C.S. Lewis on Christianity and ‘Religion’

25th November 1950: British writer C S Lewis (Clive Staples Lewis, 1898 – 1963), a Fellow and Tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford. Original Publication: Picture Post – 5159 – Eternal Oxford – pub. 1950 (Photo by John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Getty Images)

I love reading C.S. Lewis; his thoughtfulness makes me feel dumb. Have you read any of his books? Mere Christianity is a must-read. Today we’re going to look at my favorite chapter in his book, Miracles, titled Christianity and ‘Religion’. Curious now?

Popular ‘religion’

Lewis begins by saying most don’t accept a miracle working God. He calls it the ‘popular religion’, describing it as a rough form of Pantheism ‘based on a fanciful picture of religion’s history.’

It begins with mankind inventing man-like spirits to explain natural phenomena. It’s changed as the man-like attributes dropped off until it’s a pure abstraction. No real entity, no real character.

Lewis says the conflict is where this adult knowledge of Pantheism reacts to their childhood knowledge of Christianity. The former is seen as sublime and mysterious where the other is too simple. He begins by finding common ground and revealing the differences.

‘Pantheism’ versus Christianity

  • Both agree that God is everywhere. Pantheists say he’s diffused like a universal medium, like a gas, rather than an entity. Christians say God is totally present at every point of space and time, and present locally in none.
  • Both agree we are dependent and related to God. Christians set a boundary between Maker and Made. The ‘popular Pantheism’ says we are parts of or a part of God.

It goes on, but for sake of space, we’ll move to where C.S Lewis describes God.

God

I’m quoting;

“Let us dare to say that God is a particular Thing. Once he was the only Thing: but He is creative. He made other things to be. He is not those other things. He is not ‘universal being’: if He were there would be no creatures, for a generality can make nothing. He is ‘absolute being’—or rather the Absolute Being—in the sense that He alone exists in His own right.

But there are things in which God is not. In that sense He has a determinate character. Thus He is righteous, not amoral; creative, not inert. The Hebrew writings here observe an admirable balance. Once God says simply I AM, proclaiming the mystery of self-existence. 

But times without number He says ‘I am the Lord’—I, the ultimate Fact, have this determinate character, and not that. And men are exhorted to ‘know the Lord’, to discover and experience this particular character.

Spiritual Reality

C.S Lewis goes on to say the ultimate spiritual reality isn’t vague, inert, and transparent, but more positive, dynamic, and opaque. He uses the example of Spirit and soul/ghost.

Ghosts are half-people, without the flesh they’re shadowy. Spirit, if it is to be pictured, is heavier, the opposite, for the dead in Christ are saints. Not ghosts, and should be pictured as heavier than matter.

He touches on, and I’m not a good enough writer to capture and condense it with the same impact, how that can change how we approach God. His line is, “The stillness in which the mystics approach Him is intent and alert—the opposite pole from sleep or reverie.”

I wrote in the margin that it’s like approaching God like I’m interrupting something. I’m really approaching an active God who’s fully aware I’m there and watching me come forward. Goosebumps.

The way C.S Lewis closes the chapter is powerful. I’m going to quote it, and if you get nothing else out of this post, I want you to think and reflect on this quote I’m closing with.

Man Searching For God or God Coming For Man?

“Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative diety to a living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest taproot of Pantheism and of the objection of traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as a man but because it pictured Him as a king, or even a warrior.

The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.

There is no danger that at any time that heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed.

It is with a shock we discover then to be indispensible. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters—when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. And therefore, this is the very point at which many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity.

An ‘impersonal God’—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all.

But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at infinite speed, the hunter king, husband—that is quite another matter.

There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burgalars hush suddenly; was that a real footstep in the hall?

There comes a moment when people have been dabbling in religion (Man’s search for God!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He found us!”

What are your thoughts about this?

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