I’m re-reading C. S. Lewis’s little classic Mere Christianity [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] for maybe the fifth or sixth time. Aside from some badly dated implicit sexism, it’s aged very well since it was written in 1942: it’s a delightfully lucid book, full of illuminating similies and piercing insights, and I always seem to come away from it from with something new.
The first two parts of the book (Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe and What Christians believe) trace through how you can arrive at a religion much like Christianity by thinking from first principles, without reference to the Bible or to Christian tradition. The other two parts (Christian behaviour and Beyond personality: or first steps in the doctrine of the Trinity) expound the core of what the Christian religion is, or has been understood to be for most of the last two thousand years (i.e. nothing that particularly resembles much of what goes on under a “Christian” banner in modern America).
I’m reading Chapter 2 (The ‘Cardinal Virtues’) of Part 3 (Christian behaviour), in which Lewis briefly explains what’s meant by the old terms prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. Specifically, I just read the section on prudence (“practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you’re doing and what is likely to come of it”). I could happily quote great chunks of it, but I’ll limit myself to this:
… God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book [The Pilgrim’s Progress] that has astonished the whole world.
Does that sounds like the Christianity we see on the TV and read about in newspapers?
That was a rhetorical question: the answer is “no”. I think most people, in the USA at least, when they hear the word “Christian” think of people like Joel Osteen, Sarah Palin or (Heaven help us, and I don’t say this metaphorically) George W. Bush. How on earth did we fall so far in 68 years from the intellect-enhancing faith that Lewis implicitly assumed to the agent of dumbing-down that we see far too often now?