C. S. Lewis 2005

I visited my parents for the holidays again this year, and like last year I decided to read some of their C. S. Lewis collection. I felt like progressing on with his Christian works, and so I chose Mere Christianity.

In this book, there are good, simple explanations of many points of Christian doctrine that I rarely heard explained in Catholic school. Without fully admitting it to myself, however, I was looking for something specific. Namely, I was looking for more material like that which I found to be compelling in The Great Divorce, describing what it might be like to really surrender to a certain impulse. In Lewis’ mind this is the religious, specifically Christian impulse, to be one with God. In my mind, I’d rather not say it’s religious, but yet I know exactly what he’s talking about. I am familiar with trying to improve myself, and also with failing to do so. I am familiar with many doubts and fears, and I also perceive that it is possible to defeat all of these with a single choice. That choice is simply to give them up and stop having the doubts and fears. The funny thing is, though, that we don’t want to give them up. We feel very possessive of these feelings because they are part of our identity. I enjoy very much reading about this idea, because it gives me glimpses into what life might be like after such a surrender.

One point he makes that stood out for me is in the chapter called “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” Lewis describes a misconception, which I can relate to. The misconception is that we sometimes feel like obeying morality is something we hope we can do some of, and then when we’re done, there will be time left over for ourselves, to do the things we want to do. Not evil things, just things that aren’t so wrapped up with morality, like watching a movie, say. We hold back that little piece; our own personal agenda is more important, but we will try to make decisions consistant with our moral code “some of the time.”

This is a simple observation, but I just don’t hear about other people feeling this way anywhere else. I can’t imagine why not, because if Lewis is right, we all feel the same way. Maybe the non-religious point of view in fashion in the world today is that if you fail to live up to morals, then you’ve just plain failed, so we all give it up. There’s no real acknowledgment in the society I live in that this failure is to be taken for granted, and that you then have to decide how to proceed. This theme is central to Mere Christianity, and I think it deserves a lot of thought, but I still suspect you can separate it from the religious aspects.

I suppose it’s not too surprising that I haven’t been exposed to this train of thought, because I read mainly fiction, and watch movies and some television. I don’t do a lot of nonfiction reading, outside of these Lewis books. Maybe I should broaden that horizon a bit.

One final point. I’m playing both sides of the fence in these entries about Lewis. I’m very accepting of his ideas, and clearly I’m trying to find deep truths here. But at the same time, I reserve the right not to be thought of as religious! I haven’t thought the details through, but I believe I can accept these truths without linking them with God, and especially not with Jesus. I think these are psychological ideas, and many of the concepts of morality are societal ones. My firm belief is that all of this can be looked at with or without God, but that the decision as to which is very important. But it is still a decision. It may not be arbitrary for every person, i.e. for some people maybe only one side makes sense. But I believe in this “freedom to choose.”

Machine Learning Engineer

I am a software engineer and mathematician. I work on NLP algorithms for Apple News, and research homotopy type theory in CMU’s philosophy department.