Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mere Christianity isn't So Mere


When I was 14 or 15, I picked up C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I picked up a lot of random books, because my house was always filled with books. It wasn’t a deliberate choice, and I had no preconceptions. I didn’t know Lewis outside of Narnia; I had no idea he was a well-known author or Christian. I wasn’t looking for a Christian-themed book or something to address my faith; I didn’t even have an adult concept of spiritual growth yet. I most likely picked it because it looked like a short read that I could get through in short bursts throughout the day—in-class readability was a main prerequisite for my book choices in middle and high school.

So I discovered Lewis. I discovered the field of theology, how history and culture and logic all belonged in building an understanding of the divine. I got a peak of both the intellectualism and mysticism in Christianity. My faith, something that was quite real but still regulated to surface notions on Sundays and holidays, took root in firmer foundations. A seed of religious identity was planted, and I kept reading. In college, I met a friend who was in the same Lewis fandom. By then, it had been a couple of years since I’d devoured his works, although I revisited The Four Loves and The Great Divorce regularly. We gushed about how brilliant Lewis was and wished we could write so clearly.

During my conversion to Catholicism, I wanted to revisit Mere Christianity. I’ve only ever read it twice, despite my Lewis binge. It was my gateway, but I delved into other works much harder. Still, there was something about Mere Christianity. It meant something to me, because it had awakened this young high-schooler in an unexpected way. I thought, surely, with this big change in my faith, a revisit would be worth it, to see how I view it now. But I didn’t read it. I don’t know if I just didn’t get to it or if there was a fear holding me back.

I’m afraid now, of going back and seeing the flaws in Lewis’ arguments (like the “lair, lunatic, lord” trilemma). I’m afraid of disagreeing with his presumptions. I’m afraid of finding out a book that impacted me just isn’t that good. My two copies of the book sit on my shelf with Chesterton and Francis de Sales, but I don’t know when they were last opened. I suppose it could be said that I simply grew out of it. There are plenty of books I haven’t revisited. And what was good for my journey then does not necessarily need to be part of my journey now. But there is a lingering fear that I abandoned Lewis somewhere along the way, like how I left my Protestant upbringing, a fear that my loves and inspirations are temporary. There comes the real fear. That if what I once clung to now goes untouched, will I also eventually abandon what I hold dear now? It that a sign of growth or capriciousness?

I think this is why I’m so picky about what I read these days. Books can change me. They stay with me and haunt me and make me reorient myself and question my motives. A random pick off the shelf might be more impressionable then I am ready for it to be. That sort of recklessness should be left to a teenager.

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