Puddleglum’s Answer

(This is part of a longer column from some years ago, defending both Christian skepticism about placing faith in worldly things, and Christian hope in ultimate victory not through our own strength. I thought this section worth repeating)

There are those who call Christian faith a fairy tale. I assume such scoffers are not old and wise enough to believe in fairies.

To them, I give the answer of that most excellent marshwiggle and insightful theologian, Puddleglum: Suppose my account is a fairy tale. Your account is not even that.

Let us contrast and compare the Christian fairy tale with the tale told by witches both white and green, both modern and ancient.

One modern account of the world consists of little more than saying “Life is a bitch, and then you die, and in the end nobody lives happily ever after. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

Well, says I, if you actually believed your account, the wise thing to do is to swallow cold poison and jump into the sea: so the fact that you are still here hints that at some level you know your account is unsatisfactory: a poorly constructed story, pointless, plotless, and with a weak ending. It is not a tale at all, but a complaint.

Another account, this one with considerably more pedigree, says, “We are all just naked apes or meat machines: our souls are made of atoms blown together by the twelve winds with no more purpose and meaning than the shape of the sand dune: we are helpless and without free will, victims of blind evolutionary forces and blind historical forces. Atop the Holy Mountain no gods dance, and no burning bushes speak. Death is dreamless sleep and soft oblivion. Therefore let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

This is a poor story: a tale of despair, a myth to justify hedonism.

A nobler version of this same account says, “Man is a rational animal, capable of moral reasoning, creativity, productiveness, love. Man is heroic. Therefore let us live rationally working with mind and heart and soul to produce such works of art and science as befits so dignified a creature: let each man to live for himself alone, a paragon of self-reliance  each man in the solitary but invulnerable tower of his self-made soul, never demanding nor making any selfess sacrifice. Nor hopes nor fears of after-lives or nether-worlds need detain us: Therefore let us think, and work, and triumph, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

This is a poor story: vanity, vainglory, and blindness to the pain and misery of life. The pretense that bad things never happen for no reason to good people is a very thin pretense: since the days of Job, we have all known better. This is a tale of vainglory.

A very ancient version of this account, perhaps the most ancient, has a different ending, for it says, “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. When the world dies in fire, it shall be reborn from ashes, and all the pain and toil and travail, all the blood shed and tears wept, will all be shed anew, accomplishing nothing. The universe is a wheel of pain, and even the gods are nailed to its spokes like Ixion. To be born is to die, to die is to be born. Fate is all.”

This is too a poor story: all I will say of this account, whether one calls it Greek Ecpyrosis or Hindu Kali Yuga, or Cyclical Universe Theory, is that it is different in name, not in substance, from the Tale of Despair given above.  The defeat is as absolute as if the nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold is already come, and a cyclical changelessness worse than death already has us in its claws.

This is a tale of supine despair more despairing than the tale of despair given above, which at least promised finite rather than infinite misery.

A more noble version of this same ancient account: “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. The universe is a wheel of pain. The pain is caused by attachment to desire, and desire is caused by thought, and thought is caused by self.  By means of strict discipline and stern patience, patience longer than many lifetimes, I will learn to detach myself from all thought and therefore from all pain, and enter into a state of perfect nonthinking nonbeing, where I will neither sin nor suffer Karmic punishment for sin. By self-extinction I escape the wheel of pain.”

This is a poor story: I will say of this account that is has all the drawbacks of the despair of the belief in the Eternal Return given above, but it also has the vanity and vainglory of pretending men can improve themselves into perfection and prelapsarian sinlessness by discipline and meditation. The attempt to achieve bliss by means of pure selflessness is as untrustworthy a daydream as the attempt to achieve bliss via worldly satisfaction with the world by means of pure selfishness.

In sum, the accounts of life outside my so-called fairy tale are heedless hedonism, despairing resignation, vainglorious selfishness, supine despair, or vainglorious selflessness.

None are anything a decent man would say to the mother weeping over her child’s untimely grave.

None are fit for human beings to live by.

None describe life.

None are philosophically edifying, morally encouraging, scientifically true, or dramatically satisfying accounts of man’s place in the universe; whereas my so-called fairy tale is all of these and more.

I repeat Puddleglum’s answer:

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.

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