Listened to The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis with the kids on a roadtrip recently, and this section caught my ear, an interesting bit of reasoning and apologetics. Need to go back a couple of pages to supply some background first though.
The book is part of the Narnia series, of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wordrobe fame. Two children, accompanied by a Narnian creature, a Marsh-wiggle (read the book) are on a mission to rescue a prince (the Prince of Narnia), whom they have now found. He had been held captive by a witch (a different witch than the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe witch). After they find the prince, the witch makes her appearance, and is trying to beguile them into disbelieving their mission. In fact, she is trying to convince them that their understanding of reality is completely wrong.
The witch has enchanted the company into a stuperous state with song and magic incense. She is trying to convince them they have made up everything they think is true, including the world they have come from (“Overworld”, the witch’s realm is underground). As they struggle to perceive reality, they grasp at memories of their world and mention things they “know” to be real, like the sun:
“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldy and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.” “Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch… “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this *sun* must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your *sun* is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the *sun* is but a tale, a children’s story.” “Yes, I see now,” said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone, “It must be so.”
The group is obviously falling for the witch’s deceit. The children’s companion Puddleglum, the Marsh-wiggle, musters the strength to grasp at a fragment of reality. He brings to their minds a memory of Aslan, the lion symbolic of Jesus in the series:
“There’s Aslan,” he said. “Aslan?” said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. “What a pretty name! What does it mean?”
Ha, she knows very well what it means! As the group struggles to remember Aslan, the Witch continues to play her game of feigned ignorance and spreading of confusion through her lies:
“I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your *lion*, as you call it, then we did with your *sun*. 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 so called a *lion*. Well, ’tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger.”
Puddleglum comes through again though. He quenches the enchanting fire with his bare feet, and then makes the following statement (this is the money paragraph):
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. 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 pit of akingdom 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, if these two gentlemen and the yong lady are ready, 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.”
At which point the spell is broken in a dramatic fashion.
It seems like the story offered here is trying to take two approaches for reasoning towards belief. First, it is worth believing even if it is not true, because life is so much better that way. Belief has benefits apart from whether or not the belief is accurate. Second, living as though something were true can actually lead to real belief that it is true. What starts as a way of life can become a belief. In the end it is Puddleglum’s act of faith itself which enables them to escape the doom of unbelief and life imprisoned in Underworld. It just takes faith.
Pascal’s Wager states that “a person should wager as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.” (from wikipedia). Win-win, right? Even if Aslan does not exist, you spent your life with such high aspirations and hopes that there wasn’t anything to lose. And look what you stand to gain.
But is that a valid way of thinking in the modern world where, by the very nature of living in this age, we reason and understand things based on evidence, not just feelings and intuitions alone?
It just sounds too much to me like the statement, “just have faith,” which I have heard too many times. Maybe that is my conservative Christian background, tending towards seeing things in black and white. Or my rejection of conservative Christianity which makes it hard to see the good in Lewis’ story because I view it as a fundamentalist exhortation rather than a lovely liberal story. Regardless, I need another way, one that looks at evidence as well as benefits and wagers. Or maybe I’m in the grip of a dark power; drugged, deceived, confused, hopeless to choose my own way… Where have I heard that story before?