Ceiling Cat help me: I’m reading more theology

September 13, 2016 • 6:33 pm

Under duress, since Grania told me that this was one of the most influential works of Christian apologetics of our time, I am reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. One of the reasons for its popularity, of course, was that Lewis wrote in a simple and straightforward fashion, addressing his arguments to the public rather than other theologians.

I suppose it’s not considered One of the Best Arguments for God, nor is it Sophisticated Theology™, but it surely brought more people to God, and strengthened the Christian faith of others, than all the torturous lucubrations of Plantinga, Haught, Feser, and William Lane Craig combined.

I was told it was an easy read. I was told I could finish it in one night (it’s 177 pages). But I find I can’t read more than 20-30 pages in one go, as it nauseates me. The writing is clear, of course, but the man is so painfully sincere, so blissfully unaware of counterarguments, and above all so insane to embrace this piffle as an Oxford don, that I want to throw the book across the room. I have to stop after a while. It’s a great waste of intelligence.

Still, I shall persist. And then I’m done with theology.


p.s. I am also reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is far more engrossing.

110 thoughts on “Ceiling Cat help me: I’m reading more theology

  1. I know the feeling.
    I can’t bear it either.
    I is astonishing that which otherwise sensible people will believe.

    Kudos for persevering.

    1. It always bothered me that Lewis would fall for the clever epigram over a real argument. The “I don’t pray to God to change his mind, but to change mine” kind of thing. Superficially clever, but actually as intellectually nourishing as marshmallow fluff. Reminds me of the clever sayings to be found outside thousands of north American churches, and which must all come from a little book that is given to clerics on ordination. One is taken in by the cleverness, and more likely to believe the message, even though the witticism says absolutely nothing about the associated truth claim.

      1. Read this morning as I drove to work (outside of a Baptist church): “Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil: It has no point”

  2. I read it years ago and, like you, was astounded that people could regard such drivel as important. Absolute rubbish.

    1. I felt the same way after reading the Bible as a teenager. My first thought was “people are willing to kill and die for this nonsense?” So it makes sense that a book singing the praises of a crappy book will be crappy in its own right.

      1. Reading the Bible (KJV) end to end as a teenager convinced me that religion based on it was nonsense, and everything I later read about other religions convinced me that they were no better.

  3. A young man I was given this to read, and as unread as I was I could see it was full of holes. Wishful thinking as I recall. Thus I learned clever people could be stupid. ‘The Screwtape Letters’ I found entertaining.

    1. Yep. The Screwtape Letters is frankly better theology than Mere Christianity. Its also interesting to read it side by side with Twain’s Letters from the Earth, to see how the two writers cover what is basically the same plot. IMO Letters is not as enjoyable a read (though it must be said in fairness to Twain, it was published posthumously and we don’t know how Twain would have edited the stories before publishing them himself).

      The Great Divorce is another theology-themed fantasy that did better service to Lewis’ theology than his non-fiction. Though IMO its premise doesn’t fit within standard Christian theology at all…which just goes to show that even Lewis tacitly agreed that parts of Christianity made no sense.

      1. Twain’s book skewers religion. It is an honest debunking of faith. The Screwtape Letters, OTH, is a manipulative and dishonest bit of apologetics. I felt dirty after finishing the book.

        To its credit, though, Screwtape Letters is not a lengthy read, so the portion of my life that was wasted in the effort was minimal.

        1. ” the portion of my life that was wasted in the effort was minimal.”

          Well if that’s the criteria, the copy of The Watchtower that’s on my kitchen table must win, since it will occupy me for just three seconds on its way to the recycling bin.

          (Curiously, my wife, who gives Big J his detailed orders for the day every morning, gets far more indignant at the regular visits of the JW’s than I can muster).


    1. She is a friend (and occasional writer on this website) who, though now an atheist, was once a Catholic and has read this stuff. I have taken her sage counsel.

      Besides, what good is an atheist who hasn’t read about religion?

      1. “Besides, what good is an atheist who hasn’t read about religion?”

        If that means I need to read about religion* in order to be a good atheist, then I’m going to stop being an atheist right now!

        Or maybe I’ll just be a bad atheist. I’m good at being a bad example.

        * other than here at WEIT, of course

        1. Not a ‘good’ atheist – just what ‘good’ is an atheist…

          Jokes aside…as a major social phenomenon, it is important to read/understand – which does not equate to believe in…or enjoy!!

