Tuesday, March 6, 2007

No 'Mere' Book

If I were writing down meaningful or interesting passages while I read (which, of course, I should be doing), I would spend more time writing than reading. Mere Christianity is one of the only books in which I find something to ponder, some great truth, or a witty statement that makes me laugh out loud in almost every paragraph. How C. S. Lewis can take something so big and break it down in an accessible, profound, simple, deep, bare, and humorous way is just why I love reading his works.

Mere Christianity
Book I
Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
5. We Have Cause to be Uneasy

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Book II
What Christians Believe
2. The Invasion

I know someone will ask me, “Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?” Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is “Yes, I do.” I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, “Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.”

3. The Shocking Alternative

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: “Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?” The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all.

Book III
Christian Behaviour
5. Sexual Morality

After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important [any virtue] may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

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