The 26 Best Quotes from C.S. Lewis’ Masterpiece Mere Christianity

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Tim Grable / Flickr

The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis is enormously quotable. Here are 26 of the best quotes quotes from what is arguably the best popular overview of Christianity of the twentieth century, his classic book Mere Christianity, almost one quote from each chapter (almost).

If you’ve never read it, you’re missing out. If you have, read it again.

1) “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.”

Book I, ch. 1

2) “It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.”

Book I, ch. 2

3) “If we ask: ‘Why ought I to be unselfish?’ and you reply ‘Because it is good for society,’ we may then ask, ‘Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ and then you will have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish’—which simply brings us back to where we started.”

Book I, ch. 3

4) “The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?”

Book I, ch. 4

5) “Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again.”

Book I, ch. 5

Cover of 1st U.S. edition / Wikimedia Commons
Cover of 1st U.S. edition / Wikimedia Commons

6) “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

Book II, ch. 1

7) “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns.”

Book II, ch. 2

8) “…it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

Book II, ch. 3

9) “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”

Book II, ch. 3

10) “..fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

Book II, ch. 4

C.S. Lewis' desk in his house / Mike Blyth / Flickr
C.S. Lewis’ desk in his house / Mike Blyth / Flickr

11) “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”

Book II, ch. 5

12) “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.”

Book III, ch. 2

13) “People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature…Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

Book III, ch. 4

14) “You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?”

Book III, ch. 5

15) “So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief.”

Book III, ch. 7

MagdalenCollege at Oxford, where Lewis taught for 30 years / Wikimedia Commons
Magdalen College at Oxford, where Lewis taught for 30 years / Wikimedia Commons

16) “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God.”

Book III, ch. 8

17) “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

Book III, ch. 9

18) “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Book III, ch. 10

19) “…as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

Book III, ch. 11

20) “…though Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.”

Book III, ch. 12

The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford where the Inklings met in 1939 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford where the Inklings met in 1939 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

21) “And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

Book IV, ch. 1

22) “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

Book IV, ch. 2

23) “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Book IV, ch. 9

24) “What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, 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”

Book IV, ch. 10

25) “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 and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”

Book IV, ch. 10

26) “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”

Book IV, ch. 11

Comments

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Ryan Mayer

Ryan Mayer is theology department chair at Marin Catholic College Preparatory in the San Francisco Bay Area. He enjoys apologetics, food, and chasing his two sons around trying to convince them that they will enjoy Legos more if they play with them rather than eat them. Follow him at @RyanCMayer or @MCtheology.

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