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Taking Issue with C.S. Lewis

with 5 comments

I started re-reading “Mere Christianity” a couple of days ago. I’d read it a long, long time ago in what feels like a different life. So needless to say, I needed a refresher read to bring to mind what it said.

Let me say up front that I really enjoy and admire the way Lewis approached Christianity with logic and rationale; however, it concerns me that he uses a faulty method to attempt to prove at least one major doctrine. Up until this point, he’d been approaching his propositions with a logic that pretty much everyone, if they were honest, would have to say makes sense. But here is what he wrote in regards to Christianity being the “only way” to access God and it is this with which I have an issue—not because of the point he’s trying to prove, but because of the ham-handed method he uses to try!

“But of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are are much nearer being right than others.” (emphasis mine)

What I take from this passage is that he believes God provides truth within every religion, but when Christianity and other religions are in opposition on points, then Christianity is the one that is true.

To back this up, he uses flimsy logic to assert the truth of his statement. He uses arithmetic as the analogy of Christianity vs. other religions. He says that just as every sum (equation) has only one answer, so Christianity is the only way to God. And although some of the “wrong” equations may have gotten closer to the correct answer than others, they are still wrong; therefore, although some religions are closer to the truth than others, they are still wrong.

(First of all, he uses “sum” in a way that I did not learn it. To me, the sum WAS the answer, not the equation. So I’m going to dissect here how I see his analogy being used—both from his view of “sum” and mine.)

This is very weak reasoning on at least three levels:
1) Assume in his analogy of the sum having one right answer, this represents that the sum (equation) = God and has one answer = Christianity. This is flawed to me because in order to get a “right” answer—to know that it is a CORRECT answer—you have to know that you have calculated each and every part of the equation (God), which we cannot fully do with an unknowable God. If we FULLY understood the equation, then God would no longer be God.

What do I mean by a “correct” answer? (Lewis used the word “right” answer, but in order to keep it in the realm of arithmetic and not attach any sense of right/wrong morality about it, I changed it to “correct.” You’re welcomed to use “right” but I was going for clarity.) Well, like I said, if you don’t know the totality of the sum (which we cannot with God), then, indeed, what makes one answer more “correct” over another? 2+4=6 and 5+3=8, so TWO answers are correct. What makes them relatively correct or incorrect is if they accurately answer the question within the context they are designed to reflect.

For example, if you need to know the measurements of a four-walled room for purposes of buying paint, then you need to know ALL of the measurements in order to get a correct/right amount of paint. But let’s say one of the walls is so large, you don’t have the tools to measure it. Adding only two wall sides does not give the “correct” amount any more than adding three wall sides. One might be closer that the other, but it’s still not correct, because you can’t measure the fourth wall. The unknown variable will always leave room for an answer that does not arrive at what you need, and which is therefore, not necessarily correct. (And yes, I know I just used an analogy to make my point, but I think mine holds up better than his. 🙂

If you grant me that point, then that unknowable part of the equation (the variable) could, in fact, change the whole “correct” answer (i.e. might not result in Christianity). There will ALWAYS be an unknown variable when it comes to God, and therefore, using his own analogy, we cannot state with any authority what the correct/right answer is.

2) Even if you flip it around to the way I use the word sum and change his analogy to say: the equation = religions and the sum = truth (God), I’d have to say he misses the mark with this analogy as well, because there ARE other ways (infinite ways, even) to arrive at a sum (God). Let’s say “24” is my sum… I can use MANY equations such as 20+4, 12×2, 25-1, 48÷2 and so on, ad infinitum. However, this would result in beginning with the sum, and then you will have several equations that fit! In trying to prove the uniqueness of the truth of Christianity only for access to God, with this analogy, it instead opened the door to infinite possibilities for accessing God!

Reading the analogy this way (equations compute the sum), also asserts that you can use religion to “figure out” God (religions add up to God), which makes Him then a knowable God. The correct reasoning would have us starting with what we know of God and seeing which religion most approximates His being in its teachings.

3) I’m left to think that analogies are generally worthless in attempting to prove truth. They are best used when trying to expound on or clarify an agreed-upon premise… not to prove the premise itself. Lewis picked an analogy that fit the premise he wanted to “prove” and ran with it. It doesn’t make it true, and as I’ve just shown, upon closer examination and taking it further, might persuade someone toward just the opposite.

Had Lewis been attempting to prove just the opposite, that MANY religions lead to God, he could have just as authoritatively used the analogy of a big city… saying, “God is like a big city, and the roads that lead to it are like the religions of the world. You can take many different routes starting from many different places, but each of the roads will lead you to the city.” Why is his arithmetic analogy any more “truth” than this example? One fits one belief; the other fits the other belief, but one does NOT have more truth than the other.

I have to say I’m disappointed in ol’ C.S. He had to know that was a flimsy premise. And it certainly leaves a gaping hole in his reasoning on that issue.


Written by blogicalinks

November 14, 2006 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Seeking

5 Responses

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  1. Cheryl:

    While I would not say Christianity is the only way to God, as a Christian, I would say Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation. On these matters I always point people to the work of the recently deceased Jacques DuPuis. I posted not long ago on this point, though I did not use C.S. Lewis as my point of departure. While I like Lewis, as a Catholic, I find myself having too critical many issues.
    The link is:


    November 18, 2006 at 6:34 pm

  2. Cheryl,
    If you to ask me questions about my statements on JesusCreed, please fell free to do so.
    I must admit, I have to initally sit up and take notice of somone who would dare to disgree with CS Lewis! Have you told any one else?

    Benjamin Bush

    Benjamin Bush Jr

    November 30, 2006 at 9:13 pm

  3. Cheryl,
    I just posted an identically title post on my blog, googled it, and wound up here, only to find the names of people I recognized from Jesus Creed. Frighteningly small world. This goes a long way toward proving my theory that there are only 10 or 20 actual real people that blog in the world, everything else is insert-name-of-virility-drug-here-ad-creating spambots. 😉

    Anyway, interesting post. I think you’re right about Lewis here. The analogy does work, but only once you’ve accepted certain presuppositions (and it’s quite the laundry list). Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised about the limitations of analogies. In the end, analogies are actually ratios, which comes from the same word for which we get our words for thinking and reasoning. It makes me wonder if maybe reasoning (between two or more people) doesn’t work without accepting a lot of the same presuppositions either.
    Something for me to think about.

    Take care,


    January 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm

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