I ended book two on a high note, and for me, book three starts with one as well in The Three Parts of Morality: “You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.” (p.73) I spoke about this in On Communism, and I think it’s an important point. Lewis’ says a good society cannot be established only by changing social conventions. People must change within. We can’t just be nice to each other. We have to be nice people.
Not only that, but it is no good to try to create “good men” and “good society” if you have no agreement on what “good” is. “Different beliefs about the universe lead to different behaviour.” (p.73) There may be some lowest-common-denominator agreement between the many world religions. But there are deep differences as well, and if they are all true, then there is little truth left at all. If we believe that humans are fundamentally evil creatures that must be rescued, we will come to very different opinions on many things than if we believe that humans are fundamentally good creatures. I believe that much of the American political schism is different ways of answering just this question. I agree with Lewis that some religions or philosophies are actually better than others.
Throughout the rest of book three, Lewis says many other things I agree with. He tells us that “things” like alcohol aren’t evil in themselves, that Christian doctrine is much more Leftist than mainstream Christians believe, and that love is not the same as “being in love.” But he repeatedly attributes as unique to Christianity things that are common to many religions and philosophies. As before, it is clear that Lewis has no idea what other religions believe. He says that “as a rule, only Christian know about” the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. (p.76) He even demonstrates his ignorance of literature by proclaiming “nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians.” ( p.98 )
That Faith, Hope and Charity are unique to Christianity is perhaps the most bizarre religious claim Lewis makes. But he goes on by defining Faith in the most unusual way. “Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing mood.” (p.140) I have never seen a definition of faith that relied first on reason. And this is, to Lewis, a uniquely Christian virtue. But this is clearly a different meaning than the Biblical faith of Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”) As with almost all of Mere Christianity, it is impossible to know where Lewis gets his ideas. He quotes neither man nor God, but we have only what Lewis says is so.
Lewis’ argument that Christianity is a fairly Leftist religion makes up the bulk of his chapter on “Social Morality,” which I call “Lewis’ Socialist Manifesto” though at times its seems almost Randian:
[The New Testament] gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like… It tells us there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries… To that extent a Christian soceity would be what we now call Leftist. (p.84)
Lest we think that our liberal friends would be happy with this, he also reminds us that this society “is always insisting on obedience..from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and…from wives to husbands.” (Not unlike many actual Leftist societies.) And he suggests the lending of money at interest (including investment in stocks and bonds) is probably the wrong thing to base an economy on. He forgets that a New Testament society would also discourage marriage and the having of children, would allow slavery, and would discourage any disadvantaged group from improving their lot. But even so, what he picks out is Biblical, and he gets right how different an actual Christian society would be from our so-called Christian country in America.
A common theme for Lewis is that man must become a new sort of creature.
To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. (p.92)
I couldn’t agree with Lewis more, but he won’t stop there. He feels there must be Heaven and Hell, too, as though being the first kind of person isn’t its own reward, the latter its own punishment. So often Lewis begins with a truth that is known all over the world, then he declares it only a Christian truth, and because it is a Christian truth, he tells us it supports some Christian doctrine. But it is only a Just-So story, convincing only to the already converted.
I will complete my discussion of Book Three with a simple quote that leaves us wondering if Lewis is pulling our leg. Sadly, I don’t believe he is. In discussing Christian marriage, Lewis asks why the man should be the head of the marriage. Lewis explains:
Well, firstly is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? … There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over their husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule…. The relations of the family to the outer world–what might be called its foreign policy–must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders. A woman is primary fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world…. [The husband] has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife. (p.113-114)
I don’t even know how to begin to respond to this. Perhaps commenters to this page will.
Conclude with the Book Four and a summary.