          But what’s not to enjoy..? I love nothing better than to read the circumlocutions of (sophisticated) theologians explaining the Book of Job to me. Hilarious.
          …or justifying the science of Joshua, and god stopping the sun in the sky so that there was more time to slaughter (before last drinks)…
          …or exactly why the tree of knowledge was a no-no (I think it was just a full length mirror reflecting their nudity…maybe a web-cam spying on some naughtiness…)

          All good stuff!

  4. I remember reading it during college (before I had read and watched enough to step back and realize how minuscule the body of evidence for gods was, I took people’s recommendations on where to find it).

    Essentially, I came away with:

    “Part one – God exists because we have consciences.”

    “Part two – now that whoever you’ve told this to is a theist (?), Pascal’s wager.”

  5. I distrust theology as I distrust that prayer will replace photons: not only because it’s blinkered bullshit, but because if I rely on it I won’t be able to read anything when the sun sets.

  6. As a Christian struggling with doubt, I thought it was brilliant; convincing, hard hitting logic.

    Now? Obviously, nothing more than a palaver for those wanting some sort of twisted reason to believe. It conveys a sense of rationality to the faithful but you have to want to believe it to ignore the fatal flaws in the arguments.

    1. There are brief asides in his books that indicate that he really didn’t have much use for science at all.

      It is the crowning glory of the New Atheists to have brought to the front and center the question, “what is your evidence for that statement?”

      A quote from a certain well-known professor, who maintains a very popular blog website about why evolution is true:

      That’s the question you should always ask believers when they make unsupported assertions, ranging from “God is loving” to “Our souls live on after death.” The answer will always be one of two things: “The Bible says so,” or “I just know it to be true.” Neither of those are rational answers, but they satisfy the religious.
      It is in fact the “how-do-you-know-that” query that really distinguishes New Atheism from Old. While atheists have always decried the lack of evidence for theism, it is the infusion of scientists and science-friendly people into atheism, starting with Carl Sagan and continuing on to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Pinker, and Dennett, that has made us realize that religious dogmas are in fact hypotheses, and you need reasons and evidence for accepting them. If you have none, then you have no reason to believe in God.

      1. If you’ve followed the debate over Presuppositional apologetics the last few years you’d laugh at how ironic that comment is.

  7. The was one popular (fiction) book I read, published in 1978, that got me so angry for accidentally killing off a character, that I did throw the book across the room. It took me two days to calm down enough to to pick it up to continue reading. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. It was made into a movie, starring Robin Williams and Glen Close.

    1. How does a book “accidentally” kill off a character?

      Also, I once had “A Prayer For Owen Meany” enthusiastically recommended to me. I read it and thought it was pretty terrible and never touched another John Irving book again.

    1. In that sense, Lewis disagrees with St. Augustine who thought that under no circumstances were lies admissible. Augustine knew that there were occasions in the Bible when lies are approved.

      He knew that some post-Christ apologetic writings were forged in the pseudepigraphic sense and pointed out that martyrs would have been justified in lying in order to avoid torture (although Candida Moss has shown that many of the martyr stories are themselves forged). This links to the Islamic notion of taqiyya: the extent to which it is permissible remains obscure. You can lie to save your life, but in what other circumstances?

      Augustine had to argue the way he did because other Christians took the contrary, Lewisian, view. The first 4 centuries of Christian writings, proto-Orthodox and what became heretical, are awash with forgeries. The pseudepigraphicon Ephesians even, if memory serves, admonishes lying: a definition of chutzpah, an early example of Jewish-Christian taqiyya.

      1. Lewis, like Augustine, has to make up a new God and a new Christ. Alas, none of the new TrueChristians can show that their new versions of Christianity us the “right” one. But I’m more than happy to entertain your claims, Dermot. Show me that your version is the right one. Show me that you can do the miracles that any baptized TrueChristian can do per the Gospel of Mark.

        Or will you offer me an excuse? Why can’t God/Jesus heal amputees?

      2. and please do show us where lies e.g. intentional false statements told by the believing are ok. I will advise you that I have read the bible as a believer and as not. And I have a quite thorough search engine to tell me whether lies are okay per the bible, and your god http://www.biblegateway.com .

        now, again, where does it say lies are OK?

