C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
“Oh–oh–oh!” sobbed Mr. Tumnus, I’m crying because I’m such a bad Faun.”
“I don’t think you’re a bad Faun at all,” said Lucy. I think you are a very good Faun. You are the nicest Faun I’ve ever met.”
“Oh–oh–you wouldn’t say that if you knew,” replied Mr. Tumnus between his sobs. No I’m a bad Faun. I don’t suppose there was ever a worse Faun since the beginning of the world.”
–The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
I don’t know if you’ve ever read this passage and really given thought to how out of place the very idea of it is in today’s popular culture. Mr. Tumnus has just run flat into the reality of who he is and the moral implications of what he was at that moment trying to do to Lucy. Why do I call it “out of place”? For the simple reason that Tumnus was willing to grasp the full meaning of his actions, and let himself be affected by them. He was willing to take responsibility for what he had done and admit he was wrong. That is becoming a rare thing in a world where we are more inclined to coddle sin and explain it away than to own up to it.
Perhaps it is because I’ve spent the last ten years of my life wrapped up in higher education that this seems to be especially evident to me. I’ve been dealing with the generation (not so far removed from my own) where “everyone gets a trophy” and the idea of “promoting self-esteem” was paramount in school. Since I began teaching in the summer of 2001, I’ve seen a notable change in the attitudes of students, and I think that change is but a reflection of a much larger societal trend: It’s never “my” fault! The problem is that self-esteem, at least as defined by our culture, rarely survives its first real encounter with truth.
People today seem loathe to admit that anything bad that happens to them could ever be of their own doing. To a large extent, that tendency has been around for a very long time; dogs have been eating homework for many years now. What seems to be different now is that society as a whole previously condemned the idea and part of the educational process was designed to press those sorts of sentiments out of students. In the last few decades, the system as a whole seems not only to accept that behavior but to promote it.
This is one reason why Christianity is facing increasing opposition in a culture where no one can ever suggest that anyone else is ever wrong about anything. The central point underlying the idea of the crucifixion and resurrection is that human beings are, in fact, mortally flawed and therefore in need of salvation. In fact, many of us are patently evil. I must be brought to the point where I can admit that there is something wrong with me before Christ’s sacrifice can actually be appreciated. Before then, it simply makes no sense.*
Our inability to admit error is sad, and not only in a spiritual sense, because all education truly begins with the admission of weakness and ignorance. I seek out education because there is something that I do not know–some of the answers I think I already have might be disproved by the introduction of new information. If I don’t think that is so, why should I make an effort to learn anything at all? That is one reason why, for so many students in all stages of education, the process has become pointless and trite. It is something to resent, since it distracts them from more important things. After all, it is impossible to teach a customer, once the customer realizes that he/she is always right!
And that brings us back to the very inspiring–and frightening–example of Mr. Tumnus. He reacted as only an honest Faun could to what he realized he had become. While he may have seemed weak to some today, it takes a very powerful personality to realize the depth of his own depravity and ignorance and not turn away from it in denial. We must do the same, even if it hurts, and encourage others to follow us. We may not like what we see in the short run, but it is our only hope if we wish to avoid falling prey to laughable delusions of self-grandeur.
*I would argue, though, that many of the vociferous denials we see in popular culture of the idea of sin really mask a deeper psychosis. People are innately conscious of their sins, and they feel weight of them. I know I do mine. That is why we are so quick to denounce them and the people who remind us of their reality. If we ignore them, perhaps they will go away!
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.