Friday 5 July 2013

A passage very important in my conversion to Christianity


From The Last Battle (the final volume of the Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

"I hope Tash ate the Dwarfs too," said Eustace. "Little swine."
    "No, he didn't," said Lucy. "And don't be horrid. Thery're still here. In fact you can see them from here. And I've tried and tried to make friends with them but it's no use."
    "Friends with them!" cried Eustace. "If you knew how those Dwarfs have been behaving!"
    "Oh stop it, Eustace," said Lucy. "Do come and see them. King Tirian, perhaps you could do something with them."
    "I can feel no great love for Dwarfs today," said Tirian. "Yet at your asking, Lady, I would do a greater thing than this." 

    Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren't strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn't see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.     "Look out!" said one of them in a surly voice. "Mind where you're going. Don't walk into our faces!"
    "All right!" said Eustace indignantly. "We're not blind. We've got eyes in our heads."
    "They must be darn good ones if you can see in here," said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
    "In where?" asked Edmund.
    "Why you bone-head, in here of course," said Diggle. "In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable."
    "Are you blind?" said Tirian.
    "Ain't we all blind in the dark!" said Diggle.
    "But it isn't dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs," said Lucy. "Can't you see? Look up! Look round! Can't you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can't you see me?"
    "How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain't there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?"
    "But I can see you," said Lucy. "I'll prove I can see you. You've got a pipe in your mouth."
    "Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that," said Diggle.     "Oh the poor things! This is dreadful," said Lucy. Then she had an idea. She stopped and picked some wild violets. "Listen, Dwarf," she said. "Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that?" She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle's ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.
    "None of that!" he shouted. "How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face? There was a thistle in it too. It's like your sauce! And who are you anyway?"
    "Earth-man," said Tirian, "she is the Queen Lucy, sent hither by Aslan out of the deep past. And it is for her sake alone that I, Tirian your lawful King, do not cut all your heads from your shoulders, proved and twice-proved traitors that you are."
    "Well if that doesn't beat everything!" exclaimed Diggle. "How can you go on talking all that rot? Your wonderful Lion didn't come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now - even now - when you've been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you're still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we're none of us shut up, and it ain't dark, and heaven knows what."
    "There is no black hole, save in your own fancy, fool," cried Tirian. "Come out of it." And, leaning forward, he caught Diggle by the belt and the hood and swung him right out of the circle of Dwarfs. But the moment Tirian put him down, Diggle darted back to his place among the others, rubbing his nose and howling:
    "Ow! Ow! What d'you do that for! Banging my face against the wall. You've nearly broken my nose."
    "Oh dear!" said Lucy, "What are we to do for them?"
    "Let 'em alone," said Eustace: but as he spoke the earth trembled. The sweet air grew suddenly sweeter. A brightness flashed behind them. All turned. Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart's desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself, and already the others were kneeling in a circle round his forepaws and burying their hands and faces in his mane as he stooped his great head to touch them with his tongue. Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion's feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, "Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour."
    "Aslan," said Lucy through her tears, "could you - will you - do something for these poor Dwarfs?"
    "Dearest," said Aslan, "I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do." He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, "Hear that? That's the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don't take any notice. They won't take us in again!"
    Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs' knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn't much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn't taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had a bit of an old turnip and a third said he'd found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said "Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey's been at! Never thought we'd come to this." But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
    "Well, at any rate there's no Humbug here. We haven't let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs."
    "You see, " said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do."


I can distinctly remember reading this passage, lying on a bed at home - although I cannot date the event, it was probably in the summer of 2008.

By that point I was getting close to becoming a Christian; but finding that for every particular item of evidence there was an alternative explanation. Everything that could be explained meaningfully, purposefully, personally by Christianity - could also be explained as a product of accidental, contingent, mechanical process. Every insight could be interpreted as a delusion.

I was, in short, behaving just like the Dwarfs - and, like the Dwarfs, was feeling smugly satisfied by my own skepticism.

And then I saw the self-destructive futility of living my life in this way. I could be living in a universe of purpose, meaning and relation - and yet I could all the time be stoutly maintaining that all of this apparent purpose, meaning, relation - truth, beauty, virtue - was an illusion, a cruel trick of chance...

What would be the point of going through life behaving like that, seeing things in that kind of way? Yet that was exactly what I had been doing for decades...


1 comment:

Samson J. said...

Everything that could be explained meaningfully, purposefully, personally by Christianity - could also be explained as a product of accidental, contingent, mechanical process. Every insight could be interpreted as a delusion.

I was, in short, behaving just like the Dwarfs - and, like the Dwarfs, was feeling smugly satisfied by my own skepticism.

Yes. The fact that this is *exactly* how atheists behave has been, and continues to be, an important buoy to *my* faith. It's so patently obvious that they are rationalizing; and what is particularly striking is that they all do it in exactly the same way - there *has* to be something in it.

When I was young I found The Last Battle to be the most peculiarly terrifying of the Narnia books, for various reasons. It's not just the awkward finality of the ending; the entire setting, the devious and creepy Ape, the quasi-Middle Eastern characters - they're all quite outlandish and frankly scary.