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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Dynamics of Belief and Unbelief

I read a book by CS Lewis, "Till We Have Faces" that is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche as an exploration of the dynamics of faith. Every type of believer and non-believer is presented in this story.

I'm not good at reviewing so I'll just present a few excerpts here.

It is basically about an ugly princess (Orual) who is devastated when her beautiful step-sister (Psyche) is sacrificed to the shadowgod (aka Cupid) in order to bring an end to the plague. Orual grieves for her step-sister because she loved her very much, but her grief turns to anger when she finds out that Psyche didn't die. Psyche is living in the wilderness with her new husband that she cannot see (because he visits at night) and claims to live in a castle. Orual sees no evidence that the story is true, and Psyche's bliss enrages her more. So she blackmails Psyche to take a peak at Cupid and thus sends her into exile.

This is Orual's defense, which is the anguished cry of the atheist:
Now, you who read, judge between the gods and me. They gave me nothing in the world to love but Psyche and then took her from me. But that was not enough. They then brought me to her at such a place and time that it hung on my word whether she should continue in bliss or be cast out into misery. They would not tell me whether she was the bride of a god, or mad, or a brute's or villain's spoil. They would give me no clear sign, though I begged for it. I had to guess. And because I guessed wrong they punished me--what's worse, punished me through her. And even that was not enough; they have now sent out a lying story in which I was given no riddle to guess, but knew and saw that she was the god's bride, and of my own will I destroyed her, and that for jealousy...

I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable. But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blindman's buff, and mere jugglery? Why must holy places be dark places?

I say, therefore, that there is no creature (toad, scorpion, or serpent) so noxious to man as the gods. Let them answer my charge if they can. It may well be that, instead of answering, they'll strike me mad or leprous or turn me into beast, bird, or tree. But will not all the world then know (and the gods will know it knows) that this is because they have no answer?


Later ugly Orual has a horrifying thought:
A terrible sheer thought, huge as a cliff, towered up before me, infinitely likely to be true. No man will love you, though you gave your life for him, unless you have a pretty face. So (might it not be?), the gods will not love you (however you try to pleasure them, and whatever you suffer) unless you have that beauty of soul. In either race, for the love of men or the love of a god, the winners and losers are marked out from birth. We bring our ugliness, in both kinds, with us into the world, with it our destiny. How bitter this was, every ill-favoured woman will know. We have all had our dream of some other land, some other world, some other way of giving the prizes which would bring us in as the conquerors; leave the smooth, rounded limbs, and the little pink and white faces, and the hair like burnished gold, far behind; their day ended, and ours come. But how if it's not so at all? how if we were made to be dregs and refuse everwhere and everyway?

What does Orual learn? Read the book and find out.

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