Back in 1990 I committed myself to a life of following Jesus. I’m not sure how well it has gone. Like Anne Lamott, I like to describe myself as “a Christian but not a very good one.” (Those of you who know me can keep the jokes to yourselves.)
Anyway, back in 1990 the first book I read, post-commitment, was C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It is the standard conservative (but not fundamentalist) apologetic for many Christians. It has greatly influenced the way I think about faith, but most importantly it assured me that being a Christian does not mean having to believe six impossible things before breakfast. That was a great thing for me to finally understand. Since then I have read a number of Lewis’s other books and essays and I still find him to be wonderful for his analytical ability and mental clarity.
But today Mere Christianity doesn’t satisfy me. And although I have experienced an unmistakable drift to the theological left over the last 20 years, my problem is not in his conclusions. (Even in 1990 I did not fully agree with him.) What I liked then that I don’t like now is Lewis’s approach and style. What Lewis says in Mere Christianity is still interesting but it has been about fifteen years since I could describe the book as deeply satisfying.
What finally put me off Mere Christianity for good was another apologetic work, this one by Walker Percy and titled Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. In line with the philosophy behind psnt.net, this book approaches the question of Christianity full-on through a series of remarkably sharp questions and not stepwise through carefully constructed arguments á la Lewis. Percy also addresses the limitations of science and, in fine style, pierces the naïve scientism of folks like Carl Sagan (whom I really like, actually, but come on, he was naïve). Finally, Percy’s wit is cutting and urbane and (for me) this book is a cover-to-cover laff-a-thon.
It’s true that Percy comes across in LitC as a bit preoccupied with sex (here in America, who isn’t?), but I love this book. I would tell you it’s a “must read,” but it’s not for everyone. I have several good friends for whom it makes no sense. So maybe it’s like Duke Basketball: Either you love it or you hate it.
And like I said, I love it.