One interesting thing I’ve seen several atheist bloggers do is to review a book they disagree with by posting reviews of a chapter or section at a time (typically on a weekly basis), pointing out the flaws. For example, Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism is currently working through the enlighteningly appalling Anonymous Tip by Michael Farris; Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism wrote a superbly informative debunking of Lee Strobel’s The Case For A Creator a couple of years back, and is now entertaining us all with the many and varied flaws of Ayn Rand’s infamous Atlas Shrugged.
[Side note: All those links come from the Patheos website. I adore the site, but feel obliged to pass on the PSA that Firefox does not seem to share this adoration; the site regularly locks up my browser when I try to use it. Or crashes when I try to load it on my mobile phone. The problem seems to be with the number of plug-ins on the site, and there are techie ways round that that I must get round to looking up and trying at some point; for the moment, just wanted to warn any readers here to be a bit cautious about opening those links in Firefox, especially if you’re like me and open multiple links at the same time. I’m currently trying out Internet Explorer to see if it handles things any better.]
Anyway, to get back to the main point, these book reviews look like great fun to me and I decided to have a go at this for myself.
As you may well have deduced from the post title, I’ve picked C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity to review. I chose this largely for the practical reason that I actually own a copy, which I picked up second-hand somewhere or other years ago, but it seems like a good one; it’s a very well-known and influential book, and the few chapters I have read of it in the past were beautifully written and argued. I’ve always felt I should go back and read the rest but never got round to doing so, so this will be something of a voyage of discovery for me as well.
Some background here for anyone not familiar with the book: It consists of a series of radio talks Lewis gave on Christianity in the early 1940s, some ten years or so after his own conversion to Christianity. These were then published shortly afterwards as three separate books, which I believe represent three separate series; following that, of course, the three were published as a single volume, slightly revised by Lewis in places where he felt a point needed further clarification.
The book starts out with a preface, which I’ll review briefly here for completeness. Beyond that, I’ll aim to post chapter reviews when I can (bloggers who do this typically seem to aim for one day every week when they post their latest chapter review, but my life simply isn’t that organised; I’ll post as and when I can, and intersperse reviews with posts on other subjects).
Lewis explains the origin of the book as I’ve done above, and adds the following points:
- He has deliberately avoided getting into discussions of points of doctrine. In many cases he himself doesn’t feel qualified to answer these, and in all cases he feels these sorts of debates are counter-productive in that they drive would-be converts away from Christianity. He therefore aims only to present the case for Christianity in general, the ‘mere Christianity’ of the title, rather than for any particular doctrine. (He himself was a fairly middle-of-the-road Church-of-Englander.) He feels that, once a person has been called to Christianity, it is up to that person to choose for himself (Lewis predated unisex pronouns) the denomination he feels to be right, a process he compares to being in the hall of a house and choosing which of many rooms to go into; he counsels kindness and prayer for those in other ‘rooms’ of the ‘house’.
- He has also avoided discussing moral issues that he himself does not have to struggle with, as he feels it inappropriate to do so; for example, he does not feel it his business as a single man to pronounce upon the morality of birth control. (Oh, Lewis, would that you were alive today to lend your steadying common sense to the debate.)
- He objects to the use of the word ‘Christian’ as a general synonym for any good or decent person regardless of their religious beliefs; this, he says, renders the word effectively useless.
From the perspective of an atheist, by the way, I’d like to add another reason to that last point; namely, that using ‘Christian’ as a compliment for any nice person is the equivalent of “Why, Miss Smith, your mind is so good it’s practically masculine.” I strive to be a good person, but I’m not a Christian; I’m not even a theist. This makes no difference to my efforts to be a good person. To describe me as ‘Christian’ when what is actually meant is ‘good person’ would both negate something important about me and imply that non-Christians are somehow expected to be not-good people, which is downright offensive, however sweetly packaged as an apparent compliment.
Other than that, I have nothing to say about the preface except that, like the other parts of his work I have so far read, it is beautifully written and a joy to read. (I can’t resist quoting one particular gem: ‘Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful.’) I look forward to reading further; it’s going to be almost a shame to disagree with him. (Almost.)