The Christian Apologist Philosophy in Mere Christianity

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Clive Staples Lewis was born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland. His parents were both highly educated. His mother was a mathematician and ensured the education of her children. Lewis could speak fluent Latin and French in addition to English and as a result of his mother’s tutelage, they were very close. Lewis’ father, Albert, built a large home for their family, and Lewis spent his younger years using his imagination to explore the large house, which he would later use as reference for some of his greatest literary masterpieces. In fact, most of his time spent in this house shaped the man he would later become, and provide insight to Lewis’ inner-most struggles. When he was only 10 years old, C.S. Lewis’ mother was diagnosed with cancer. Raised in a conservative Christian household, Lewis firmly believed and relied on the power of prayer to heal his mother. His efforts tragically failed, however, and upon his mother’s death, he began to question his faith. As he later recounts, With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis. (Lewis, Joyful Christian, 30)

Albert was devastated by the loss of his wife and had trouble recovering for the children. Lewis felt terrorized, though recognized later that his father was under extreme duress. Fear of abandonment was his main concern, and all of the security he once knew was gone from the world. He no longer had his mother or faith in God, and his father’s behavior was growing increasingly unreliable. Lewis reflects on these experiences later in The Magician’s Nephew when the character Digory Kirke goes to retrieve an apple that holds the power of immortality for Aslan. A cursed woman tries to convince Digory to take the apple for himself, but he resists temptation, despite his dying mother at home. Later, Aslan bestows a piece of the apple to Digory in return for his loyalty and Digory is able to save his mother. The faith that Digory had for Aslan mirrors Lewis’ internal struggle with the death of his mother and loss of his own faith.

Lewis’ greatest fear was recognized when he was sent to Wynyard boarding school. With confirmation that he was being abandoned, his attitude towards organized religion and faith was unfavorable and he found himself resentful of the required religious services instituted by his new school. He often begged his father to take him out of school and at 16, his request was fulfilled when his father hired a private tutor for Lewis. Albert desired his son to pursue intellectual goals, while recognizing that the institution of religion in Lewis’ education would only limit his potential. William Kirkpatrick was a former headmaster who had taught Lewis’ older brother, Warren. Kirkpatrick had a strong history in the church, but became increasingly atheist as he began to apply the development of his logic to his established faith. Albert and Kirkpatrick made the agreement that Kirkpatrick would provide a rigorous lesson plan that included an in depth exploration of classical philosophers and the development of logic, a path suitable for a scholar. Unbeknownst to Albert, Kirkpatrick also made a deal with Lewis that the entirety of his curriculum would in no way be related to Christianity, which inspired Lewis to perform well. Under the guidance of Kirkpatrick, C.S. Lewis was able to develop his philosophies in logical thought and reason, embracing atheism, like his mentor. He reasoned that, The other religions were not even explained, in the earlier Christian fashion, as the work of devils. That I might, conceivably, have been brought to believe. But the impression I got was that religion in general, though utterly false, was a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder. (Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 62-63)

While enrolled at Oxford University, Lewis decided to join the British Army during WWI. During his time in the military, Lewis questioned the demonization of the enemy for justification of the actions of the government. He later recounts his experiences, suggesting a bleak atmosphere, little to no rest, and highlighting the atrocities of war. To him, his experiences were comparative to his perception of hell on Earth. If hell was something that was so easily experienced by humanity, there must not be a God protecting humans from suffering and devastation.

When Lewis returned from battle, he went back to Oxford. Logic and reason were two highly revered attributes at Oxford during the time of Lewis’ attendance as Freudian psychology was making a significant impact on academia. The separation of fantasy from imagination for the progress of society was a modern philosophy and very few people speculated that these characteristics instead promote the development of society through innovative ideas and invention, rather than inhibit the progression of society. In pursuit of a literary career, Lewis published his first book, Spirits in Bondage, a compilation of poetry that failed to sell. He completed his education in philosophy and was later awarded a fellowship to the Magdalene College, where he continued to teach for 29 years. Lewis’ second published work is an epic narrative called Dymer, in which Lewis expresses God to be an illusion that must be resisted. However, Lewis himself was still questioning God’s existence. He was conflicted with being certain that God didn’t exist, angry at God for not existing, and angry at God for creating a world that promoted suffering. The dilemma was extremely contradictory and he was interested in exploring the reason that he felt both of these emotions simultaneously, when if one thought is true, the others become impossible.

Throughout his life, Lewis had always dreamed of pursuing a literary career. He favored poetry and began to recognize which subjects spoke to him on a more intimate level. By realizing which literature provoked the most thought within him, he became more aware of the experience of the audience to his own literary work. Lewis came to the conclusion that the most insightful and inspiring topic to him was that based around the philosophies of religion. He was passionate to explore his own thoughts using logic and reason, in respect to the religious narrative. The development of his passions and exploring hypothetical situations with consideration to his long history in philosophy gave him the ability to challenge the Freudian views in academia that resisted fantasy, and allowed him to appeal to a large audience.

