, and that other religions are at least closer to the right answer than atheists, he says “everybody who believes this is wrong.” And, to make it worse, he also claims that people deserve to go to hell for believing that God is essentially the universe. Doesn’t that seem a bit harsh? And Lewis makes himself look like an ass by making this claim.
Lewis goes back to making statements that suggest he believed in forms. He says “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” No. If you teach a child what a straight line is, will then then be able to tell you what a crooked line is? How could they? You haven’t defined crooked yet. But if you teach them what a crooked line is, but not what a straight line is, they will be able to tell you what a crooked line is. This is a matter of labeling and education, not of true forms.
Lewis finishes the chapter by stating “Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” *Facepalm* All of Lewis’s straw-atheists and false claims about atheism make me think one of two things, either he was never really an atheist, or his work was a money making scheme. Either way, I don’t think he’s being intellectually honest here. Atheism has nothing to do with whether or not the universe has meaning. That’s nihilism. And Lewis has not given any evidence to suggest that atheism is too simplistic. He merely stated that it was and expected the claim to be accepted.
I would say that this was a terrible chapter, but it’s no better or worse than his others. His arguments are chalked full of fallacious claims and he does not offer adequate evidence to support anything he says. For those Christians reading this, I’d suggest you look for better sources for your theology than Lewis’s work.