        1. Clubschadenfreude, I ain’t no theist. I suggest you re-read my comments. I’m outlining the 1st to 4th century intra-Christian debates about the admissibility of lying for what the author saw as the greater good – saving a soul for God.

          Briefly, some thought it OK, some didn’t. And both sides, proto-orthodox and ‘heretic’ seem to have thought lying off the agenda or not. Naturally, it’s harder to tell with the heretics, whose works, in general, are viewed through the lens of the surviving Orthodox documents (with the big exception of the largely Gnostic Nag Hammadi Library, discovered in the late 1940s).

          1. Yep, there are lots of Christians who claim lying is okay. Funny how the bible never said that and indeed Paul went out of his way to say that lying for God isn’t acceptable either. (Romans 3).

            So, Dermot, how do you tell who is the “heretic” and who isn’t? We certainly don’t see any Christians doing what was promised to supposedly any baptized believer in Jesus Christ.

            1. Clubschadenfreude, I think you’re adopting an unnecessarily antagonistic tone. In secular Biblical and early Christian scholarship, the term ‘heretic’ merely applies to those early Christian groups – Marcionites, Ophites, Arians, Adoptionists, Docetists, Gnostics etc. – who lost out at the Council of Nicaea and later Councils.

              It was there that the ideology of the Trinity and the nature of Christ were agreed against other Christologies and which set the gestalt in which the New Testament canon which we have today could first be posited a few decades later with any degree of state-backed authority. So that by definition, and as a useful historiographical short-hand, the Marcionites etc. could be called ‘heretic’.

              I’m talking about history: you appear to think that I agree with some part of some theology in those 4 centuries. Boggling!

              1. No antagonism at all, I’m not quite sure why you consider a question antagonistic. I’m still waiting for you to tell me how you know who is a heretic and who isn’t. Can you answer my question? yes, heretic is a word that can be used to describe those Christians who disagreed with the other Christians. Most people who are familiar with Christian history would know this, that they disagree about major points of their religion. We have Lewis and other Christians saying its okay to hide this, lying by omission. And we have a bible that says that lying is to be avoided at all costs.

              2. Clubschadenfreude, this is an odd claim of yours: ‘Yep, there are lots of Christians who claim lying is okay. Funny how the bible never said that…’

                Well, I can think of Sarah and Jacob in Genesis and the tale of the Egyptian midwives in Exodus, the story of Rahab from the Book of Joshua, the pseudonymous (i.e. lying author of) Colossians says, ‘Do not lie to one another’ (3:9). Origen cited the ‘greater good’ lies of Judith and Esther. And what is the argument between Paul and Peter about in Galatians 2 if not about the how much it was permissible to dissimulate in front of Gentiles about how far they should submit themselves to Mosaic Law – dietary rules, circumcision etc.?

                Augustine was so exercised by the several biblical approbations of lying that he was forced, Philo-style, to interpret them allegorically. A sure sign that he was making it up: that’s what a clever 4th century guy did.

        1. Ok, now I understand. Lewis said that Christian disagreements should not be discussed when talking to outsiders because it puts them off and you interpret that as saying that it is ok to lie to people to get them to believe. You have an unusual standard of honesty, I think.

          As far as the forgeries and other lies that Dermot O’Sullivan talks about, I am sure Lewis took a strict Augustinian view.

          1. So, you don’t think that intentionally hiding the truth about Christianity is lying? How curious. And I don’t have an unusual standard for honestly at all. If someone said “hey, let’s not say anything about how the KKK are white supremacists and only claim what great community minded people they are”, I’d also call that a lie and I suspect you would too.

            Intentionally making false claims e.g. “All Christians are one big happy family and never ever disagree” in order to benefit is exactly what lying is. And I do seem to recall that the Christian bible insists that lying, even if you claim it is for this god, is a damnable offence.

            Lewis may have taken a “strict Augustinian view”. Apologists often do that.

            1. Yes, if Lewis said ‘All Christians are one big happy family and never ever disagree’ that would have been a lie, at least if he said it to deceive.

              But Lewis never said that or anything like that and you know he didn’t.

