Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nice People or New Men?—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis asks an important question as he gets close to finishing Mere Christianity: "If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? What lies behind that question is partly something reasonable and partly something ... not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man's outward actionsif he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was beforethen I think we must suspect that his 'conversion' was ... imaginary.... Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better; just as in an illness 'feeling better' is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up.... Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit."

"There is another way of demanding results in which the outer world may be quite illogical ... that they should see the whole world neatly divided into two campsChristian and non-Christianand that all the people in the first camp at any given moment should be obviously nicer than all the people in the second.... If Christianity is true then it ought to follow (a) That any Christian will be nicer than the same person would be if he were not a Christian. (b) That any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before.... Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates's tongue would be like is she were not a Christian and what Dick's would be if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so."
"To judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant. Considering the plant at Factory A it may be a wonder that it turns out anything at all; considering the first-class outfit at Factory B, its output, though high, may be a great deal lower than it ought to be. No doubt the good manager at Factory A is going to put in new machinery as soon as he can, but that takes time. In the meantime low output does not prove that he is a failure."

"Let us go a little deeper.... Before Christ has finished with Miss Bates, she is going to be very 'nice' indeed.... You cannot expect God to look at Dick's placid temper and friendly disposition exactly as we do.... The niceness ... is God's gift to Dick, not Dick's gift to God.... He created Dick's sound nerves and good digestion, and there is plenty more where they come from. It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion. And because they are wills they canin nice people just as much as in nasty onesrefuse.... Natural causes come together in Dick to make a pleasant psychological pattern, just as they come together in a sunset to make a pleasant pattern of colors.... Dick has had the chance to turn (or rather, to allow God to turn) that momentary pattern into the beauty of an eternal spirit: and he has not taken it.... The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose."

"There is ... a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That was what people objected to about Christ during His life on earth: He seemed to attract 'such awful people.' That is what people still object to.... Christ said 'Blessed are the poor' and 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom.'... If you are a nice personif virtue comes easily to youbeware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God's gifts to you...and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible.... The Devil was an archangel once.... But if you are a poor creaturepoisoned by a wretched upbringing ... nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex ... do not despair. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on.... One day ... He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all.... Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last."

Awkward at First but Inevitably Magnificent
"'Niceness'wholesome, integrated personalityis an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up 'nice'; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls ... for mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people ... here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better ... but like turning a horse into a winged creature.... It will soar over fences which never could have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shouldersno one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wingsmay even give it an awkward appearance."

"You can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, 'So there's your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.' But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people's soulsof their temptation, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off."

Highlights from chapter 10: Nice People or New Men, book 4: Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Click here for a clear view of how this chapter relates to the whole book.

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