Mere Christianity Part 20


Chapter 9 in Mere Christianity is called “Charity.” I don’t have a whole lot to say on this chapter as it was quite short.

C.S. Lewis begins by saying “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” Actually, psychology suggests that we form our opinions of people before we’re even conscious of doing so. It also shows that negative impressions are more powerful than positive ones, so it’s hard to make yourself like someone after you decide that you dislike them. You cant simply make yourself like someone by acting as though you do.

He then says “If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” I don’t think emotions work this way either. Where is the evidence to suggest that this is true?

And his final argument is “They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacturer feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.” That’s manufacturing feelings. It also sounds a bit like Pascal’s Wager to me. It makes no sense to try and “fake it till you make it” in this case.

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10 responses to “Mere Christianity Part 20

  • robertkennedymitchell

    Thanks for drawing attention to this work by C.S. Lewis. I can understand the logic behind your comments. When you decide for yourself what an author intends, and then tell everyone that was his intention, you are in a perfect position to cut him off. Using your own reasoning could you defeat your own arguments about his work, just for fun, if you wanted to? This is a technique I use when critiquing others work. I find an “issue”, and then use my reasoning to explain why it is an issue. Then I act as if my explanation is the “issue”, and I start over. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when critiquing the work of a dead man, who is very well respected in his field, I believe every avenue should be fully explored before an opinion is issued. It could be that you already use this technique and the opinions you express are your final thoughts on the issue, and in that case, I respect your opinion. Keep up the good work!

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    • hessianwithteeth

      There are many people who have the same problems with Lewis’s work that I do. I don’t know why a dead guy with a reputation deserves a higher degree of respect than a living person without a reputation. I’m critiquing his work because so many people agree with it, but that doesn’t mean he’s right. Lewis was also a philosopher and linguist, but he’s famous for his theology. I think that’s a bit different than being well known in his field.
      I’m a philosophy major. Yes, I could argue against my points by interpreting things differently, but I don’t agree with those arguments. I think I’d have to apply a false interpretation to do so. Being able to argue against yourself doesn’t mean your initial argument is wrong. If you are trained in how to argue, you can argue convincingly that the moon is made out of cheese. I’m merely trying to write the best argument I can.
      Thanks for the support. I hope you enjoy my other work as well 🙂

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      • robertkennedymitchell

        I only mentioned that he is dead because he is not here to tell us why your interpretation of his work is misconstrued, not because living people do not deserve the same respect. I completely agree with your logic about the ability about to able to disagree with your own arguments. That is actually what I was pointing out. You have looked at all sides and completely attempted to understand what Lewis was actually saying, and you have drawn you opinion, and that is all we can ask for. I love it when people argue that Lewis was not a theologian. I am a theologian, and there are many who would find that statement laughable, however it does not change the fact. Lewis was clearly, based on his work, a theologian, and someone disagreeing with his theology makes him no less of a theologian.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          I say he’s not a theologian because he himself would not call himself such. Right in the beginning of Mere Christianity he says that he is not a professional, he is not trained to argue theology. He says that he is writing in particular because he is a layman. So to say he’s not a theologian is accurate. He was a lay Christian who is now considered a theologian because so many people accept his work. But that’s not what it means to be a theologian.
          I can write about biology. I can even write about it well enough to be thought a biologist because I can get my fellow blogger, Withteeth, to make sure that everything I write is accurate. But that doesn’t make me a biologist. Regardless of what others assume.

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          • robertkennedymitchell

            Very good points. My lack of humility is a little embarrassing. I’m certainly not a theologian in the proper sense. However Lewis’s humility does not make Him less of a theologian. It is the accuracy of his work, and his faithfulness to scripture that has gained him the honorable title of theologian. He was one who studied, and understood, as much as any theologian the things of God. Your problem is not really based on the fact that Lewis humbly said he was not a theologian, your issue is that people now recognize him as such. If I’m wrong please forgive me. I must admit that my enjoyment of a good conversation can come across as argumentative or disrespectful, but that is in no way my intention. I agree with Lewis and you disagree that is fine, but no amount of disagreement will make him less of what he was.

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          • hessianwithteeth

            In the colloquial sense, sure. Doing the work can make you as much a professional (or more so) as having a degree. I’m trying to stick as close to what Lewis himself has said in order to eliminate my own bias as much as possible. Of course my bias influences my interpretation, but my disagreeing with Lewis is not why I think he’s wrong. So that’s why I’m using what he himself said as to his role as a theologian.
            Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re coming across as disrespectful. I like these kinds of conversations too.

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  • George Davis

    Actually, I think Lewis has a profound insight here. Morally, you don’t have to feel love for someone, you just have to treat them with love.

    I didn’t read this bit of Lewis’ book as an argument that you would start to feel love if you acted like it. I read it as an argument that love is a verb not a feeling. I think that’s an important insight into life.

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  • jannatwrites

    It’s fascinating how human behavior works. I would have to agree that negative impressions are harder to change than positive ones.

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  • mitchteemley

    As a person whose life has been deeply impacted by Lewis, and as a fan of Mere Christianity, I’m not sure where to begin (there are so many points to pick from). I will say that Lewis’s comments (above) are well founded in psychology and resonate deeply within my own life experience. http://mitchteemley.com/2014/09/02/why-i-believe-part-one/ Thanks for listening!

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  • ubi dubium

    “If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

    For once Lewis got something right. This is actually a thing – it’s called the Franklin Effect. Ben Franklin described it in his writings. He found that if there was someone who disliked him, a good strategy was to ask that person for some small favor that was hard to justify turning down. Something like the loan of a book. After that, Franklin generally found that the other person’s treatment of him improved.

    The thought process I’ve heard from social scientists on this goes like this: We each have a specific self-image of the kind of person we are, and we’re very attached to it. Most of us like to think of ourselves as fair people, treating others the way they deserve to be treated. So we treat “good people” with kindness, and are only unfair or cruel to “bad people”. So what happens when we violate this personal code, even inadvertently? When we find we’ve been kind to an enemy, or have been unfair to a friend? This causes cognitive dissonance that it’s hard to tolerate for long. We have two choices – we either have to change our opinion of ourselves, or our opinion of the other person. We are very resistant to changing what we think of ourselves – it’s rare that you hear someone say “I thought I was an ethical person, but I guess I was wrong.” So what’s more likely is to dig in and say “My actions were right, therefore the other person must have deserved that treatment”.

    There’s a book by Carol Tavris about this kind of subject called “Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me”. I really recommend it.

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