***** (of 5)
The bottom line: A cumulative masterpiece of Christian thought and commentary. In my view, one of the greatest collections ever written.
The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics is actually seven books rolled into one, compiling C. S. Lewis’s most popular religious texts into one volume. Whether you are a devout Christian, an uncompromising atheist, or simply curious, this compilation takes the reader through a series of philosophical, logical, and intellectual analyses to decipher some of the most basic, yet simultaneously complex, details about life and the universe. This task was first attempted with reason and logic, yielding unsettled results, and then adequately resolved using a Christian lens. All of this is accomplished through nonfictional commentaries and fictional stories.
The author was once a devout atheist, and we are given front-row seats to observe his methodical self-scrutiny of all of his beliefs in order to arrive at a series of well-refined conclusions.
The seven books are
Mere Christianity. This discusses the basic beliefs in Christianity and, in my view, is the most powerful of all seven books. Even though at times I felt weighed down by the heavy philosophical arguments, this text is most suitable for those who want a very common everyday understanding of basic Christian dogma.
The Screwtape Letters. In this text, Uncle Screwtape (an experienced, high-level devil) writes letters to his young and inexperienced devil nephew, Wormwood. The purpose of the letters is to instruct Wormwood on how his “patient,” a Christian man, can be tempted away from living a righteous existence. My favorite letter is number 23, where Wormwood has been losing ground, so Screwtape advises the youngster that instead of trying to remove spirituality, he must corrupt it. Letter number 12 is also notable, where Screwtape lays out the cardinal strategy of all tempters: to “separate man from the Enemy” (the Enemy from their standpoint is God).
Miracles. This is a thorough analysis of the possibility that supernatural events happen in the world. Although Lewis ends with that discussion, he first dives deep into the philosophical concepts of naturalism and supernaturalism and establishes a foundation that suggests miracles are the results of divine interventions in the natural world. I don’t know if the author intended to do so, but in the chapter “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism,” Lewis disproves evolution using human reason and rationality as evidence.
The Great Divorce. In this work of fiction, the narrator falls asleep and wakes up in hell (or so he later finds out). Eventually, he hops on a bus and then travels up to heaven. By talking to many ghosts (the dead) on his trip, the narrator begins to understand the characteristics that make a person earn a ticket to either place. The main theme can be summed up from a quote by one of the heavenly beings: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
The Problem of Pain. If God is so good, then why do bad things happen to people in general? This is the basic question that is answered in this book, although the answer is not tailored for specific people or situations. Lewis effectively answers this question by stepping away from the acute experience of grief, considering the lens used to view the suffering (man-centered or God-centered), analyzing its ultimate effects, and questioning whether all pain at all times are inherently malicious, evil, and counterproductive.
A Grief Observed. This is the most personal of all the books. In it, Lewis describes the untimely death of his wife and how this experience produced a tremendous amount of anger and grief, leading him to question his own convictions. In the end, his trials shook the foundations of his faith yet strengthened his relationship with God. Lewis recognizes the typical human responses to tragedy as expected and normal, and he draws the blueprints that allow the reader to navigate through the tough times.
The Abolition of Man. This book is about ethics. In one thought, all virtues and morality have an inherent objective and absolute validity; hence, once one attempts to manipulate, downgrade, or change these values, the irrevocable result would be doom. Accordingly, mankind’s abolition will come with the abandonment of said ethical guidelines, and when advances in science and education equip the human race to control its own nature—in essence, some humans making other humans into what they please, as they see fit. This book is by far the most forward looking of all the volumes, and the section describing mankind’s final age sounds very familiar to modern times.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal