Page 4. " Now this Law of Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature. "

"According to natural law moral theory, the moral standards that govern human behavior are, in some sense, objectively derived from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world" (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Lewis builds his case on the idea that there is a moral Law of Nature that all men everywhere basically believe in ... but no one can live up to it.

Cicero
Public DomainCicero

When he refers to "the older thinkers," he may be thinking of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.

 

 

 

Page 5. " just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune "

Color-blindness is defined as "the decreased ability to perceive differences between some of the colors that others can distinguish"; it is often genetically caused.

Page 5. " If they were not, then all the things we said about the war were nonsense. "

Mere Christianity developed out of a series of radio broadcasts that C. S. Lewis gave on the BBC during World War II.

He makes a number of references to "the war" (WWII) throughout the text.

Page 5. " unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did "

Mass roll call of Nazi troops. Nuremberg, November 9, 1935
Public DomainMass roll call of Nazi troops. Nuremberg, November 9, 1935

A "Nazi" was a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, shortened from the German name for the group: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.

Nazism "was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany. It was a unique variety of fascism that incorporated biological racism and antisemitism. Nazism presented itself as politically syncretic, incorporating policies, tactics and philosophies from right- and left-wing ideologies; in practice, Nazism was a far right form of politics" (Wikipedia).

Page 6. " the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans "
Map of ancient Babylonia
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMap of ancient Babylonia - Credit: MapMaster

Babylonia refers to a culture that flourished in what is today Iraq, starting as far back as 1894 BC. In 586 BC the Southern Kingdom of Israel fell to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The Old Testament books of 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Zechariah recount the events of the captivity and eventual return of the Jews to Israel.

Hinduism is rather difficult to define succinctly. According to religioustolerance.org,

Four-armed Hindu god Vishnu on his mount, the garuda
Public DomainFour-armed Hindu god Vishnu on his mount, the garuda

"Hinduism differs from Christianity and other monotheistic religions in that it does not have:

  • a single founder,
  • a specific theological system,
  • a single concept of deity,
  • a single holy text,
  • a single system of morality,
  • a central religious authority,
  • the concept of a prophet."

In addition, "Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic religions. They recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God."

When turning from general "theism" to a specific religion, Lewis considered both Christianity and Hinduism, finally settling on the former. He recounts the decision in Surprised by Joy, pages 235-36:

Public Domain"Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches," by James Joseph Jacques Tissot

The question was no longer to find the one simply true religion among a thousand religions simply false. It was rather, "Where has religion reached its true maturity? Where, if anywhere, have the hints of all Paganism been fulfilled?" . . . The God whom I had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous. Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream. Where was the thing full grown? or where was the awakening? . . . There were really only two answers possible: either in Hinduism or in Christianity. . . . But Hinduism seemed to have two disqualifications. For one thing, it appeared to be not so much amoralized and philosophical maturity of Paganism as a mere oil-and-water coexistence of philosophy side by side with Paganism unpurged. . . . And secondly, the were no such historical claim as in Christianity. I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. . . . If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. . . . And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson . . . yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy." It is the summing up and actuality of them all.

 

Page 6. " in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man "

The Abolition of Man was published in 1943, after Lewis had completed his first set of broadcast talks on The Case for Christianity. It "purports to be a book specifically about public education, but its central concerns are broadly political, religious, and philosophical."

National Review ranked it at #7 on its list of The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Century. (Mere Christianity ranks #26.)

 

Page 6. " before you can say Jack Robinson "

This is a common British expression meaning "very quickly." Its etymology is uncertain, but it dates at least as far back as 1778.

Page 7. " let the cat out of the bag "

To reveal a secret--often inadvertently. The phrase goes back at least as far as 1760.

Page 7. " who the dickens am I, anyway? "
Why the dickens is this picture here?
Public DomainWhy the dickens is this picture here?

This use of the word "dickens" has nothing to do with Charles Dickens. It's a minced oath for "who the devil" and can be found in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, written in 1600.

Page 12. " we learn to keep to the left of the road, but it might just as well have been the rule to keep to the right "
Traffic jam in Keswick, England
Creative Commons AttributionTraffic jam in Keswick, England - Credit: freefoto.com

To an American this statement might not make sense until you remember that in Britain, unlike in the States, cars drive on the left side of the road.

The Highway Code lists rules for British drivers.

Page 14. " Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. "

Click here to read "A Brief History of Witchcraft Persecutions before Salem."

Page 14. " surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did? "
Seated, left to right: Quisling, Himmler, Terboven, von Falkenhorst
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSeated, left to right: Quisling, Himmler, Terboven, von Falkenhorst - Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Moebius-029-12 / Möbius / CC-BY-SA

The term "quisling" is similar to calling someone a "Benedict Arnold"; it means "traitor," and derives from Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who betrayed his country by cooperating with the Nazis when they took over Norway in 1940. He was executed by firing squad in 1945.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "quisling" was first used as a synonym for "traitor" in the London Times on 15 April 1940. Lewis's use of the word, then, is relatively modern, since he was writing in 1942.

Page 17. " That law certainly does not mean 'what human beings, in fact, do'; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely. "

Lewis returns here to the Law of Nature he discussed in chapter one.

The Bible
Creative Commons AttributionThe Bible - Credit: freefoto.com

Lewis rarely quotes Scripture in Mere Christianity. However, one passage that would correlate with his statements here can be found in Romans 7:21-24, where the Apostle Paul says, "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (English Standard Version)

 

Page 21. " First, there is what is called the materialist view. "

A "materialist" may be simply a person inordinately consumed with "things"--money, cars, possessions, and so on. Here, though, Lewis means more than that, of course. "Materialism . . . [is] the theory that physical matter is all there is. This theory . . . states that everything in the universe is matter, without any true spiritual or intellectual existence" (allaboutphilosophy.org).