  8. No weighty revelations here. The book is a comfort and aid to those who would believe but need something to get them beyond their own reason. This soothes and allows letting go of critical thinking as much as would a pat on the head from a grandmother.
    Rank it with Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

  9. Once you finish MERE CHRISTIANITY find time for a book called C S LEWIS AND THE SEARCH FOR RATIONAL RELIGION by philosopher John Beversluis. He bends over backwards to be fair to Lewis and his arguments so it’s not a hatchet job. Beversluis doesn’t need a hatchet; he has a surgeon’s scalpel and he brilliantly dissects Lewis’ arguments and lays it out for all to see.

    The reason this is important is that even if you ignore Lewis, his arguments are so persuasive to apologists that you will hear them repeated all the time. The section on Lewis’ so-called “argument from reason” is worth the price of the book in of itself.

    Still love OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET. One does not easily forget their first glimpse of a Sorn.

    1. Ditto Beverslius.

      I’ve always been puzzled by how a fellow who writes really good religious fiction wrote such bad non-fiction books about religion. (In contrast to Leo Tolstoy who was good in both fields!)

      1. I have to disagree, Lewis’s fiction is derivative, preachy, filled with the most obvious and annoying “allegory”, and, in many places, racist, as in his portrayal of the Calormenes of Narnia as evil, warring, shallow arabic-styled enemies.

        1. His fiction prior to 1950 is far more heavily-handedly preachy and didactic than that after 1950. Compare the 1940s science-fiction trilogy with the later Narnia books.
          Four of the seven of the latter really have no allegory at all.

          However, ironically, the most overtly racist of the Narnia books (“The Horse and his Boy” with its Arabic Calormen) is also the one that is overall the best read.

          His 1956 novelization of the Cupid and Psyche myth “Till We Have Faces” remains a strong favorite.

    2. Ugh, I thought that series was awful. It turned me off Lewis so much I never had any interest in picking up the Narnia books. In hindsight I should’ve started with the fantasy. Or maybe I’m lucky I didn’t…

  10. So true. After I de-converted from evangelical christianity after 46 years, I had to toss 15 or more CS Lewis books that were on my bookshelf into my garbage can. Went from being a huge fan to honest critic.

  11. I never read Mere Christianity, but I did read the transcript of a BBC series he did around the same time. What I found most appalling was his implication that one rationale for our belief is that we should give special credence to the testimony of good, i.e., white, people like us. You cannot respect that man.

    By the way, with the opening of Soviet records, we’ve learned an awful lot more about the Third Reich since the publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I’d recommend Richard Evans’s three volume series.

    1. The excellence of Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is that it is a (very well written) first person account from someone who cared deeply about the subject in a very personal way.

      Obviously, we knew far less of the details in the 1950s than we do today. but Shirer had pretty good access to the recovered Nazi documents.

    2. I fully agree. I’m finishing the 2nd volume of the Evans trilogy now and am fascinated by the great depth of detail and analysis.

  12. If anyone wants to read the ultimate smack down of C.S. Lewis, check out the book by the philosopher John Beversluis entitled C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Beversluis admires Lewis as “a prose writer of the first rank”. Lewis’s writing style seduced his followers which then blinded them to his loose logical skills. As one of the book’s blurbs says, “Lewis’s popularity is largely the result of his effective rhetorical style rather than the validity of his logical arguments.” If you want to see a surgical dissection of Lewis apologetics, get the revised and updated version.

  13. I read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich about 50 years ago. William Shirer awakened me as a young man to the realization that pure evil could emerge from a nation that supposedly was “civilized” and cultured. The book made me aware how under certain conditions supposedly good people could embrace an ideology of hate, violence, genocide and irrationality. And although recent research has revised some of Shirer’s findings, the basic lesson still remains. I have kept these thoughts in mind all these many decades. And, yes, it could happen here. Indeed, we may be in the middle of seeing it happening here. To wit: the ever more odious Rudy Giuliani saying that anything is legal in war and the public hardly noticing or caring.

      1. “But is the author of the book arguing that the ideology of German superiority and racism was created by Hitler ex nihilo in a few short years?”

        No. But from his perspective, (he lived there for the years running up to 1939) he saw the culture shift. Much as Historian noted, the mask came off and it became acceptable and then expected and then required to do the evil promoted by the Nazi state.

        Hitler knew his people quite well.

        1. There is a book which Bunge recommends in some places (and in class) called something like _Germany Sets The Clock Back_, which is a documentation of what happened at the time (though imperfect, of course).

