Mere Christianity – Book III (Summary)



You can look at my more detailed notes, but this is an overview of the content of Book III of “Mere Christianity”…

Chapter 1 – “The Three Parts of Morality”

Morality isn’t about interference but our own good

“…moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine”
Morality isn’t about “ideals”

“It might lead you…to think you were rather a special person…you might just as well expect to be congratulated because, whenever you do a sum, you try to get it quite right… By talking about rules and obedience instead of “ideals” and ‘idealism’ we help to remind ourselves of these facts”

Fleet of Ships

“The voyage will be a success only… if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order… you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order they will not be able to avoid collisions… [finally], its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta”

Musical Band

“…think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get a good result…each player’s individual instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so as to combine with all the others… the performance would not be a success if they had been engaged to provide dance music and actually played nothing but…Marches”

Exterior, Interior and Teleological Dimensions to Morality

“When people say in the newspapers that we are striving for Christian moral standards, they usually mean that we are striving for kindness and fair play between nations, and classes, and individuals; that is, they are thinking only of the first thing”

Why the second dimension is important

“…the results of bad morality in [the first] sphere are so obvious…war and poverty and graft and lies and shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is very little disagreement about morality… [However], unless we go on to the second thing – the tidying up inside each human being – we are only deceiving ourselves.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them?”

…nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly… It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of…bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual”

Why the third dimension is important

“…religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet: if they are false, quite a different set

…If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself…there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever”

The Consequences of Eternity

“Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment”


1. How do many people view morality? How does Jack present it?
2. What is the problem with talking about morals as “ideals”?
3. What are the two metaphors Jack uses to explain the different components of morality?
5. What are these three parts of morality? Around which parts are there consensus?
6. What can we not just stop at inter-personal morality? Why does interior morality matter? What are the consequences for society?
7. Why does it matter if we live forever?

Chapter 2 – “The ‘Cardinal Virtues’”

“It comes from a Latin word meaning “the hinge of a door”…they are… ‘pivotal'”


“Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it… [Christ] wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.”


“Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further… [However], the moment he starts saying [marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema] are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning… One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things”


“It is the old name for everything we should now call “fairness”; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life”


“…the kind [of courage] that faces danger as well as the kind that “sticks it” under pain… you cannot practise any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play”

Act and Character

“Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is the man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on… Right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build…”virtue,” and it is this quality or character that really matters… If people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, no possible external conditions could make a “Heaven” for them…”


1. Why might some Christians not think that prudence is a virtue?
2. Why is it dangerous to restrict “temperance” to “drink” and “teetotalism”?
3. What is the difference between acts and character?

Chapter 3 – “Social Morality”

Christ’s Morality

“The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right… As Dr. Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed'”

Christianity is not a political programme

“…Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying “Do as you would be done by” to a particular society at a particular moment… …it is rather a director which will set [the ordinary human arts] all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life….”

Christian Society in the New Testament

“We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic… but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic… Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing… [wanting] to pick out those bits and leave the rest”


“…Greeks…Jews…Christian teachers of the Middle Ages… told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest – what we call investment – is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong…”


“Charity…is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns… If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us… they are too small… the great obstacle… lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear-fear of insecurity…”

Going to the source

“I cannot really carry it [the Golden Rule] out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him”


1. How does Christianity relate to politics? What does Christianity give us and what does it not give us?
2. How does Jack envisage the making of a Christian society?

Chapter 4 – “Morality and Psychoanalysis”

Christianity and Psychoanalysis in competition?

“…psychoanalysis itself…is not in the least contradictory to Christianity. Its technique overlaps with Christian morality at some points…but it does not run the same course all the way, for the two techniques are doing rather different things”

Psychoanalysis fixes the raw materials

“…psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings…to give the man better raw material for his acts of choice…bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured…morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves

However much you improve the man’s raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with”

Human judgements and Divine judgement

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions…. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend…

Our choices prepare us for Heaven or Hell

“…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”


1. What is Jack’s opinion regarding psychoanalysis?
2. What are the two different different components of a moral choice? Which one benefits from psychoanalysis
3. What is the difference between man’s judgements and God’s judgements? How will death make the truth clearer?
4. In what way do our choices prepare us for Heaven and Hell? How do they affect our sensitivity to good and evil?

Chapter 5 – “Sexual Morality”

Is it the sex instinct or Christianity that’s wrong?

“…if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function

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 came 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?”

The Christian cure

“Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body… Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion… If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once…

Every sane and civilised man must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others… The Christian principles are… stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them…”

…many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible…in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to… We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity…will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help”

The animal and the diabolical

“…I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here… For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither”


1. Either Christianity is wrong about chastity or the sexual instinct is misaligned. Why might we be inclined to think it is the latter?
2. What lies have we been told about sex?
3. Why do we resist chastity?

