This is a post continuing my analysis of Mere Christianity from an LDS perspective. See my table of contents here.
“Common to Nearly All Christians”
Lewis explains that he wants to talk about what has been “common to nearly all Christians at all times.”
It is very difficult to decide what is common to all Christians. If we do happen to accomplish such a thing, not only is it a very short list, but it is a very empty list, including perhaps only a belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We not only exclude people and groups unnecessarily, but we strip religion of all that makes it what it is. Allow me to explain by using some comments by William James as to how all religion is uniform from his lectures The Varieties of Religious Experience.
James details a “uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet.” He offers that there is an “uneasiness,” a need or problem with which the human race is accosted. This need is met with a “solution,” where somehow the human race is saved from this need by making appropriate devotions to the Divine Reality. Where religions differ is in how they describe this need, and in what way a solution is given. For many Western religions, sin is overcome through a savior. For many eastern religions, men gain needed enlightenment in communion with the whole of the universe. But though these interpretations are different, it can be argued that they are still interpretations of the same Divine Reality. The interpretations differ simply because the experiences are taking place within different cultural frameworks.
While the uniform deliverance James pointed out can be seen in all religions, they had to be boiled down to the utmost simplicity in order to create that uniformity. To do so is to purposefully exclude all those things that differentiated religion in the first place. One might say that all sports are essentially the same; their object is to put some sort of ball in some sort of goal despite some sort of organized obstacle. The shape of the ball, or the size of the goal, or the manner of the obstacle are different, but these differences can be attributed to the “interpretations” of cultural framework.
Still, football is much different than golf, which is much different than water polo, which is much different that cricket. In boiling these sports down to their most basic essentials we are able to find common denominators, but in doing so we have also lost the essence of what makes each sport unique and endearing.
To boil down the religions of the world is to do the same, and we trivialize vital qualities of belief. Even in Christianity, the only thing that we can truly consider common is that sin is our uneasiness and Jesus Christ has provided the solution to that uneasiness. Even before we add in Mormonism, finding a common denominator among Christianity leaves a hopeless shell of the belief systems they truly are.
“A Vague and Bloodless H.C.F.”
Lewis addressed the concern I raised above later in the Preface. He says,
“It may possibly be of some help in silencing the view that, if we omit the disputed points, we shall have left only a vague and bloodless H.C.F. The H.C.F. turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all… It is at (Christianity’s) centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if’ not in doctrine.”
When it comes to comparative religion involving more faiths than those of Christian descent, I can relate to the Lewis when he says that “I should have been out of my depth in such waters.” I do not know enough about the Muslims or Buddhists of the world to be able to say one way or the other with any degree of certainty how different Christianity really is. I will leave that to you.
A more important point to consider is the way Lewis continues to downplay the differences between Christian sects. He has done this since the beginning of the Preface, and continues to do so until the end. The question of where exactly is Christianity’s center deals very much with themes in Part 1 (when discussing Lewis’ first reason for avoiding the topic) and Part 3 (when discussing what it means to be a Christian). Rather than rehash either of the themes here, I commend those sections to you.
Study Questions from this Section
Common to Nearly All Christians
- How might this relate to 1 John 4:1-3?
- In what ways may we consider Christianity to be uniform? Can we consider Christianity to be uniform at all?
A Vague and Bloodless H.C.F.
- Is it true that differences between Christianity and other world religions are enough to eclipse the differences between Christian sects?
- How can we decide what Christianity’s “centre” is?