Mere Christianity-2: Christian Behavior

Mere Christianity

This is  the second podcast in a three-part series on one of C S Lewis’ most important books, Mere Christianity.  In this section we cover Christian morality, how Christians ought to behave.  (Of course this may be different from how they actually behave).  Jack (C S Lewis was known as Jack) argued for the truth of Christianity in the previous sections, and now he assumes that Christianity is true and asks the question what implications that has for us.

Jack has organized this section as follows.  First he defines the scope of morality or Christian behavior, and illustrates its three parts by the use of an image of ships in convoy.  Next he looks at four principles or virtues that almost all people everywhere recognize as valid:  They are


  • Prudence = common sense
  • Temperance = moderation in all our pleasures
  • Justice = honesty and fairness
  • Fortitude = courage

This done, Lewis addresses some controversial topics.

  • Sex and marriage
  • Politics and morality
  • Christianity’s relationship to psychoanalysis
  • Forgiving our enemies

Next, we look at the sin of Pride and the virtue of Humility, and finally Jack reviews the virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Although this is intended for a Christian audience, it can be read with profit by folks from a variety of faith backgrounds, including those who have no faith at all.

This show can only give an overview of these topics, and I strongly recommend that you read the book yourself to get the complete picture.


Mere Christianity-1: Right and Wrong

Mere Christianity Cover This is the first podcast in a series of three on Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  This book is probably Jack’s most popular non-fiction work and it has been an important milestone in many people’s lives, including my own.  It developed from a series of short talks that Jack gave on the BBC during WW II and is orientated towards a popular rather than academic audience.  In it he describes the essence of Christian belief and why Jack thinks that Christianity is true.

The book is divided into four sections as follows

(1) Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning on the universe

(2) What Christians Believe

(3) Christian Behavior

(4) Beyond Personality

We will cover the first two sections in this podcast.  As always, I recommend reading the book to get the full force of Jack’s arguments.

Loving and Losing

” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all” (Tennyson)

Jack and Joy

Jack and Joy at the Kilns in Oxford

Today’s show tells the lovely (and tragic story) of C S Lewis’ marriage to Joy Gresham.   Jack did not marry until he was 58 years old and after three years of happiness he lost his wife to cancer.  His wife was named Helen Joy Davidman at birth but went by Joy all her life.  She was of Jewish background, a poet and a writer with a razor-sharp wit and a love for books.  Early in her life she became a Communist and wrote articles and edited the poetry column for one of their publications.  She married a fellow communist, Bill Gresham, who was handsome, charming and a writer, but who was rootless and a philosophical drifter.   They had two sons, David and Douglas, early in their marriage.

Joy Davidman (photo by Lottie Jacobi, 1951)

Joy Davidman in 1951

Although they both made a journey from Communism to Christianity, Bill soon retrogressed.  His repeated unfaithfulness caused the marriage to break up.  Joy corresponded with C S Lewis about some of the problems she was having with her faith and a real friendship developed.  She traveled to England so that she could speak to Lewis in person.  When a divorce was inevitable, she moved to England with her two sons and began to see more of Lewis.   She fell in love with him, and he with her, partly because of her courage in battling cancer.  They were married at her bedside in the hospital and she experience a remarkable remission of the cancer.  They were able to have 3 happy years together before the cancer returned and Joy died.

Joy Inscription

Inscription For Joy's marker

This story is told in a very appealing visual manner in the movie “Shadowlands”, with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.   The material we cover in this podcast comes from three books.


“Jack; A Life of C S Lewis”  by George Sayer

“Through The Shadowlands” by Brian Sibley

“A Grief Observed” by C S Lewis





The Abolition of Man – Part 3: The Future

The Abolition of Man

This is the third and last podcast on The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis.  The first  podcasts covered whether there is anything like real external values or whether our values are based om only our subjective feelings.   The second podcast review Jack’s answer that there is a universal Moral Law recognized by most people at most times in history, and his evidence for that claim.  This part of the book (and this podcast) now looks to the future.  It imagines what might happen if we proceed down the path of making morality and ethics entirely subjective in a world where the power of the state seems to be increasing every day.  In addition, our ability to manipulate people via education and propaganda is also growing, leading to a bleak future.  Jack envisions a day when a select few social planners decide to give their students the conscience or moral guide set by the planners.  In this new day the vast majority of people will be manufactured, in an essential sense, and could be called post-human.  They of course are not free – indeed the question has almost no meaning for them, for they respond as  they have been condition.   Lewis points out that even the planners are not really free, for although they have abandoned the Moral Law and conscience, they are in reality slaves to their emotional impulses.

However, Lewis closes this book with a ray of hope.  He longs for a society where science not only measures the quality of things but also understands  the quality or value of the things they study.


The Abolition of Man – Part 2: The Universal Law

This is the secondThe Abolition of Man of 3 podcasts about The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis.  In the last podcast we covered the trend in education towards basing ethical values on reason and feeling, and the denial that external events have any real value aside from the feelings they cause in the observer.

In this podcast we cover the existence and applicability of an external universal moral law, as discussed in the second chapter in the Abolition of Man.  Lewis names this moral code the Tao, using a concept from Chinese philosophy, partly because he wishes to emphasize that this moral code is recognized by most people in most cultures and ages.  This idea that there is one rule of behavior for everyone is difficult for us to accept, having been educated to almost worship diversity as the highest good.

Jack sets himself two tasks in this chapter.  First, to show that the Tao exists and is universal, and second, to show that you cannot develop any basis for ethics unless you accept the Tao. (He succeeds in accomplishing both tasks rather well).  Jack does not identify the Tao only with Christian beliefs – he emphasizes the universal code that underlies all religions.