Chapter 6 – “Christian Marriage”

Sex outside of marriage separates the different intended unions

“…those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other[s]… The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than… of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure…, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again”

Different Christian teaching

“…some do not admit divorce at all; some allow it reluctantly in very special cases…[but] all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation”

Permanence as a matter of justice

“…everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner till death. The duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual morality: it is in the same position as any other promise… If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep… unchastity is not improved by adding perjury”

Being in luuuuurve

“If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made… As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy… A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way… Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.

Simply irresistible

“Another notion we get from novels and plays is that ‘falling in love’ is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles… is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into what we call “being in love”? No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love”

The government and marriage

“…the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not”


“The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement What do they do next? They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority. Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution…

… as far as I can see, even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door…. I do not think she is even very flattered if anyone mentions the fact of her own “headship.” There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule.

…A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife.


1. On what is Christian marriage based?
2. How does Jack defend the idea that Christian marriage is permanent? What are the main objections presented?
3. How does Jack defend the idea of headship in marriage? How does he respond to the different objections to this? Do you think there are other arguments which can be marshaled?

Chapter 7 – “Forgiveness”

I take it back, forgiveness is the most unpopular thing…

“…we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies. Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive… And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger

I did not invent [Christianity]. And there, right in the middle of it, I find “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.” There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?”

Misconceptions regarding “love your neighbour as yourself”

“…how exactly do I love myself?… I have not exactly got a feeling… affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society…. my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself…. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing”

Love the sinner, hate the sin

“…how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? …later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life-namely myself… In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things”


“…loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment – even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy”

…all killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman… centurion

…man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.


1. Why is the Christian doctrine of forgiveness so unpopular?
2. What does it mean to forgive your enemies and what does it not mean?
3. Does this mean we should be against capital punishment?

Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin”

The real center of Christian morality

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride… Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Pride is competitive

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.

Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity-it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

Christian pride

As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

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. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men.


“Pleasure in being praised is not Pride… We say in English that a man is “proud” of his son, or his father, or his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether “pride” in this sense is a sin… Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays


1. Why is pride so dangerous?
2. What advice does Jack have for those wishing to repel pride and grow in humility?

Chapter 9 – “Chastity”


Charity means “Love, in the Christian sense.” But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

The Virtuous/Vicious Circle

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn…to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his “gratitude,” you will probably be disappointed.

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them.

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.

Love of God

…people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” When you have found the answer, go and do it.

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.


1. What should we do to grow in love for others and God?
2. In what way does this spiritual law work in the opposite direction?

Chapter 10 – “Hope”


…a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking…[or] that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…

Not wanting Heaven

One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world… The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.

The Fool’s Way

He puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on all his life thinking that if only he tried another woman, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever it is, then, this time, he really would catch the mysterious something we are all after. Most of the bored, discontented, rich people in the world are of this type.

The Sensible Man

He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine… And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used, as he would say, “to cry for the moon.” This is, of course, a much better way than the first, and makes a man much happier… It tends to make him a prig… It would be the best line we could take if man did not live for ever. But supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? …[He has] stifled in ourselves the faculty of enjoying it.

The Argument From Desire

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. 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.


1. How does Jack build on this idea of hope to construct The Argument From Desire?

Chapter 11 – “Faith”

Faith: The first sense

“…[it is] belief – accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity…a virtue…
Faith vs Reason?

I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so… [there is a] battle… between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other… A man knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge…”

When emotion rises

“Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods… Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro”

Faith: The second sense

…make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues… Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good… If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam, and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out… God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam, or putting Him in your debt.

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work.


1. What are the two different senses of faith? Why is it a virtue?

Chapter 12 – “Faith”

Getting right with God and man

What [God] cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality- the kind of creatures He intended us to be-creatures related to Himself in a certain way. I do not add “and related to one another in a certain way,” because that is included: if you are right with Him you will inevitably be right with all your fellow-creatures, just as if all the spokes of a wheel are fitted rightly into the hub and the rim they are bound to be in the right positions to one another.

Declaring spiritual bankruptcy

…[man] cannot get into the right relation until he has discovered the fact of our bankruptcy. When I say “discovered,” I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot-fashion. Of course, any child, if given a certain kind of religious education, will soon learn to say that we have nothing to offer to God that is not already His own and that we find ourselves failing to offer even that without keeping something back. But I am talking of really discovering this: really finding out by experience that it is true.

…All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”… Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.

Stop trying…and don’t stop trying!

To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

Faith and Works

Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.


1. In what way must one give up trying to come to Jesus…and also keep trying?
2. What does Jack say about Faith and Works

What are your thoughts about this article?