Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Well, try decades. I read it in the 1970s, not long after I became a Christian, and it was one of a whole spate of works by Lewis that I devoured. In 1980, I read They Stand Together, the letters of Lewis and his friend Arthur Greeves, a correspondence that started when they were young teenagers and lasted until Lewis died in 1963. It is one of my favorite books about and by Lewis.It’s been years since I read
Lewis provided the foundation for much of my understanding of faith and belief and indeed Christianity in general, particularly Christianity as it is practiced in contemporary society (G.K. Chesterton played a role here, too, but that’s another story). What I’m finding as a I read Mere Christianity is that the writing has aged well; it is just as applicable today as it was when Lewis gave his wartime lectures on BBC radio in the 1940s, and then used his lectures to create this book.
So it was with a great deal of pleasure that I saw that Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen would be leading an online discussion of Mere Christianity. I had followed their discussion of Rick Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel, and decided to join in with the Lewis book, taking a chapter a week and beginning today.
He is setting the stage here. These two points take us back to first principles, as described in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. People (Adam and Eve) knew how they were to behave, because it was in a sense imprinted upon them (that business about being made in the image of God), but they chose to violate that standard.
This puts me in mind of something that’s been weighing heavily on my heart for quite some time, and that’s the decline of civility – the deliberate decline of civility – in public discourse in the United States. Our language and our communication seem increasingly polarized at the extremes. We know better; we know how we should behave and speak with each other. But we scream and rave and rant anyway. Our leading pundits, our “thought leaders,” our politicians, our news media, our social media all encourage it and participate in it.
It’s rather interesting that our increasingly secular society freely and deliberately tosses out words like “evil” and “the devil” with both abandon and premeditation. We demonize the opposition, and in the process help make civil discourse increasingly difficult if not impossible. This seems less about understanding and consensus and more about power and control.
I worry about language because language offers clues about the health of our culture and society. This polarization we’re currently experiencing has historical precedent; it has happened before in America. Read our American history of the two decades or so running up to the Civil War. Even allowing for changes in words and usage, the language of polarization seems eerily familiar.
We know how we should speak with each other, and we break that “law” every day. C.S. Lewis would understand it.
To read more posts on Mere Christianity, please visit the links at Sarah Salter's site, Living Between the Lines.