Make Believe

 

In his ever popular 1948 book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis,the Oxford professor and writer of imaginative fiction such as the Chronicals of Narnia makes a surprising comparison. A couple of chapters before the end, Lewis asks the reader to recall how, as a child, he or she may have imagined himself or herself as a grown up perhaps taking charge of something or of others -- whether it be boy pretending that the inside of a large packing case is a ship or an airplane, or a girl lining up her dolls and pretending she is a schoolmarm. Such play, said Lewis, is a necessary part of growing up. In it we try out roles that we might think about pursuing later after we grow up. And the role that we eventually settle on may very well turn out to be our call or vocation in life.

In the same way, Lewis suggests, the Christian Creeds function not so much as a mere list of beliefs to be memorized or adhered to, but rather as a guide or role model to be, as much as possible, imitated in our life. For example, in relating the basic doctrines about Jesus, how he lived and died "for us and our salvation", and especially how was he raised again to live a new kind of life with God, we are being told not just something he did for us, but are being bidden to do the same for each other. In other words, being a Christian is not so much believing a list of doctrines, but rather living in the footsteps of Jesus.

No doubt, some will suspect some kind of evasion in this. Might it not be a sly way of suggesting that it really isn't very important if Jesus actually rose from the dead as long as we try to live our life as he did. But this is not what Lewis is saying. If in fact, Jesus was not really raised, then we are all fools to try to walk in his footsteps. The reason is that to be a Christian is not a call to be a "nice" or decent person, or even just to be a generous one. Anyone of good will and determination can probably do thatand in doing so, leave good memories behind.

What Lewis talking about is something more radical. It is matter of human evolution, of developing a whole new species of human being. Though Lewis resisted using a pun, I can't. We've all probably heard of "homo erectus" by now, believed to be the earliest form of humanoid that habitually walked around on just two legs. Then there was "homo habilis" (the first primitive tool makers) and later the Neanderthals, the first to move into Europe after the ice age. And of course the scientific name for us modern humans is homo sapiens"which latter term is supposed to mean that we are fundamentally intelligent or wise.

All this is fine of course, except for one thing. All these early forms of human life are now long extinct. And science tells us that sooner or laterprobably sooner if we keep inventing weapons of mass destruction, or on the other hand, polluting and mismanaging the environment on which our life depends. Hopefully, we will be "sapiens" enough to prevent this from happening before our allotted time as species on planet earth runs out.

But what Lewis was talking about is a whole new kind of human, "homo resurrectus" if you will. Jesus is, according to the creeds, this sort of human. But it is not something he could do on his own. It was only in giving himself up totally to God, his heavenly Fatheras well as oursthat he was able to rise again to this new kind of divinely human life. And this is why knowing our creeds and pretending we are Jesus is so important, for it is, as St. Paul tells us, only if we imitate him in dying to ourselves, that we can rise into this new resurrected and eternal life. And of course, the bottom line is, as St.Paul also told us, that if Jesus really didn't rise, then we are all self-deluded fools.

Some may ask, of course, why it wouldn't be enough to live one's life for others, even if one does not know Jesus or consciously imitate him. Wouldn't this be enough? In fact, the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council, which was held some years after Lewis's death, did recognize this possibility. But the question remains: what sure way is there except in following his example by imagining we are him and doing as much possible, what he would have us do?

 

R W Kropf 9/12/06

 

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