Mere Christianity 3: The Rival Conceptions of God

We now move into the second section of Mere Christianity, the section entitled “What Christians Believe”.  In the first section Lewis gave his argument for the existence of God, which is actually just an argument for the existence of Someone or Something outside and above the universe, who is not a created being but instead created everything in the universe.  His argument goes like this:  We each have this sense deep down inside of us that certain things are right and certain things are just wrong.  Try as we might, we can’t get rid of it.  We did not make it up, so it had to come from Someone or Something outside of us.  And, we do not live up to what this sense tells us is the right thing to do.  In fact, most of what we do goes against this.  So, if we can know anything about the nature of this Someone or Something from this sense inside of us, then we are in big trouble:  if He were not good we would want nothing to do with Him, but if He is good then He must detest most of what we do.

Having established the existence of Someone or Something outside of the universe who is in charge of it, Lewis now begins to zero in on the exact nature of this Someone or Something by looking at the various conceptions of God that are running around out there.

Lewis starts by noting that humanity falls into two basic groups:  those who believe in some sort of God and those who do not.  He then notes that the Christian has a much more comfortable position than that of the atheist:  the Christian does not have to believe that all other religions are simply all wrong through and through (although that position seems to be in vogue in certain parts of evangelicalism).  The Christian is free to believe that all religions–even the most completely and totally whacked out ones–contain at least a hint of truth.  The atheist, on the other hand, has no choice but to believe that over ninety-five percent of the human race is dead wrong on the most essential question in the entire universe.

Lewis then goes on to dismiss the atheist position as “too simple”.  Here’s the problem:  This universe has much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless.  Yet it also has creatures who are able to recognize it as being bad and meaningless (that would be us).  Now, fish have no awareness of being wet.  But we do whenever we go into water, because we are not water creatures.  Thus anyone who says, as the traditional atheist does, that God does not exist because the universe is entirely bad and meaningless and it would not be if He did, is really saying that the entire universe is bad and meaningless–except for the little bit of space inside of his own body.  He is able to recognize it as bad and meaningless, but if he were part of this bad and meaningless universe he would not be able to recognize it as such, just as the fish is unable to recognize himself as being wet.  Oops!!!

Next, Lewis looks at those who do believe in the existence of some sort of God, and hones in on pantheism.  Pantheism is the view which is held by the vast majority of believers who do not believe in the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.  In this view, God is beyond good and evil.  Nothing in this world is truly good or evil; everything contains elements of both and long before you get to anything even remotely close to the divine point of view the distinction disappears altogether.  Moreover, pantheism believes that God inhabits each and every part of the universe in the same way that you inhabit your body; thus if the universe ever ceased to exist then He would also cease to exist.

The Christian view of these things is quite the opposite:  God is not beyond good and evil; He is quite definitely good and righteous, He loves love and hates hatred.  God is not a part of the universe but instead stands apart from it in the same way a painter stands apart from his painting or an author stands apart from his book.

If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God.  But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that.  You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will.  Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.”  The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”  For Christianity is a fighting religion.  It thinks God made the world–that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God “made up out of his head” as a man makes up a story.  But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.