BLOG #31, SERIES #8
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #68
C. S. LEWIS’S MERE CHRISTIANITY
August 2, 2017
In order to understand the setting of Mere Christianity, and C. S. Lewis’s motivation to write such a book, it is necessary for me to first write a preamble.
THE EVE OF WORLD WAR II
Especially for Europeans, it was one of the darkest periods in modern history. On March 14 of 1938, Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna, and Austria was independent no longer. That was the lead domino. When Europeans did nothing about it, a now emboldened Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. When England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain weakly objected but put no force behind his words, Hitler realized that no European power was going to stand in the way of his military juggernauts. As for the U.S., no one there wanted to get into another European conflagration. From this point on, the dominoes fell one after another. By November, Hitler stirred up hatred of all Germans of Jewish descent, and began implementing Germany’s monstrous plan to eradicate all people of Jewish descent from the earth.
By early 1939, Hitler shored up his eastern front by signing a pact with Russia, then joined forces with Italy’s Mussolini. Now, the dominoes really began to fall. On September 23, Hitler invaded Poland and split it with Russia. At this, since they had a mutual defense pact with Poland, Britain and France finally declared war against Germany and Italy. Next, Russia attacked Finland. In the Far East, by March of 1940, Japan forced China to accept a puppet regime. By May, Hitler’s irresistible blitzkrieg thundered into the Low Countries—now Denmark, Holland, and Belgium were independent no longer. Norway and Sweden were next. It was now clear that, other than Britain and France, there was no power on earth willing to stop Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” from taking over the European continent.
With such speed had Germany’s tanks and planes thundered through Holland and Belgium that over 400,000 British and French troops were bottled up in Dunkirk in France, near the Belgian border. The cream of British and French troops would now be forced to surrender or die. Inexplicably, Hitler temporarily halted the assault, giving Britain nine days to accomplish a miracle: safely evacuate 340,000. Truly a miracle that bought time for Britain—but not for France; on June 14, Germany entered Paris—now Britain was left alone, and it was no longer the world’s strongest power, as it was on the eve of World War I. Its male population had been bled dry during that war—so much so that post-war women had pitifully few marital options after the war. And even worse options after World War II. By 1946, there were only two global superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union) left standing.
Now back to Britain’s precarious situation in 1940. Three days after Germans marched into Paris, Russia rolled over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. On July 29, Germany launched a massive aerial attack on Britain. It was unrelenting. In only three weeks, over a thousand planes (German and Allied) were shot down. London was in flames. By September 30, two thousand planes had been shot out of the skies. By now, Japan, that now controlled China, joined forces with the AXIS powers. In the U.S., FDR ordered a national draft on October 29, the day after Italy had invaded Greece.
1941 dawned with Germany occupying Rumania. The first bit of good news for Allied forces came on March 13, when Hitler shocked the world by overriding the strong protests of his generals and invading his ally, Russia, thus bringing about the German generals’ worst nightmare: having to fight on two fronts at once.
Russia, unprepared for such treachery, was ill-prepared for the blitzkrieging Germans. Eventually, Russia would suffer through 20,000,000 deaths. But Germany suffered mightily too, losing over 3,000,000 men just in the siege of Moscow. Leningrad would lose half its population during seventeen months of bombardment.
On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. On the following day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Once the U.S. entered the war, its military flooded into Britain in order to defend it, and join in with the attacks on the AXIS powers. Four long years of horrendous all-out-war followed.
A PIVOTAL LETTER
But back to C.S. Lewis (distinguished professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford – later, Cambridge as well). Early in 1941, he received a letter from James W. Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting of BBC, asking him if he’d be willing to give four 15-minute lectures on BBC radio, subject: Christianity and the Christian faith. Though Lewis had little interest in radio, he agreed to give five lectures, to be aired on January 11, 18, and February 1, 8, and 15 of 1942.
It was a sober Britain that listened to those broadcasts, interspersed as they were with near constant bombings and aerial dog-fights between Royal Air Force and German fighters. When one never knows from one day to the next whether or not you’ll even be alive the next day, a God who is in control of the universe is about the only life raft left. But what if God is a mere construct—and is only a myth? That would mean that there was no life raft at all! So men, women, and children sat glued to their radio sets to see what Lewis had to say.
Those broadcasts had such an incredibly large listening audience that they (along with two other batches of related lectures) were re-aired again and again during the rest of the war. As untold thousands of American doughboys were shipped in, the numbers of listeners dramatically increased. Churches were full of soldiers making their peace with God. All these broadcasts would later be synthesized into a slim little book titled Mere [meant “essential” back then] Christianity. I submit that it is easily one of the greatest books of the Twentieth Century. For the first time in our modern world, an intellectual Christian dared to step out as attorney defending God’s existence, reality, power, and wisdom to a planet in desperate need of such reassurance. And, as BBC had requested, the lectures were delivered in layman’s language, not in academic gobbledygook.
In my adult lifetime, I have returned again and again to this inspirational treasure chest. Unthinkable that a Christian should fail to read it at least once in his/her lifetime!
Here are a few passages that have meant so much to me:
“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness” (p. 37).
“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it is dark. Dark would be without meaning” (p. 46).
“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery” (p. 51).
“…every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature, either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself” (p. 86).
“…There is a mark which each action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure—or enjoy forever” (p. 87).
“Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions or faith in Christ…. But it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary” (p. 129).
“Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like…. Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…. God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel” (p. 146-7).
* * * * *
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was born in Belfast, Ireland. He served in France during World War I, and was wounded at Arras. During his incredibly fruitful lifetime, he was responsible for some of the bestselling and most spiritually significant books of the century.
BOOKS BY C. S. LEWIS
Rehabilitations and Other Essays
A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’
The Problem of Pain
The Pilgrim’s Regress
The Great Divorce
The Abolition of Man
The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
Surprised by Joy
Reflections on the Psalms
The Four Loves
The World’s Last Night and Other Essays
Letters to Malcolm
The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast
Out of the Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength
Till We Have Faces
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle
You can easily find good reading copies for it has never gone out of print since 1952.