Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity

by C. S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity

by C. S. Lewis


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In the classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, the most important writer of the 20th century, explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand together. Bringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War Two from his three previous books The Case for Christianity, Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality, Mere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060652920
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 02/28/2023
Series: C. S. Lewis Signature Classics Series
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 4,202
Product dimensions: 6.18(w) x 7.28(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range: 16 Years

About the Author

About The Author

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and have been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) fue uno de los intelectuales más importantes del siglo veinte y podría decirse que fue el escritor cristiano más influyente de su tiempo. Fue profesor particular de literatura inglesa y miembro de la junta de gobierno en la Universidad Oxford hasta 1954, cuando fue nombrado profesor de literatura medieval y renacentista en la Universidad Cambridge, cargo que desempeñó hasta que se jubiló. Sus contribuciones a la crítica literaria, literatura infantil, literatura fantástica y teología popular le trajeron fama y aclamación a nivel internacional. C. S. Lewis escribió más de treinta libros, lo cual le permitió alcanzar una enorme audiencia, y sus obras aún atraen a miles de nuevos lectores cada año. Sus más distinguidas y populares obras incluyen Las Crónicas de Narnia, Los Cuatro Amores, Cartas del Diablo a Su Sobrino y Mero Cristianismo.

Date of Birth:

November 29, 1898

Date of Death:

November 22, 1963

Place of Birth:

Belfast, Nothern Ireland

Place of Death:

Headington, England


Oxford University 1917-1923; Elected fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925

Read an Excerpt

Mere Christianity

Chapter One

The Law of Human Nature

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: 'How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?' — 'That's my seat, I was there first' — 'Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm' — 'Why should you shove in first?' — 'Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine' — 'Come on, you promised.' People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.

Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: 'To hell with your standard.' Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And theyhave. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature. Nowadays, when we talk of the 'laws of nature' we usually mean things like gravitation, or heredity, or the laws of chemistry. But when the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong 'the Law of Nature', they really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law — with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.

We may put this in another way. Each man is at every moment subjected to several different sets of law but there is only one of these which he is free to disobey. As a body, he is subjected to gravitation and cannot disobey it; if you leave him unsupported in mid-air, he has no more choice about falling than a stone has. As an organism, he is subjected to various biological laws which he cannot disobey any more than an animal can. That is, he cannot disobey those laws which he shares with other things; but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses.

This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right. If they were not, then all the things we said about the war were nonsense. What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practised? If they had had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair.

I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.

But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to — whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked...

Mere Christianity. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

Regarded as the centerpiece of Lewis's apologetics, Mere Christianity began as a series of live fifteen-minute radio talks that Lewis gave, under the auspices of the BBC, during WWII. Characterized by careful reasoning, vivid analogies, and Lewis's gift for making complex religious ideas immediately accessible, the broadcasts were overwhelmingly successful, so popular that Lewis was besieged with letters from listeners. He wrote to Arthur Greeves on December 23 1941: "I had an enormous pile of letters from strangers to answer. One gets funny letters after broadcasting -- some from lunatics who sign themselves 'Jehovah' or begin 'Dear Mr. Lewis, I was married at the age of 20 to a man I didn't love' -- but many from serious enquirers whom it was a duty to answer fully." Lewis was able to reach such a wide audience in part because he tried to explore the essence of Christian belief, what he felt "all Christians agree on." After he finished the radio scripts, he sent them to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Church of England theologians, all of whom agreed on the main points he had made. Lewis himself says in the preface to Mere Christianity, "So far as I can judge from reviews and from the numerous letters written to me, the book, however faulty in other respects, did at least succeed in presenting an agreed, or common, or central, or 'mere' Christianity."

The broadcasts were initially published as three separate books, The Case for Christianity (1943), Christian Behavior (1943), and Beyond Personality (1945), and collected into Mere Christianity in 1952. Like The Screwtape Letters, MereChristianity was warmly received by both the public and the critics. The Guardian said of Lewis: "His learning is abundantly seasoned with common sense, his humour and his irony are always at the service of the most serious purposes, and his originality is the offspring of enthusiastically loyal orthodoxy" (21 May 1943), while The Times Literary Supplement praised Lewis as having "a quite unique power of making theology an attractive, exciting and (one might almost say) an uproariously fascinating quest" (21 October 1944). These qualities have continued to attract a wide audience of both Christian and non-Christian readers.

Questions for Discussion

  • At the end of the first chapter in Mere Christianity, Lewis lays out the scope of his argument: "First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in" (p. 21). All cultures, he says, have a moral code and those codes are remarkably similar. Is he correct in inferring from this observation the existence of a Universal "Law of Human Nature," an innate sense of right and wrong? How do you think Lewis would respond to contemporary proponents of moral relativism?

  • Lewis first delivered the chapters that make up Mere Christianity as live radio addresses for the BBC beginning in 1941. In what ways does the writing reflect the fact that it was originally intended to be heard rather than read? What qualities of Lewis's speaking voice come through in the book? How do these qualities affect your receptivity to Lewis's ideas? What pains has Lewis evidently taken to make himself clear to an audience who had to absorb his ideas on first hearing?