          There’s also the much earlier _La traison des clercs_, by Benda, which I’ve been meaning to read. (I don’t know if that’s available in English: the title would likely be something like _The Betrayal of the Intellectuals_.)

    1. Thanks for the thought. Downloading the book right know.

      Do you (anybody?) now a good, detailed, timeline of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. I’m particularly interested in the prewar years. Thank you!

    2. Heck, the first half of Milgram’s Obedience To Authority will teach you that…and you only have to read maybe 100 pages to get the message. 🙂

  14. I am currently reading a book by Steve Ebling called – Holy Bible, Best God Damned Version, The Books of Moses. I suspect far more entertaining than C.S. Lewis. The down side is the thing is 424 pages. New Testament to be released soon.

  15. As someone reared an atheist but who has a strange, perverse lifelong obsession with Roman Catholicism, which has nothing to do with belief, but is beyond my power to kill, which I attribute to some weird neural mis-wiring at a critical time in my early development (sure no free will here), I demanded that my parents send me to a Catholic high school so that I could get a “proper” Catholic education, Don’t recall reading Mere Christianity. I did read the Screwtape letters, okay. I sort of liked it. I’d expected to be wowed but wasn’t. Much more interesting to me was reading lurid accounts of stigmatics and their sadomasochistic visions, and holy women who subsisted only on consecrated Hosts. Wild and crazy, and sick, sick, sick.

    Re the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I’ve read several times, and lots of other stuff about the Nazis and the Holocaust (especially the Schocken series of first-preson accounts of survivors), whatever one thinks of John Batchelor’s politics, he’s an excellent, witty interlocutor and broadcasts extremely varied and riveting programs. The other night an interview with Harald Welzer Sönke Neitze, author of” Soldaten.” http://johnbatchelorshow.com/schedules/sunday-11-september-2016a. I quote from the precis on Batchelor’s website: “While researching the submarine war in the Atlantic in 2001, he discovered the transcripts of covertly recorded conversations between German officers in which they talked about their wartime experiences with an unprecedented degree of openness. The deeper Neitzel dug into the archives, the more material he found. In the end, he and social psychologist Harald Welzer analyzed a total of 150,000 pages of source material. The result is a newly published book with the simple title of “Soldaten” (“Soldiers”), published by S. Fischer Verlag. The volume has the potential to change our view of the war.
    The recordings, which were made using special equipment that the Allies used to secretly listen in on conversations between German prisoners of war in their cells starting in 1939, offer an inside view of World War II. In doing so, they destroy once and for the myth of a “clean” Wehrmacht.
    In “Soldiers,” which is subtitled “Transcripts of Fighting, Killing and Dying,” the soldiers talk about their views of the enemy and their own leaders, discuss the details of combat missions and trade astonishingly detailed accounts of the atrocities they both witnessed and committed.” Anybody interested in the Nazis should listen to this interview.

  16. Lewis’ ‘A Grief Observed’ is the one worth reading, as it deals with his reaction to his wife’s death…his anger at god, his sense of loss etc etc. This is a very human book, and he does grapple with his faith in a very real and honest way.
    Of course, we may not agree with his conclusions, but for anyone who has suffered loss, this is a very real account of the struggle to cope.
    Having said that, all the rest of his writing is drivel. So glad I had no idea (at age 12) that the ‘Lion, Witch, Wardrobe’ was a Christian tract. I thought it was about 1. wardrobes and 2. parallel universes and 3. escapism…oh, I see… 1. What the pope wears, 2. Heaven, 3. Faith…
    Still, Aslan is a big cat…any points for that?

  17. Have you thought of an annual award for the person on whose suggestion you have inflicted the most pain on yourself. (Call it the Mother Teresa award?)

    Just please don’t go visit the damn ark.

  18. I heard Francis Collins credit Mere Christianity with his conversion to Christianity, so I thought I should at least give it a go. I got the public domain audiobook and started listening…

    I’ve often compared my experience listening to that, to my reaction when I was a teenager to the comic Andy Kaufman. It was very uncomfortable for me to watch Andy, because he should be embarrassed, but he’s not, so I would get embarrassed for him. It was the same thing with MC – I’d be thinking “Oh no, it sounds like he’s leading up to saying that the reason we have a shared morality is that there is a morality-giver. Surely someone as smart as Lewis wouldn’t say something so stupid, would he? OH NO! He actually said it! AHHHHHHH!”

