Puddleglum the Prophet

I woke up today feeling like a marshwiggle. If you don’t understand that just read The Silver  Chair  by C. S. Lewis. I’ve read this book several times and just finished reading it to my kids (again). These creatures are gloom and pessimism personified. Today that’s me. Dealing with the stress and drain of a chaotic Sunday has left me as grey and dreary as the overcast sky outside. As I was getting ready to face the work of the day the thought got me, as it does from time to time, that everything I believe is simply a mental construct and not grounded in reality. You may never have this doubt hit you but I am not so fortunate. From time to time I hear the voice in my head saying, “You’re wrong.”

What if the world is not as I perceive it and God does not really exist. What if I am creating an entire world in my mind and projecting it on reality. (And yes I believe I’m capable of this). This is a terrible spiral to descend, to me it feels like the mental equivalent of being repeatedly sucked into a whirlpool, and sometimes I spend long periods of time in it. But today that didn’t happen, because like I said I felt like a marshwiggle. Those cold, rationale, sober creatures.

I no more had the thought that maybe my world is a false reality than realized that if that is true then many (even all) human narratives are mental constructs and not grounded in reality. And suddenly I found myself thinking like a marshwiggle.

Toward the end of The Silver Chair Puddleglum the marshwiggle is with two children and a prince, trapped in the witch’s castle. As the witch is trying to convince the heroes their world doesn’t exist (a stand in for an atheist arguing with a Christian), the brave marshwiggle Puddleglum makes a profound statement.

 “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 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, if these two gentlemen and the young 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.”

As I read this to my kids a couple weeks ago the phrase that hit me was , “Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. ” And that phrase returned this morning though (somewhat lamentably) not in the marshwiggle’s voice. Today, it was my own realization that if indeed my vision of reality is entirely my own it is a good deal more important than the alternatives. The love, grace, forgiveness, and purpose provided by the system to which I attempt to adhere is far better for the world than any of the alternatives.

Important is a good word, my system is not worth maintaining because it leads to a rosy life; this is Lewis’ point in putting these words in the marshwiggle’s mouth. The Christian life is “important” in that it (at the very least) provides a goal for humanity which if accepted provides the highest human ideal. Again, as Lewis says elsewhere the Christian “myth” is among the worst myths ever written, but it has produced the most good. I was recently lecturing in a Western Civilization class where a student asked me if I believed Christianity had had civilizing impact on humanity. After everything I have read from scholars debating this issue I had to look at him and say, “Yes, because even the secular or atheist philosophers who had impacted the Western mindset have done so by interacting with the ideals of Christianity.” This is importance, the worldview of Christianity has help a civilizing force in the world and even where Christians are criticized in history it is for not holding to the Christian ideals and acting more like the un-Christianized peoples they were said to have replaced.

This all occurred to me with remarkable rapidity, and I was left stunned at how important the Christian mindset has been to the world. Did this immediately help me overcome the negative thoughts in my head, no. But, like the marshwiggle it seems that wandering around looking for the land of the sun and living like Aslan is coming gives one a far better life than living in the dark and dismal world of the witch. For today (at least for myself) I don’t need to take this argument any farther than my chosen outlook is better in a very real sense, because it is more important. Though I am sure some out there will retort, “that’s all well and good that your system works, however the real question is, what is true?” My answer is “yep” but that is a question for another day, today I needed a lift, and the lift is my system is more important. Though perhaps I will tackle that question next. For today i close with Relient K’s wonderful lyrics from The Truth,

“And sometimes when you’re trying to sleep
And all your doubts and your faith don’t agree
It’s cause sometimes the hardest thing to believe is the truth”

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