“The mythology I believe in is not the one I like best.”

A bit of C. S. Lewis for your consideration.

If Christianity is only a mythology, then I find the mythology I believe in is not the one I like best. I like Greek mythology much better, Irish better still, Norse best of all.

I am not, of course, maintaining that Theology, even before you believe it, is totally bare of aesthetic value. But I do not find it superior in this respect to most of its rivals. Consider for a few moments the enormous aesthetic claim of its chief contemporary rival — what we may loosely call the Scientific outlook , the picture of Mr. Wells and the rest. Supposing this to be a myth, is it not one of the finest myths which human imagination has yet produced?  The play is preceded by the most austere of all preludes: the infinite void, and matter restlessly moving to bring
forth it knows not what. Then, by the millionth millionth chance — what tragic irony — the conditions at one point of space and time bubble up into that tiny fermentation which is the beginning of life. Everything seems to be against the infant hero of our drama— just as everything seems against the youngest son or ill-used stepdaughter at the opening of a fairy-tale.  But life somehow wins

through. With infinite suffering, against all but insuperable obstacles, it spreads, it breeds, it complicates itself, from the amoeba up to the plant, up to the reptile, up to the mammal. We glance briefly at the age of monsters. Dragons prowl the earth, devour one another, and die. Then comes the theme of the younger son and the ugly duckling once more. As the weak, tiny spark of life began amidst the huge hostilities of the inanimate, so now again, amidst the beasts that are far larger and stronger than he, there comes forth a little naked, shivering, cowering creature, shuffling,
not yet erect, promising nothing, the product of another millionth millionth chance. yet somehow he thrives.  He becomes the Cave man with his club and his flints, muttering and growling over his enemies’ bones, dragging his screaming mate by her hair (I never could quite make out why), tearing his children to pieces in fierce
jealousy till one of them is old enough to tear him, cowering before the horrible gods whom he created in his own image. But these are only growing pains.  Wait till the next act. There he is becoming true man. he learns to master nature. Science comes
and dissipates the superstitions of his infancy.   More and more he becomes the controller of his own fate. Passing hastily over the present (for it is a mere nothing by the time scale we are using), you follow him on into the future. See him in the last act, though not the last scene, of this great mystery. a race of demigods now rules the planet — and perhaps more than the planet — for eugenics have made certain that only demigods will be born, and psychoanalysis that none of them shall lose or smirch his divinity, and communism that all which divinity requires shall be ready
to their hands.  Man has ascended his throne.  Henceforward he has nothing to do but to practice virtue, to grow wisdom, to be happy.  And now, mark the final stroke of genius. If the myth stopped at that point, it might be a little bathetic. It would lack the  highest grandeur of which human imagination is capable. The last scene reverses all.  We have the Twilight of the gods.  All this time, silently, unceasingly, out of all reach of human power, nature, the old enemy, has been steadily gnawing away. The sun will cool —all suns will cool — the whole universe will run down.  Life (every form of life) will be banished, without hope of return, from every inch of infinite space. All ends in nothingness, and “universal darkness covers all.” The pattern of the myth thus becomes one of the noblest we can conceive. It is the pattern of many Elizabethan tragedies, where the protagonist’s career can be represented by a slowly ascending and then rapidly falling curve, with its highest

point in act IV.  You see him climbing up and up, then blazing in his bright meridian, then finally overwhelmed in ruin.
Such a world drama appeals to every part of us. The early struggles of the hero (a theme delightfully doubled, played first by life, and then by man) appeal to our generosity. His future exaltation gives scope to a reasonable optimism, for the tragic close is so very distant that you need not often think of it — we work with millions of years. And the tragic close itself just gives that irony, that grandeur, which calls forth our defiance, and without which all the rest might cloy.  There is a beauty in this myth which well deserves better poetic handling than it has yet received; I hope
some great genius will yet crystallize it before the incessant stream of philosophic change carries it all away. I am speaking, of course, of the beauty it has whether you believe it or not.  There I can speak from experience, for I, who believe less than half of what it tells me about the past, and less than nothing of what it tells me about the future, am deeply moved when I contemplate it. The only other story — unless, indeed, it is an embodiment of the same story — which similarly moves me is the Nibelung’s Ring. Enden sah ich die Welt.
We cannot, therefore, turn down Theology, simply because it does not avoid being poetical. All world views yield poetry to those who believe them by the mere fact of being believed. and nearly all have certain poetical merits whether you believe them or not.  This is what we should expect.  Man is a poetical animal and touches nothing which he does not adorn.
–C. S. Lewis, from “Is Theology Poetry?”

8 thoughts on ““The mythology I believe in is not the one I like best.”

  1. Pingback: “The mythology I believe in is not the one I like best.” | @the_arv

  2. Lewis, with Christian charity, underestimated the power of ideology to make things ugly. Postmodern man is not poetical; he adorns nothing, but only banishes the beautiful along with the good and the true wherever he sets his ape-like foot.

    • I don’t believe Lewis missed this. (See, for example, The Abolition of Man) But Lewis’ calling was to speak to Beauty and seduce the post-Christian to Christianity, not to give a strict assessment of the close of Christendom.

  3. What Lewis tells us is that at one time liberals believed in the perfecting of Man… Believed in Man being next to God as His co-creator.

    What Dr. Bertonneau is telling us is that liberals, today, are self-annihilators. Mere thoughts of perfecting man are racist and evil. So, it is ugly now, absolutely.

    • While Man is imperfectible in this world, modern liberals definitively despise that civilisation that most closely approached such a state and seek its utter destruction at all costs, even as they benefit more than most from its lingering remaining capital.

  4. Pingback: “The mythology I believe in is not the one I like best.” – The Orthosphere – Earthpages.ca

  5. It’s perhaps an unfair comparison. The mythologies of dead religions have been reworked for dramatic effect and entertainment value. In movies about the Gospels, it is uncommon even to dare to make up dialog for Jesus. “Jesus Christ Superstar” only interpolated Christ’s words a little but was still something of a scandal in its day. If one wants artistic license with the Gospel, the best thing is to invent a new character, like in “Ben Hur” or “The Fourth Wise Man”. Or one could artistically rework stories of the saints. Not that this is a bad thing. Our reticence to embellish our sacred stories is to our credit. Athenian dramatists and Roman poets obviously didn’t feel restricted in the same way, so renditions of classical myths are often more fun to read than the Bible. With Norse mythology, the case is even clearer, since it comes down to us, arranged and no doubt subtly altered, by Christians.

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