by David C. Downing
C. S. Lewis’s earliest biographers, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, wrote that if they were going to a desert island and could take only one Lewis book, it would probably be Mere Christianity. That’s a fascinating choice, considering that both men were thoroughly acquainted with Lewis’s whole body of work, including his children’s classics, the Narnia Chronicles, his international best-seller, The Screwtape Letters, and his ground-breaking literary studies such as The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image.
Yet I’m sure many other readers would agree with Green and Hooper. Mere Christianity is often cited as the single best introduction to Christian faith, a book that has been a spiritual milestone for thousands of readers. Both Charles Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship, and Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project, have discussed the pivotal role played by this book in their own journeys to faith.
Mere Christianity, first published in 1952, is based upon four series of radio talks that Lewis gave during World War II. The first broadcast, in August 1941, was heard by over a million listeners and created an unexpected sensation. Lewis’s careful reasoning, his folksy analogies, and his calm bass voice quickly caught on, and it is said his voice became the second most recognized in Britain, after that of Winston Churchill.
Lewis’s first series of broadcast talks argued that we all have an inborn sense of right and wrong, and that we all must admit we don’t live up to our own sense of decency and fair play. From this starting point, Lewis makes the case that all cultures share similar standards of right and wrong, moral laws that point to a lawgiver, a “Somebody” who is best sought not in the material world, for all its magnificence, but in our own hearts. Lewis concludes that, sooner or later, we will all meet the “gaze of absolute goodness,” an encounter that is sure to be both comforting and terrifying.
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