Not a tame lion

Wandering around the web recently, I found Prisoner of Narnia, an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker from 2005. It’s about the life of C.S. Lewis, and the enduring attraction of the Narnia books.

The link to the article came from Daylight Atheism, where they liked this bit:

A startling thing in Lewis’s letters to other believers is how much energy and practical advice is dispensed about how to keep your belief going: they are constantly writing to each other about the state of their beliefs, as chronic sinus sufferers might write to each other about the state of their noses. Keep your belief going, no matter what it takes — the thought not occurring that a belief that needs this much work to believe in isn’t really a belief but a very strong desire to believe.

It’s that belief in belief thing again. This has also come up in my sporadic discussion with apdraper2000, where he’s asking why I spend so much time blogging about theism. If you want to know what my motivation is, you can read the thread.

Of course, any Christian worth their salt would be able to you that the reason it’s so hard to keep believing in the existence of God as compared to say, believing in the existence of atoms, is because the world is currently a hostile place, where the believer is a footsoldier in a cosmic battle, facing the flaming arrows of Original Sin, Satan, Dust, the BBC’s blatant bias, the Patriarchy, the Illuminati, New Labour, Zionists, and Communists. Let us waste no more time on the naive idea that if you keep having to shore up your belief in something, it just might be because you’re wrong.

Rather, it’s the article’s insight into Lewis’s psyche which is interesting. Gopnik portrays Lewis as a mystic who saw Christianity as a way to keep the magic, the joy of life, real. I was reminded of Jesus in John’s gospel, promising life in all its fullness.

Cardinal Manning agonized over eating too much cake, and was eventually drawn to the Church of Rome to keep himself from doing it again. Lewis didn’t embrace Christianity because he had eaten too much cake; he embraced it because he thought that it would keep the cake coming, that the Anglican Church was God’s own bakery. “The story of Christ is simply a true myth,” he says he discovered that night, “a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”

It sounds like Lewis might have agreed with my contention that scriptural religion is lived fan-fiction, although, of course, he’d have said it was fan-truth.

Gopnik says that the believer and unbeliever can agree on the importance of imagination and stories as a way to reach the parts that both institutional Christianity and a narrow materialism do not reach. The final couple of paragraphs are particularly good, and we learn a lot about Lewis and Tolkien along they way. Definitely worth a read.

Edited: I changed “it just might be because it’s bollocks” to “it just might be because you’re wrong” after a Christian found the former form offensive. I’m recording that here so it doesn’t look like I’m hiding something.

7 Comments on "Not a tame lion"

  1. I’m not a C. S. Lewis fan, but I do like what he tries to do with Narnia. I think you’ve made a very interesting point, and I think the choice you’re outlining, of reasons to be Christian, is the choice between Christian “hedonism” and Christian “stoicism”.


  2. Subject: Leaving Christianity behind
    Hi Paul

    I came across your post on Losing My Religion: thoughts on leaving christianity. I made this decision two weeks ago and don’t regret it. Each day I’m reminded by the way my christian friends have now begun to treat me (even in meaning well) that faith in faith is a strange and corrosive thing. So much of what you’ve said in that post resonate with what’s been on my mind and why I no longer am a part of christianity in any form. You’ve probably been asked this before since you’ve been blogging for years, but how did your leaving the church impact your relationship with the christian friends you’d made there? Did you eventually have to let go of even the closest friendships you once had with some of them?


    1. Subject: Re: Leaving Christianity behind
      I’m sorry that Christians are treating you badly because of your decision to leave Christianity. I can’t apologize on behalf of all Christians (a lot of them wouldn’t count me as “saved”/legit anyway), but I still think being treated badly by friends really sucks.

      Sometimes Christians need to be reminded that shaking dust from feet works both ways 🙂


    2. Subject: Re: Leaving Christianity behind
      Hello Ness,

      I don’t think anyone has asked me your question in years of blogging (I feel old). It’s an interesting one.

      When I was a Christian, I found it easier to make friends outside the church, some of whom turned out to be Christians, than to make friends from church. I don’t think my church was particularly unfriendly, but I’ve seen other Christians say similar things (after all, if you’re a Christian, you’re supposed to love other Christians, not necessarily like them :-). I don’t know what it’s like in South Africa, but in the UK, a lot of people vaguely describe themselves as Church of England (the established Anglican church here) but they never read the Bible and only go to church for weddings, christenings (though those are getting rarer) and funerals. Evangelicals like I was would say those people weren’t Christians. So being an atheist isn’t a problem socially, as I’ve heard it can be in some parts of the USA.

      I suppose I withdrew from some Christian friends around the time I stopped going to church. This was well over a year before I’d publicly call myself an atheist (it’s worth taking your time over these things). At that point I only knew I couldn’t take stand church any more and had to get out. Looking back, I was sort of embarrassed with myself for not believing enough any more, as I was known as a Christian to my friends (and on the net, a bit). I was also uncertain about what I actually did believe, and didn’t know how I’d respond to questions about why I wasn’t going to church. I’ve got back in touch with some of them, lost touch with others, but I wouldn’t say that was them being disgusted with atheists. Friendships change all the time based on circumstances, and I can’t blame people I don’t see any more (because I don’t do Christian stuff) if they find it easier to maintain friendships with other Christians. I find it hard enough keeping up with people who persistently refuse to join Facebook.

      I’ve also made friends with Christians since then, and I don’t think they’re all in it to convert me 🙂

      There was one major consequence for my relationships. I had a Christian girlfriend at the time, who split up with me about a year after I stopped going to church. We broke up partly because she wanted to be with someone who would support her faith. We’d been together for 3.5 years, so the breakup was just about the most emotionally wrenching thing that’s ever happened to me, but looking back now, I can see that it was for the best. She was right to say that an evangelical probably won’t be happy in a relationship with an atheist; I wouldn’t have married my wife otherwise; plus the people asking why it ended meant I finally had to “come out” as an atheist. My ex wanted to be friends but it was too soon for me. I ended up driving her away as I was unforgivably bitter towards her, so we’ve not been back in touch, unfortunately. I do wish I’d been more grown-up about it in retrospect, but we all end up wearing the diaper sometimes, I suppose. Still, I don’t recommend being bitter. It leads to the dark side.

      Your post makes it sound as if the Christians you know aren’t reacting well to it. I hope some of them experience what Ebon calls flickers of conscience despite, if not because of, their Christianity.


      1. Subject: Re: Leaving Christianity behind
        Hey paul

        Thanks for replying to my question. I think things are different in South Africa – we have a pretty ‘humane’ constitution but most people are really conservative. The evangelical churches here are pretty huge (the one I went to claims 2000^ but from what I’ve heard, that’s really inflating it) and have international connections, so people are always meeting new Christians and Christians from other countries. It’s pretty hard NOT to meet a Christian around every corner, although of course the definition of what a Christian is, is debatable amongst them themselves. At work, at least, I was the only evangelical christian.
        Of course, I suppose it’s different if you have friends outside of the church who you see on a more regular basis than those within it. I have non-Christian friends but we don’t have the chance to see one another regularly, so church for me was the place where I spent most of my time, so grew close to christian friends there.
        It’s true that people I know aren’t reacting well to it, but I don’t know so much if it’s a problem of conscience so much as them truly never having asked any of these questions before, themselves, out of ignorance and being comfortable in their lives. No one has ‘disowned’ me yet, though their illogical reactions are sign enough to me that they don’t even know enough about their own beliefs to even challenge my decision rationally. And that’s the real pity.


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