Leaving Behind Dying Religion For A Living Christ

Our good friend C.S. Lewis is probably best known for his Chronicles of Narnia series. I know many religious and non-religious people who have enjoyed these books. The allegorical flow of the story is of course that a group of kids stumble about a new dimension of reality, they meet Aslan (the “God” character), and the unfolding Narnia story symbolizes different elements of the Christian story. Regardless of what one may or may not believe, the tales told by Lewis are enthralling.

There is another writer who has adopted a similar approach to Lewis, but has told the exact opposite story. Philip Pullman (also from England) wrote a series called His Dark Materials, in which he tells the inverse of the Chronicles of Narnia. Instead of children finding God, Pullman tells a metaphorical story of people leaving religion behind as fantasy.

*Spoiler Alert*

In Pullman’s final book, The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra, the two main characters, find The Authority (the “God” character). They set him free from his crystalline chamber, but he immediately dies on contact with the outside world because he is so frail.

Pullman’s metaphorical objection to religion, at least as I take it, is that religion can only survive through insulation and tedious maintenance. If religion came into contact with the real world, it would dissolve and cease to exist.

Regardless of what you may think of the quality of his writing or the motives behind his work, I think this thesis is something to be taken seriously. If a form of religion lacks the fortitude and resilience to handle contact with the real world, what good is it? After all, isn’t the heart behind religion that it has something good to offer the world?

If the primary attitude of any religious movement is to build fences and walls to shelter its adherents, how could this religious movement ever be of benefit to the world? Oddly enough, Pullman’s first book of the series (The Golden Compass) was made into a movie and released in the United States in 2007. Without missing a beat, swarms of Christians protested and boycotted it. I never saw it, but I heard it was nothing like the book (don’t judge a book by its movie). Perhaps this knee-jerk reaction says something of the case Pullman makes.

Particularly in the Christian tradition, from which I come, I see the call of Jesus as a call on all people to be present within the world, to not fear contact with ideas and people who are different, to not feverishly try to retain cognitive certainty, to be okay with asking questions, learning to live within the questions, and preferring to have unanswered questions rather than unquestioned answers.

In Jesus, we see that God embraces people who are contrary to him. We see that God is not allergic to the world in its present state, but was willing to suffer and live within it alongside us. We see that God is not afraid of questions, but invites us to become inquirers. The God made known in Jesus shows the world that there is a way of seeing God that can live and breathe in the real world, and that we can follow this God as a new world quietly bursts forth in the middle of the old one, and that is Good News.