Asaf Bartov (ijon) wrote,
Asaf Bartov

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C. S. Lewis on Faith

As a child, I hadn't even heard of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. I am catching up on that these days (very slowly, reading one book (out of the complete seven) every six months or so, amid all kinds of other reading).

I am now reading The Silver Chair, and as a grown-up I cannot ignore the strong Christian allegory that runs throughout the series. It is quite obvious to a reader familiar with the basic Christian myths. But C. S. Lewis has a way with words, and his allegory is usually gentle enough not to annoy me. Lewis's prose is kind, loving, sympathetic; his personal character rather shines through the text.

Every now and then, though, Lewis is quite obviously aiming to tackle an anti-Christian or anti-religious argument, and offers counter arguments woven into the matter of the story. I quote a brief speech made by the wonderful Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum. The context is this: the protagonists are trapped underground in the evil witch's domain, and she is enchanting them into forgetfulness and suggests to them that the sun, the trees, and indeed Aslan himself (a Godlike, Christlike figure) are all figments of their imagination. The crux of her argument is this:
"You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say the truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world."
Puddleglum, after burning his foot stomping out the witch's magical incense and regaining some clarity of thought, says:
"All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. [...] So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things -- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black put of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper [...] we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
I think this is characteristic of the sort of Christian content Lewis infused the Narnia books with. But this particular argument is more about any faith than it is about Christianity, and it offers what I might call "the believer's position", in those inspired last lines of Puddleglum, against the rational arguments against religion, and in particular the argument echoed in the witch's criticism of the protagonists' world as being magnified reflections of the world they currently undeniably all exist in, i.e. her underground cave, namely the argument that a human-like god, with whims and jealousy and pettiness and cruelty, is a ridiculous extrapolation of human nature on a supposedly omniscient omnipotent entity.

Puddleglum's stand, his defiant choice of believing despite his inability to prove his belief, to enlist facts to his aid, to rationalize his choice, ties in neatly with another book I'm reading now, Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, where Kierkegaard describes as absurd the religious man's decision to accept faith, to believe in the absolute (or the divine) without proof or rational reason to believe it. Great stuff. I'll write more about my impression of Kierkegaard when I have read more of the book.

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