    That was in the first part of the book, giving us these lame-ass reasons why there has to be a god. Then the second part was telling us why that god has to be the God of Christianity, where he presents his awful trilemma. Did the man have not critical thinking skills at all?

    Then the third and I think final part was telling us, now that we all know there’s a God and which one it is, how we as Christians should behave. I gave up at that point.

  19. Haven’t read it, but judging by Steve Shives An Atheist Reads series, it seems to be quite possibly the most sensible book on theology I’ve ever heard of.

    Now, granted, that is setting a REALLY low bar. But it’s not full of the obvious lies and deceit in some books, or the arrogant pseudo-intellectual stuff trying to pass of for higher thinking in the rest.

    It’s just one man, honestly and sincerely trying to piece things together, and share it with his fellow man. The closest I’ve seen to it are Ray Comfort books, which is as much about entertaining the readers as ‘educating’ them.

    Again, the arguments are crap, but Comfort and Lewis come across as sincere people, not trying to make themselves sound so important, and not trying to make claims that they know are blatant lies. And given the William Lane Craigs or Frank Tureks or Josh McDowells or Ken Hams of the world… that’s enough to make them stand out to me.

  20. I was given the book by my music master/choirmaster when at school. Judging by the spine, I might have read some or all of it but I find a bookmarker at page 67 so perhaps that is a far as I got.

    As a member of the school chapel choir, treble soloist then baritone, as the latter I was slightly differently garbed from the others to indicate that I had not been confirmed into the Anglican church!

  21. “Mere Christianity” is so far the ONLY one of two modern religious book which has a book about it in the “Lives of Great Religious Books” series.
    Each entry in this series is a full book discussing the influence of the book under discussion on Western culture.

    The one on MC is “C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”: A Biography” by George M. Marsden”.

    Other entries in this series include studies the Bhagavad Gita, Augustine’s Confessions (written up by Garry Wills), The Book of Job, etc.

    The only other 20th century book discussed is Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison”.

    Many Hollywood celebrities have acknowledged MC as a source of their conversion.

  22. May I recommend the three-volume history of the Third Reich by Cambridge historian Richard Evans as a more recent and equally readable treatment of the subject than the classic by William Shirer? In reading order, the volumes are “The Coming of the Third Reich”, “The Third Reich in Power” and “The Third Reich at War”.

    Evans has also written a number of other rather good books, including “In Defence of History”, which explains why history research is important and argues strongly against the post-modernist claim that there is no such thing as objective history. His most recent book, “Altered Pasts”, is an excellent critique of so-called counterfactual history, the “what if Hitler had never existed?” school of speculative pseudo-history.

    1. Cass Sunstein has an excellent review of Altered Pasts in the New Republic. He makes the point that Evans’ real gripe with counterfactual history is that is that it alters the real history to such a ludicrous extent that it really is fantasy. An example of this is “what if Germany in World War II had cell phones?” Yet, every historian (including Evans) worth his or her salt invariably engages in counterfactual history because it is the essence of criticism and analysis. Military history provides the clearest example of this. Some historians have criticized Robert E. Lee for ordering Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. They argue that it was a mistake because things would have been better for the Army of Northern Virginia if it did not take place. Well, this is pure counterfactual history because nobody knows for sure what would have happened if the charge did not take place.

      Virtually every historian engages in counterfactual history. It is something historians do every day since historical analysis goes beyond reciting “one damn fact after another.” An historian would not be a good one if he or she did not do so. The only question is whether the counterfactual scenario is reasonable, based on the evidence of what really happened.


      1. Interesting stuff. I agree the counterfactual must be reasonable to be interesting. The what if cell phones in WWII is not one of them. Even the what if Lee had not done what he did on the third day at Gettysburg is not. Gettysburg was certainly a big and important place in the Civil War but it was not the game breaker that some may think.

        It is far more interesting to know enough about the history to say these things are what lead to WWII. I would not get too buried in the Nazi brain, maybe because that just does not interest me – it is sick and boring at the same time. To say there probably would not have been any WWII if they had avoided WWI is a pretty good bet. That was the prelude to WWII. And along with the really rough world depression that covered the 1930s, Germany was ripe for bad things. Really bad times can lead to worse results.

