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December 09, 2005

Till We Have Faces II

SPOILERS: Porlock Junior <http://porlockjr.blogspot.com/> shows up with the best comment--a comment on C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces that corrects my claim that Lewis makes his God deus absconditus:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Till We Have Faces...: Times have perhaps not changed so much as Auros thinks. Until recently (at least) people have occasionally shown up on alt.books.cs-lewis with questions about why some religious schools were banning The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. Possibly that trend has been weakening, but I don't know who's keeping good statistics. I'm much interested to see how this will play out as the movie comes out. I suspect that the "Ban the Lion" movement, which has always been marginal (Christians who don't like C. S. Lewis are a special breed, or rather several incompatible special breeds), will drag on, but with many conservative types now feeling freer to treat them with scorn.

As to faith versus reason, there's an aspect of Till We Have Faces that everyone seems to have missed, though it struck me strongly because of my deeply ingrained rationalism.

(Alert: I am writing this without any regard for spoilers.) It's true that the god is invisible, and so is his palace and all. Psyche is obviously crazy and hallucinating. Her sister, who is telling the tale (and by the way is not malicious in this version, but loves Psyche more than anyone else does), is wrong about this, we know; but who is to say that she's wrong? She is following the evidence and reason; and yet, by the nature of the story, she must be wrong in more than a casual and accidental way--tragic flaws and all that, you know.

Is she to abandon all sense without even some mystical ecstatic experience to lead her to mystical conclusions? Just follow the superstitions of the priests? (Malicious priestesses in this case, who condemned Psyche to be abadoned to the Monster because they hated her.) Sure, if you believe that Lewis wanted all reason abandoned in favor of blind faith in priests' tales. But since he plainly did not, what's up?

Well, actually, Psyche, who is living in the wild with no food, no shelter, and next to no clothing on top of a mountain, is in extraordinary good health and more beautiful than ever.(1) Her sister notices this, but, Watson-like, fails to draw any conclusion, such as, Somehing is bloody well wrong here! The evidence that her neat logical story (Psyche's madness) does not explain everything is staring her in the face; reason demands trying another hypothesis; but she never sees it. It costs her, even more than it costs Psyche.

(1) About that pro-beauty bias; take it up with the evolutionists. Even the evolutionary psychology folks aren't wrong 100% of the time, and outside of 19th-century perversions about dying romantically of consumption, there have been strong correlations between health and beauty.

Sorry that's so long. I was going to scribble something last night about this, but got lazy. Then the comments thread got me going, and I couldn't stop.

Very remarkable book, anyway. The second time I read it, I was amazed at how much good stuff Lewis had put in since my first reading, considering he'd been dead for 20-30 years.

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2005 11:01 AM