Lewis and the “Nasty People”

Mere ChristianityA few days ago I was reflecting on the place of the (Christian) seeker in the midst of other Christians who may no longer really be seeking much of anything (at least in some existential way). This is not to question orthodoxy and orthopraxy; it is simply to assert that event amongst believers, dispositions differ in significant but often easily-ignored ways.

I finally finished my “Advent” rereading of Lewis’s Mere Christianity (before Ash Wednesday, so I don’t feel too bad). It held up much better than the last time I read it, particularly the ending. And I found something there that could also speak to that disposition all difference. It comes in a passage about “the nasty people,” which is such an odd descriptor. These “nasty people” are juxtaposed to the “nice people,” who all too easily fit well into the church because of simple and natural social And yet . . . From the chapter titled “Nice People or New Men “:

It is very different for the nasty people— the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following— or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find them. They are (in one very real and terrible sense) the ‘poor’: He blessed them. They are the ‘awful set’ He goes about with— and of course the Pharisees say still, as they have said from the first, “If there was anything in Christianity those people would not be Christians.

I think most of us, at least those who view themselves as relatively well-adjusted, would reluctantly qualify themselves as Christians of the “nice” kind.  Faith might be a big step, but once that leap is made, the life of the “parish” is an easy one, a real kind of fraternity. But for others, for reasons various and sundry, a number of us might feel on the outside, even if only for finite chunks of time or during particular stages in life.  We’re a little “warped,” a little lonely, uneasy in our own skin, a little too far out to ever feel on the “inside.”  For some of us, that can be as much about culture as it is about disposition.  Lewis goes on about “nice” people.

. . . But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world— and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. 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 perhaps a small leap, but it’s one that makes all of the difference.  “Nasty,” of course, isn’t something to aim for, just like “nice” isn’t the final word you want said about yourselves and your faith (all too “Church Lady,” I think).  And while “nasty” may not completely line up with my previous posts about life in the church, I think it’s a step in a good and right direction.

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I’m hoping to get back to some more thoughts from Walker Percy before week’s end.  I also hope to take a quick detour to Lent and the liturgical calendar.

(image from amazon.com)

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