God in the Dock
I’m continuing to dig into C.S. Lewis’s fascination with and reconciliation between Christianity and paganism, as it informs my writing and my heart. If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here: Myth Made Fact
Lewis detailed his spiritual struggle in his autobiography, but one of his classic later writings, God in the Dock, is a series of essays intended as a defense of Christianity. (The “dock” is a British term for the place in a courtroom where the accused sits during trial.) One of my favorite of these essays is entitled “Myth Became Fact.”
Lewis had an atheist friend who asked why he did not “cut the cord” with all the elements that Christianity had in common with mythology, telling Lewis that his faith would be easier, less embarrassing, perhaps, if he could rid himself of the outdated trappings.
Lewis answered that it is, in part, because the mythical elements are the elements of our faith that are most vital and nourishing. Even if Christianity were myth, he says, “The myth… has outlived the thoughts of all its defenders and of all its adversaries. It is the myth that gives life.” Those elements his friend considered vestigial are the substance, Lewis says. “What he takes for the ‘real modern belief’ is the shadow.”
Myth allows us to experience abstractions concretely. We are thinking about the story, but also experiencing the story at the same time. Myth is not wholly abstract, like truth, but it is not wholly concrete, like direct experience. It helps us both experience our humanity and understand it at the same moment.
This connection with what he often calls the “numinous” – that compelling draw toward Someone Other and outside of ourselves and just out of reach – is brought into our hearts through the myths and legends and fairy tales of childhood, until it finds fulfillment in The One True Story.
More thoughts from Lewis that I love:
“The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences… By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle… To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all the myths.”
“Christians also need to be reminded… that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carried with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth… We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘Pagan Christs’: they ought to be there – it would be a stumbling block of they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic – and is not the sky itself a myth – shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each of us no less than the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.”
We’ll be looking more at these “parallels” and “Pagan Christs” in weeks to come, especially at the popular concepts of Joseph Campbell and his “masks of God,” and asking ourselves whether all of these stories can, and must be, massed together into nothing more than a metaphor, or whether there is indeed a True Story.
Question: Do the parallels between mythology and the biblical narrative make you nervous?