The Abolition of Man – Part 1: Men Without Chests

The Abolition of Man This is the first of 3 podcasts about The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. Although it’s more than 60 years old, this book is surprisingly relevant to some of the major problems we see in our culture today. It tells us why we see so many people in all walks of life who seem to lack a sense of right and wrong, that is, they lack a “moral compass”. Lewis points out that this began when we abandoned the classic concept of an external, universal moral code and incorporated relativistic assumptions in our educational practices. Jack maintains that this produces “men without chests”, people who have a head (the ability to reason) and a belly (the ability to feel), but nothing that connects them (the chest). They have no way of determining when to act contrary to their feelings.

This is one of the shortest and most philosophical of Jack’s books. It won’t read quickly like a novel but is well worth putting in the time to consider what he says.

Link to the Show Notes for this podcast

11-21-2009

Here is a link to the performance schedule for the play “The Screwtape Letters” mentioned in the introduction to the podcast on 11-11-2009.  (Link courtesy of Tim Parrish).

Screwtape Letters Performance Schedule


The Last Battle – Part Two: Endings and Beginnings

The Last BattleThis is the second of two podcasts on The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.  This book is the last in the Chronicles of Narnia and tells of the end of Narnia and the discovery of the real Narnia in Aslan’s country, Heaven.  From a theological point of view we cover the Last Judgment, Salvation, and Heaven as described by Lewis in this book.   The tale contains some of his most beautiful writing as well as some of his best insights about human nature and God.  Ultimately it is a message of renewal and hope.  Nevertheless, we have to concede that it is unflinching in its insistence that all countries except God’s own must come to an end someday, and that everyone must undergo the experience of death.

The show looks at the forebodings of the end, the examples of treachery and betrayal in the tale, how beings are chosen to enter Heaven, and  the salvation of a noble, God-seeking heathen who does not know Aslan.


The Last Battle – Part One

The Last Battle This is the first of a two-part series covering the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle.

In this book Lewis brings the story of Narnia to a fitting end.  It is both a story of treachery, bravery, and battle, and a book that deals with the themes of good, evil, the meaning of language, and the final judgment and afterlife.  Lewis answers the questions of what a Narnian heaven will be like and how Narnians and persons from our world enter that  heaven.

All of the main characters from the previous books appear, except for one person.  We also meet the last King of Narnia, a talking Ape, a talking Donkey and a band of renegade dwarfs.

This podcast focuses on the relationship between Good and God as well as looking at four different paths that lead to evil



The World’s Last Night

The Worlds Last Night ImageToday’s book is The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. It is a collection of seven essays from later in C S Lewis’ life, after he was 50 years of age.  They were written during a of some significant changes in his life.  For one thing, he switched universities, going from Oxford to Cambridge.  For another, Lewis met and married his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham.  (You might remember this story from the excellent move Shadowlands). These essays give us a good picture of Jack’s thoughts and beliefs at this time and provide us with some good material for our own reflection and learning.

We cover three of the essays in this podcast and leave the rest for your reading pleasure.

The first piece we cover is entitled “The Efficacy of Prayer” and reviews what it means to ask “Does prayer work”.

The second essay in the podcast is “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” and is a biting commentary on the modern educational system and its unfortunate results in society.  It is presented as a speech a senior devil in Hell gives to graduates of Hell’s Tempters College and is well worth reading.

The final selection is “The World’s Last Night” and it addresses the idea of the Second Return of Christ, the sudden end of the world when God steps onto the stage.  It is considered one of Jack’s best essays and needs careful reading and refelction.



The Magician’s Nephew

The book for today’s show is The Magician’s Nephew, a personal favorite of mine.  It tells of the creation of Narnia and how evil TheMagiciansNephewcame into that good land, and technically is the last Chronicle that Lewis wrote.

He wrote The Last Battle and The Magician’s Nephew at the same time, but finished The Last Battle (the book that tells of the end of Narnia) first.  Since the completion of the two books was only 6 months apart, The Magician’s Nephew (hereafter abbreviated The MN) was published first in May of 1955.

The MN is set in the time of Victoria n England, the England of Sherlock Holmes.  It introduces a new hero (Digory) and heroine (Pol ly) and tells how the comings and going between Narnia started, among other things.   Digory’s uncle Andrew provides Digory and Polly with a way (magic rings) to travel between worlds.  They go exploring and enter the dying world of Charn, awaken the last Queen of Charn, who is a witch, and unfortunately bring her back to London with them.  They then take her (and several other folk) out of England and into Narnia (using the rings) and they are present at the Creation of that world.  However, their  act allows evil to enter Aslan’s Good Creation in the form of the witch.  Aslan arranges for a Tree of Protection to be planted to keep the witch out of Narnia proper as long as it lives.  To do this, he asks Digory to bring him a magic apple from a special garden without tasting of it or eating another apple.  Digory is tempted by the witch Jadis to take the apple back home and give it to his mother who is dying of cancer.  He overcomes this temptation and brings the apple back to Narnia.  As to what happens to Digory, Polly, Uncle Andrew and the Witch – you’ll have to read the book

Lewis wants to communicate to us what evil and good look like, and what the results of our moral choices may be.  He does this by showing a dying word ruled (and destroyed) by an evil witch and a new world, freshly created, sung into existence by Aslan.  Jack shows us the continuity between an evil man in this world (an evil magican named Andrew who is Digory’s uncle) and the last Queen of Narnia, Jadis.  Jadis represents what Uncle Andrew will become – they are both walking the same wrong path and Jadis is further along than Andrew.  Jack also shows us what our response should be to the beauties of Nature, and explores the difficulty of making the right moral choices in this story.

If you haven’t done so, please complete a short, anonymous survey to provide me some feedback about these podcasts.  The survey is linked below.  I always welcome comments and suggestions via email, and I respond to every one I receive.