Friday, November 18, 2005

Reading CS Lewis: Mere Christianity

The first CS Lewis book I ever read wasn’t “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” but “Mere Christianity”. You may ask why “Mere” was the first Lewis book I read. This has something to do with my spiritual development. Like Lewis, there was a time in my life that I became agnostic.  While a majority of my family was Catholic, we were a multi-faith family and a diversity of  religious views and practices are tolerated.  I have an uncle who became an Orthodox Bishop, several Seventh Day Adventists relatives, Born Agains, Iglesia ni Cristo relations, Episcopalians and Independientes, Muslims and a Buddhist all in one family. A personal religious position such was always respected. The unspoken agreement was that there should be no proselytizing in the family, especially on the dinner table. In our society that has long become religious plural, what does Lewis’ experience tells us about conversion?

Just Merely. “Mere Christianity” should be read with “Surprised by Joy”. Lewis plainly and merely accepted the existence and reality of God in his Magdalen College room. In a trip to Whipsnade Zoo on brother Warnie’s motorbike, by reaching the zoo, Lewis accepted Jesus was Jesus. A few years later he accepted what Christians believed for ages, that Jesus Christ was God. For Lewis, the conversion experience was so ordinary and so embedded in daily life.

It was so ordinary that one reason why “Mere Christianity” became a best seller is that it did away with the polemics of earlier books and the stuffiness and dryness of theological works. While Mere started its discourse on human nature Lewis’ exposition does away with trappings of the ages and reduces Christian belief in its “Mere” sense. The central themes in Christian belief, the Divinity of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice and the mystery of the Holy Trinity are explained in terms of ordinary analogies that appeal to every man and woman. Of course these analogies will never capture the essence of these truths for nothing put into paper ever will. Lewis also believed that spiritual sins are worse than sexual sins. Lewis was very ecumenical and respected Catholic belief and practices and wished not to contribute to the divisions in the Christian Church. In the end we have to make our own conclusions. It’s either Jesus Christ is our redeemer or he is just history’s greatest moral teacher. Lewis clearly argues that to accept the latter is absurd.

And that is the point of conversion. What we stood for in the past is clearly absurd and there is no other way now.

The coming release of movies based on the “Narnia” Chronicles has generated a lot of interest in his books. I hope this interest will be transferred to Lewis’ theological works that aren’t really a hard read.

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