      2. Agreed, and thanks for the reference, very good. Not only that, but the actors at the time were of course themselves involved in similar reasoning about the future, so if you rule out counterfactual hypotheses you are to some extent ruling out consideration of how the decisions were made at the time.

        Phil Sabin of KCL’s recent book “Lost Battles” uses wargaming to investigate classical-era battles, the idea being that in doing this you get a better idea of what could have happened, and hence what makes greater or lesser sense in the often minimal or garbled accounts we have of ancient battles.

        In other words he is using counterfactual history to try to work out what did in fact happen. Using this approach his reconstruction of Cannae is IMHO more convincing of any of the others I’ve read.

    2. I would also suggest Ian Kershaw’s two volume biography of the monster: Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (ISBN-10 0140133631) and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (ISBN-10: 0140272399).

  23. When you grow up in Christian apologetics and its popularist theologies, it is hard to think through the fallacy in the idea of ‘Mere Christianity’. C.S. Lewis was really confusing J.S. Mill’s argument ‘ethical Christianity’ for an argument for conventional moral and religious beliefs and attitudes. In either case of utilitarian philosopher Mill’s or the conventional apologist Lewis’s, the arguments ignore much of the diversity in applied logic and historical form.

    You can understand the formation of the apologetic literature during the twentieth century through my doctorate work. I argue that Protestantism channelled theology into two streams: academic and popular (you could also look to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox counterparts).

    Academic theology has tended to be influenced by European traditions. Popular theology has been influenced more by the American Revivalist tradition. This Revivalist tradition has three distinct characteristics, Biblicalism, Anti-intellectualism, and Mechanisation of the Christian faith. It has also taken three forms, Classic Fundamentalism, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism. As a popular theology, shaped by these various forms and types of the American Revivalist tradition, grew in influence academic theology was marginalised.

    In the Australian religious book-selling market in the post-1945 period, there was a shift of attention from British-published religious literature to American published popular religious literature. Thirty-six major American religious publishing companies sold their literature to Queensland Protestants. This literature included reprinted periodical articles, unbounded literature, and books. American-published literature affected most areas of Queensland Protestant Church life. Its impact was consolidated by American-produced music, film, radio and television. American editions and productions of C.S. Lewis’ works fits into this model. Twentieth century Catholic apologists, such as G.K. Chesterton, might bring certain historical differences, but there also has been similar American marketing done in these arguments as well. As Marshall McLuhan stated, “The medium is the message”.

    See http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/thesis/fc385b39583707b141ce48f5a966ee7f

  24. During my postdoctoral years, a boyfriend encouraged me to read Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy. The experience sent me fleeing back to the loopy Transcendentalist writings and Walt Whitman poems I was raised with, to get the bad taste out of my brain. I might have even reread Gibran’s The Prophet (a high school graduation gift, from my parents’ best friends from their university days) to help with the detox. o.O

    1. Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘Surprised by Joy’ is more honest and moving by far than everything Lewis wrote taken together. That he could borrow WW’s title for an autobiography is shameless.

      1. Agreed. It’s very sad, though. I love much of Wordsworth’s poetry, and am particularly fond of The World is Too Much with Us. It’s as relevant today as it was during the Industrial Revolution.

  25. Hi Jerry,

    My experience with Mere Christianity was about the same as yours.

    Once again, some internets interlocutor challenged me to read it (“You have the read it! It will totally convince you!”). And I succumbed (I’ve gotten past the ability to read any more of this drivel.*)

    Your description of your feelings toward the book mirrors mine and is much better expressed than I could express them. So: Mega-dittos! (Yikes, did I write that? 🙂 )


    * I found that all apologetics were:

    1. Pathetically and ridiculously weak (worthy of ridicule: Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis)

    2. Completely dishonest (or ignorant — hard to prove one way or the other, Alister McGrath and David Marshall (Marshall is the least objectionable and most honest of the lot, in my experience; but still very poorly done — only for the choir)

    3. Nonsense, in the literal meaning of that word: Their made no sense at all. Just word salad meant to impress the gullible.

    I have recently donated all my apologetics books (in order to remove them from my home). I feel so clean! 🙂

  26. But I find I can’t read more than 20-30 pages in one go

    “You and I are pilgrims of the multiverse. Faith requires exploration. Presence is the knowledge of guidance, and of us.

    You will soon be reborn by a power deep within yourself — a power that is infinite, infinite.”

    From the New-Age Bullshit Generator.