  • Lewis argues that repentance "means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death" (p. 60). In what ways have we trained ourselves to be conceited and willful? In what ways has Western culture contributed to this willfulness? Why does Lewis insist that part of the self must die in order to truly repent? How is this interior death related to Christ's death on the cross?

  • In explaining the way Christians see good, Lewis offers a vivid analogy: "…the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life within him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it" (p. 64). Such analogies appear throughout Mere Christianity. Why are they so effective in making complex ideas accessible? In what ways does this particular analogy reinforce and clarify the statement that precedes it?

  • Lewis ends the chapter "Sexual Morality" with a remarkable assertion: "…a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute" (p. 95). Why does Lewis consider spiritual sins to be worse than sins of the flesh? What is Lewis's view of the proper role of sexuality, pleasure, and chastity for Christians?

  • Why does Lewis see Pride as the greatest sin, "the utmost evil," in comparison with which "unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that are mere fleabites"? (p. 110). How does he define Pride and its opposite, Humility? What effect does Pride have on one's relation to other people, to oneself, and to God? What is the relationship between Pride and the other vices? Lewis cites other Christian teachers who share his perspective but does not name them. Who might he be thinking of?

  • In an introduction to a broadcast given on 11 January 1942, which was later deleted from the published text, Lewis explains why he was chosen to give the talks: "…first of all because I'm a layman and not a parson, and consequently it was thought I might understand the ordinary person's point of view a bit better. Secondly, I think they asked me because it was known that I'd been an atheist for many years and only became a Christian quite fairly recently. They thought that would mean I'd be able to see the difficulties-able to remember what Christianity looks like from the outside." Do you think Lewis has succeeded in representing the ordinary person's view of Christianity? In what ways might his atheism and later conversion have affected his relationship to Christian beliefs? Do his convictions gain weight because he struggled to arrive at them?

  • Lewis wants his theology to have practical uses. In discussing Charity, he says: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did…. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him" (p. 116). The reverse, he says, is also true. "The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them; afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them" (p. 117). Why would behavior influence feeling in this way? Why would pretending to feel something lead to actually feeling it? Do you think this principle applies both to individuals and, as Lewis implies, to larger political groups and nations? Have you ever witnessed or experienced this phenomenon yourself?

  • In the chapter on Hope, Lewis makes fun on those who reject the Christian idea of Heaven because they don't want to spend eternity playing harps. "The answer to such people," he says, "is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them" (p. 121). What is Lewis's conception of Heaven? What is his view on the right relation between this world and the next? Why does he feel we should we "aim at Heaven" rather than at earth? (p. 119).

  • Why does Lewis so vehemently reject the view that treats Jesus as a historical rather than a divine figure? Why does he find the notion of some who regard Jesus merely as a great moral teacher to be absurd? Why does he assert that "If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance"? (p. 157).

  • In "Counting the Cost," Lewis says that God "will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or a goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly…His own boundless power and delight and goodness" (p. 176). What is required to become such a creature? Why do you think Lewis has chosen to describe this apotheosis with these images?

  • How appealing is Lewis's conception of Christianity as he presents it here? Has it clarified any theological confusions you may have had, or changed your own beliefs about how to live as a Christian? Do you think Lewis's ideas about virtue and morality can be valuable for non-Christians?

    About the Author: Clive Staples Lewis was born in 1898 in a suburb of Belfast. An extraordinarily precocious child, at the age of eight he was writing and illustrating "Animal-Land" stories with his brother Warren, at ten was reading Paradise Lost, and at nineteen was described by one of his teachers as "the most brilliant translator of Greek plays that I have ever met." By the time Lewis entered Oxford in 1917, he had long considered himself an atheist, a position that his experiences on the front lines of World War I only confirmed. But in 1925 he was elected to a fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he taught for twenty-five years and where his intellectual, creative, and religious development underwent a remarkable flowering. Shortly after a late night talk with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson in 1931, Lewis had a conversion experience, beautifully described in his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955), and regained his faith in Christianity. There followed an astonishing succession of fiction, criticism, and religious books, including The Problem of Pain (1940), The Screwtape Letters (1942), The Abolition of Man (1943), The Great Divorce (1946), Miracles (1947), George MacDonald (1947), and Mere Christianity (1952), and the seven children's books comprising The Chronicles of Narnia, completed in 1954. Greatly admired for his teaching, Lewis was offered the chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge in 1954, a position he held until his death. In 1956 he married Joy Davidman Gresham, the American poet and novelist, who was diagnosed with cancer later that year. Despite his wife's illness, Lewis achieved in his final years the happiness and contentment he had searched for all his life. His relationship with Joy, who died in 1960, is the subject of Richard Attenborough's film Shadowlands, and Lewis's own A Grief Observed, published under a pseudonym in 1961, is a deeply moving account of his struggle to come to terms with her loss. C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at his home in Oxford.

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