How C.S. Lewis Rationalized His Faith
By Jeff Lukens
Over the past two decades, Clive Staples Lewis has attained a rock star
status within the Christian community. A new movie based on his books,
"The Chronicles of Narnia," is now a blockbuster hit. His books
continue to be among the best selling in Christian literature, which is
quite a feat for a reserved British intellectual who has been dead for
more than 40 years.
Lewis' early experiences help explain why Lewis turned away from
Christian belief. His mother died when he was 9 years old, and he was
afterwards sent to a boarding school run by a sadistic headmaster. As a
young man, he endured the horrors of trench warfare in World War I.
Following the war, he committed himself to scholarly pursuits that
emphasized clarity of thought free from emotion and subjective
speculation. He considered Christianity on the same level as Greek and
After years of intellectual soul-searching -- and with the help of
J.R.R. Tolkien and others -- Lewis finally embraced Christianity at age
33. He did not discard his academic training, however, for
self-righteousness. Instead, he used his creativity and scholastic
discipline to become a celebrated champion of the faith.
The intellectual journey that Lewis provides to his readers in his
masterwork of apologetics, "Mere Christianity," is amazing. In
it, he sought to explain the doctrines that Catholic and major Protestant
denominations agreed upon. He drew upon his former skepticism to help
explain Christianity in a common, non-theological way.
To begin, Lewis notes a predisposition in people to search for a
standard of absolute truth. It seems all people across cultures and time
generally agree that they should not put themselves first, and they ought
to be honest, fair, unselfish, and courageous. He calls this tendency the
"Law of Human Nature" because everyone knows it almost
Lewis then makes a second observation. While people everywhere have a
notion that they should behave in these ways, they do not do so
themselves. He says, "They know the Law of Human Nature; they break
it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about
ourselves and the universe in which we live."
Lewis reasons that just as the laws of physics or mathematics are real,
this Law of Human Nature must also be real. It must have been created as
part of a universal truth, and not by man. "I find that I do not
exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the
universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me
feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong."
He also reasons there must be a "perfect goodness" behind the
universe interested in what we do. If that perfect goodness exists, it
must disapprove of much of our behavior. "I think we have to
assume," he explains, "it is more like a mind than it is like
anything else we know." Perhaps that is because it has rules. To
Lewis, that perfect goodness, that Being, is what we call God.
Lewis believes that in the end, God is our only reassurance, and we
have made ourselves his enemy. What we need most is that from which we
want to hide our behavior.
Once we understand the Law of Human Nature, that there is a power
behind that law, and that we have put ourselves in the wrong with that
power by breaking it, Lewis says we then begin to understand what
Christians are saying about the Gospel message.
If we are free to choose between good and evil, Lewis reasons, then
evil must be a genuine possibility. An all-powerful God could surely
prevent evil, but he could only do so at the cost of human freedom.
Lewis also observes that this powerful Being selected a specific group
of people, the Jews, and spent hundreds of years hammering into them what
kind of God he was. He also showed He cared about their conduct. The Old
Testament chronicles this relationship.
Then, he says, comes the real shock. Among the Jews, there suddenly
appeared a man who claimed he has always existed, forgave sins, and
traveled around talking as if he were God. "He says He is coming to
judge the world at the end of time . . . What he said was, quite simply,
the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips."
This man told people that their sins were forgiven. However, he never
checked with others to whom those sins had wronged. He acted as if he were
the primary one offended by their wrongdoing.
"In the mouth of any speaker who is not God," Lewis says,
"these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and
conceit unrivaled by any other character in history." Jesus' words
make sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose
love is wounded by our sins.
Lewis explains that some people may say, "I'm ready to accept
Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be
God." He responds, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort
of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher . . . You must
make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a
madman or something worse."
"You can shut Him up for a fool," Lewis exclaims, "you
can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and
call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense
about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He
did not intend to."
We know which choice C.S. Lewis made. To him, this rationalization was
only the mere essence of Christianity. He questioned the underlying
assumptions of the faith, and found a firm foundation. While his many
books have been an encouragement to people over the years, they continue
to be an inspiration to those newly acquainted with his work today.