    Frazer’s “Golden Bough” describes many religions that are more interesting than Christianity.

  27. It blows my mind that CS Lewis retains any pull on readers with his ridiculous “trilemma” argument for Jesus’ divinity. The man was either a lunatic, a liar, or divine, and we know he wasn’t either of the first two, so he must be divine? Only a Trump fan would follow that flawed logic just to feel better about his assertion.

  28. i need to read this book , meaning to

    From: Why Evolution Is True To: aroupchatterjee@yahoo.co.uk Sent: Wednesday, 14 September 2016, 0:33 Subject: [New post] Ceiling Cat help me: I’m reading more theology #yiv2690632131 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv2690632131 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv2690632131 a.yiv2690632131primaryactionlink:link, #yiv2690632131 a.yiv2690632131primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv2690632131 a.yiv2690632131primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv2690632131 a.yiv2690632131primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv2690632131 WordPress.com | whyevolutionistrue posted: “Under duress, since Grania told me that this was one of the most influential works of Christian apologetics of our time, I am reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. One of the reasons for its popularity, of course, was that Lewis wrote in a simple and s” | |

  29. In the late 70s, I was going through a “deep period of doubt,” of what had been a Methodist faith, as an undergraduate. I was going through it with a friend (Baptist, I believe). We were finding, as one (now) would expect, nothing much out there to give us any reason to keep our beliefs, so we decided that we would ask the smartest person we knew who was Christian. Though both of us were extremely liberal, we settled on William F. Buckley. Yeah, ask him. So we wrote him, and my friend still has his prompt reply. He told us he knew what we were goign through, and should read GK Chesterton, which I still don’t see the relevance of, and Mere Christianity. Which we recognized as watered down Kantian moral hogwash from the first page. Just, as you are learning now, nothing much there.

    Over the years, in teaching philosophy, students will bring up CS Lewis, and I am glad to have them read some. It’s easy to show that his argument isn’t any good. Of course, I say, that doesn’t show that he doesn’t have ANY good argument (not having read everything, or even very much in this class), or that no one else doesn’t have a good argument. But THEY suggested Lewis, I remind them, and it was pretty easy to shoot down, on simple, uncontroversial ground of critical thinking.

  30. I’ve often found myself amazed at the scope of C.S Lewis’ influence. Not only is Lewis’ arguments often referenced either first or second hand from “the pews-dwellers” of various congregations, but pretty much every *Sophisticated* Christian writer, theologian, philosopher I’ve ever delved into has referenced Lewis’s arguments with great admiration. This is regardless of denomination.

    1. If there’s anything to praise about the book, it’s that CS Lewis writes with great clarity. And that (to me) has a powerful effect on it taking it up. You can tell when someone is muddling their way through one of the classic arguments for the existence of God, but Lewis’ arguments are so well written that they have that going for them.

  31. Never read any C. S. Lewis, but I’ve read The Rise & Fall of the Third Reich twice, the last time several years ago. Also read Shirer’s The Nightmare Years and Berlin Diaries. Admittedly, reading about the Nazi regime is much like reading a horror novel, except that it was all too real and there was nothing supernatural about it. At once depressing and all too fascinating. As for Lewis, I’ll take Professor Ceiling Cat’s critique that it’s all too nauseating and continue to avoid reading that dreck!

  32. When I read Mere Christianity, I found one of the reductio ad absurdum arguments I had used regularly online against Christianity was stated with full sincerity. It’s hard to argue when people embrace the absurdity rather than see it as a problem…

  33. Brought up as a Catholic, going the whole Altar Boy,”Mother hoping he’ll join a Seminary” route, Catholic Grammar School run by Sadists, I don’t want nor need to read Theological Books, I have had enough Religion for two lifetimes, I’m done with it.

  34. I enjoyed Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” in college, before I became a thorough atheist. From reading sci fi, I cld see that his “perelandra” was interesting as sci-fi but an empty-headed attack on science. He has a couple scholarly staples: “Preface to Paradise Lost” and “Allegory of Love.” His intelligence wasn’t totally wasted but you’re right, some subversive.
    I too have been dipping into theology or at least lives of saints, for a Wiki article on Wallace Stevens’ (great poet; good non-believer) “Colloquy with a Polish Aunt,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colloquy_with_a_Polish_Aunt

Leave a Reply