Monday, June 20, 2016

"No longer a friend of Narnia"

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.” 

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’” 

“Oh, Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly site too keen on being grown-up.” 
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

From "The Last Battle" by C.S. Lewis
I'm going to assume you know the context of the passage quoted above. If you don't, you really should read all of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books. Yes, all of them. You'll find this baffling exchange in the final volume, but it won't make much sense unless you've read the others.

The question this passage poses to the reader is how Susan Pevensie, who lived for many years as Queen of Narnia ("Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia") in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and returned again to Narnia in Prince Caspian, who was there when Aslan was killed by the White Witch, and who was one of only two witnesses to his resurrection, who spoke to Aslan in private at the end of Prince Caspian, how she could come to believe all that was merely "funny games"?

In the context of the Narnia stories, this change of heart is utterly inconceivable. It should be impossible for someone who has been through all that to reject it as fantasy. And yet, Susan apparently does.

I've read that Lewis did not think that this passage from The Last Battle was the end of the story for Susan, but that her journey beyond this point was an adult one, and not one that he wanted to cover in a children's book. But he never told anyone the actual story he had in mind, or if he ever developed it.

Of course, the allegory in the Narnia stories is well documented, and its easy to jump to conclusions of the meaning of this passage. "No longer a friend of Narnia" is analogous for 'no longer a Christian', right? Hmmm. Would that it were so simple. I think Lewis is quite clear that Narnia is somewhat akin to the faith of a child, and at the end of The Last Battle, Aslan leads the characters in the story from Narnia into something bigger that transcends it, and characters from our world into something bigger that transcends it. Something more grown up. All the characters in the book go beyond an attachment to Narnia, not just Susan, its just that she takes a different path.

I suppose it is telling that Susan is never described as "no longer a friend of Aslan". That would be something different. Did Susan lose faith in Aslan? I guess if she thought that all the adventures in Narnia were simply "funny games" then maybe she did. Maybe she never did learn to find Aslan by the 'different name' that he has in our world.

But the question remains, how could someone who has experienced Narnia in all its wonder, come to view it all as a fiction? Or rather, if I can turn this into the real question that I am really addressing, how can someone who has experienced the reality of the Christian life, who has felt the power of the Holy Spirit, who has had a personal relationship with Jesus, how can such a person come to view all that as fiction?

The reality is that this happens all the time. People who were real Christians lose faith and turn away from the Church. I've listened to and read quite a lot of interviews with ex-Christians recently, it happens again and again. To understand the issue I think we have to consider the three basic possibilities:
  1. Option 1 is that Christianity is true and these people were once real Christians who believed in and experienced the real thing. 
  2. Option 2 is that Christianity is true, but these people never really experienced the real thing. They only ever had a fake faith, and never tasted the real thing.
  3. Option 3 is that Christianity is not true, and these people once believed it, but came to see that their beliefs didn't square with reality.
People who abandon their faith generally come to see the world as though Option 3 is the truth. Its certainly where I find myself these days.

Christians who see their friends and family leave the faith generally end up believing Option 2 - its so much easier to believe that than Option 1. For a Christian to believe Option 1, they have to invoke the devil and lots of deception going on. But believing Option 1 also entails lots of concern that the same could happen to the believer, so they must remain vigilant to the attacks of the evil one, and not ever consider any evidence that suggests that Option 3 might be true. For the believer, Option 2 is a place of security, because of course, every believer believes that their own faith is real, not fake.

In the context of the Narnia stories, Susan falls into category 1. Narnia was real to her, and somehow she has been deluded into thinking that it was all just nonsense. Even in the fictional world of Lewis's books, where animals can talk, I find that hard to believe.

But in the real world, where am I? I once believed in Christianity. From my point of view, it was a real faith, and just as real as Christianity is for everyone who still believes. I'm now of the opinion that Option 3 is the truth. Christianity is not, and never has been true. Either I'm right, or I'm deceived. Part of me still holds that as a small possibility, but on the whole I think I need to dismiss that, as it raises far more questions than ever it answers.

So am I no longer a friend of Narnia? I guess so. But I still do love the stories as the fiction they are.

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