The revelation came as somewhat of a surprise to Lewis as he questioned why he connected better to heavily Christian based poetry rather than secular poetry. Lewis also became more distant from his friends, finding it increasingly difficult to relate to their unimaginative perspectives. Finding himself agreeing more with religious circles on campus, Lewis became close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. Tolkien and Lewis both agreed that the kinds of stories they wanted to read weren’t being written and collaborated to develop literary masterpieces. Both men shared Lewis interest in exploration of imaginative hypothetical scenarios, and the late night debates between Lewis and Barfield influenced much of his approach to relating his insights to a general audience. Barfield rejected the idea that science is the only means to truth and believed that imagination could provide truth, as science can only take society as far as imagination will allow. Once again feeling the same type of joy he knew as a child, Lewis embraced the realization that without imagination and subsequently the innovations that imagination promotes, science wouldn’t be necessary. By collecting data that applies to the laws of the physical world, humans are able to use that information to develop innovations and technology, but there is no purpose for the data by itself. By shedding his Freudian based loathing for imagination and fantasy, Lewis was able to solidify his transition from atheist to theism by applying his imagination to his most challenging philosophical questions.

The development of his faith continued with reflection on the issues of desire. Lewis believed that every human desire can be satisfied. When people are hungry, they desire food. When people are tired, they desire sleep. When people are cold, they desire warmth. To Lewis, each desire had a purpose and a means to stop the desire, so logically, this would apply to the innate desire for something beyond comprehension, or God. In The Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis writes about a character who’s conflicts match his own search for meaning and satisfaction while on a journey to find the island of desire.

Lewis’ first book series, the Space Trilogy, was written when Lewis embraced his theism, but had not yet defined what role God played in his life. In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, the main character, Ransom, is kidnapped and taken to another planet. Desiring only to return to Earth, Ransom encounters an unfamiliar ecosystem and alien creatures. By writing from the perspective of a man encountering an entirely uncorrupted environment where those that rule have unimagined power, Lewis inspires readers to question their definition of good and evil as well as their perceptions of God and the Devil. As the narrative suggests, God may just be a highly advanced being that appears God-like to less advanced entities. At the time, Lewis had not yet determined which version of God he subscribed to, which is evident in the first book. The Screwtape Letters were published shortly after, which reveals his consideration of what it means to be corrupted by evil, or “bent,” and by the second book of the Space Trilogy, Perelandra, heavy Christian symbolism make it evident which religious philosophies Lewis found himself favoring.

Lewis’ arguably most popular series, The Chronicles of Narnia, reveals that by 1945, Lewis fully embraced his Christian views. Lewis focused on Christian themes using his imagination to relate it to a modern audience in allegorical context. At the time, he was housing young evacuees in his home at Oxford, and used their personalities and imaginative play as inspiration for his character development. Critics have suggested that each one of the seven books in the series represents each of the seven deadly sins, while focusing on the redemption of man under the influence of both God and the Devil. The success of the Chronicles of Narnia stemmed from the fact that Lewis was honest about the conflicting philosophies he had experienced in his own life, with unyielding passion on the topic he was writing about. His entire life guided him to the purpose of creating literary masterpieces for the public, with a sympathetic approach towards his audience members who may have been struggling with their own faith during WWII.

In light of the devastation of WWII, the director of the BBC requested Lewis appear on a local radio program for a total of five scheduled episodes to discuss faith, reason and Christianity. The talks Lewis gave were later compiled into his book, Mere Christianity, which highlighted his role as a Christian apologist. In the book, he defends his beliefs in Christianity using logic and reason against critics of religion. His insight reflected popular opinion at the time, and solidified his influence over the general public. The idea that people have an innate sense of morality was central to Lewis’ argument. He suggested that the agreement of what is and isn’t moral behavior from people with different backgrounds was a curious phenomenon that should be considered. For instance, because two people from completely different cultures would both agree that murder is wrong, there must be a unifying rule of right or wrong. Lewis believed that there was a purpose to the universal belief in right and wrong, and that purpose was spiritual in nature.

The prolonged existential crisis that C.S. Lewis experienced after the death of his mother early in life established the philosophies that are evident throughout Lewis’s literary work. His educational background provided him with a solid foundation to develop his reason and logic and his desire to create literature helped him become the voice of a generation, inspiring his audience to question the purpose of their own feelings and address the challenges of keeping faith. Earlier in his career, he was able to remove the labels of religion to focus more on the meaning of good and evil, and what that represents, which promoted the unification of his audience. By applying logic to a field previously thought to be irrational, Lewis founded a new school of thought that embraced imagination, purpose and creativity.

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