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C.S. Lewis and the Crucifixion Myth

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 11 years and 331 days ago. Viewed 3,915 times. #2
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Originally written 4 March 2006

Way back in December I read Eric S. Raymond's essay on the failings of C.S. Lewis' book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This book is one which I read as a child, although the christian message embedded within completely missed me.

Mr. Raymond made some interesting points, and as I did not remember the actual text of the book, I decided to re-read it and see what I thought of his points.

The book clearly maps Aslan as the savior, and Aslan's sacrifice on the stone table is a clear re-telling of Christ on the cross. However Mr. Raymond says that since Aslan appears fearful on the way to the Stone Table, the entire premise of the sacrifice is invalidated:

n retrospect, Aslan's vaunted sadness on the way to the Stone Table is evidence of either (a) extreme cowardice, because he's boo-hooing even though he knows he's got a get-out-of-death-free card, or (b) an indication that he doesn't know in advance he'll survive. But (b) is ridiculous - he's certainly quick enough to explain his resurrection to the children afterwards, and does so in terms which pretty much exclude the possibility that he wasn't expecting it.

This I think is a failing in Mr. Raymond's logic. There is no indication that Aslan knew in advance that he had a get-out-of-death-free card, and doing a brave or noble thing in sacrificing yourself for the sake of another in no way precludes a real fear of the details of the actual sacrifice.

To wit: one can do the right thing without having to like it.

So the end result of Lewis's attempt to write a veiled Christian apologia is to expose the vacuity of the Crucifixion myth.

If anything, Mr. Lewis' retelling of the crucifixion makes the sacrifice much nobler.

I asked Jenn about the details of the crucifixion, since in my mind the act of merely dying does nothing to redeem others; especially if one gets returned to life. There seems absolutely no balance to the saving millions from an eternity of hellfire by one person being inconvenienced by having to remain dead for two or three weeks before being returned to life (and then conveniently uplifted to heaven).

(Unless, of course, Christ's time while dead was spent taking this punishment destined for the millions, all compressed into two weeks; however Jenn tells me there is debate about this, and the bible is remarkably silent on this subject. This is a different issue for potential later discussion.)

Jenn pointed me at the Gospels which are considered to be authoritative on the matter. Regardless of the fact that the four differ in certain details, they all agree on certain facts:

  • Jesus died;
  • Jesus was resurrected; and
  • Jesus ran around for a good deal of time ahead of the crucifixion announcing to anyone who would listen that he'd be resurrected afterwards.

Now if you accept the Gospels as a general truth with the agreed-upon details as being actual happenings, what you have is a man who basically went running around shouting: "Look at me! I'm going to do the greatest trick ever! It will be great!" which, if true, completely empties the act of his alleged sacrifice.

Aslan's sacrifice, on the other hand, was done with the understanding that _this was it_, he was going to die, and that would be the end of it as far as he was concerned. The fact that he had to die in order to learn of this deeper magic in no way invalidates the mind-set he had when he went to the Stone Table (the corresponding legal theory would perhaps be described as "intent follows the bullet").

Compare this to Jesus, who's actions ahead of the fact could either be interpreted as foreknowledge of his get-out-of-death-free card, or perpetration of a deliberate fraud, and the whole thing is potentially exposed as a con which has been perpetuated for the last two thousand years.

So far from diminishing the crucifixion legend, C.S. Lewis' story ennobles the idea of sacrificing yourself for the good of others; as I see the text of the Bible, the entire crucifixion legend is a pretty shaky story on its own.

Now all that said, Jenn tells me that the gospels were written 80 to 150 years after the resurrection event happened; and in this case, the authors were in no way close to the source events. Even witnesses would have died, and all that would be left would be tertiary or worse sources. In these cases, the authors would be building the church of Jesus Christ, and the temptation to play up the story of his life would be irresistible. One would even suspect that the authors of the later gospels would use the previous texts as primary sources.

Further, if you consider the oral tradition of the church where the majority of the followers were illiterate and were exposed to the story only while attending mass services, such a story would have to have a hook to keep people interested (the resurrection) and would have to explicitly tell the audience what was coming in order to keep them paying attention to it.

Put all this together and I suspect that even if Jesus went to the cross as an act of sacrifice on behalf of the future salvation of his believers, he would have done so without trumpeting his resurrection in advance; and my strong inclination is that he would have done so without knowing he would be resurrected by his father (proving it pays to know people in high places).

In short, the whole thing smacks of an after-the-fact enhancement of the story designed both to legitimize Christ as the inspiration for the church, and to legitimize the church as the keeper of Christ's spirit.

Jesus was a strong historical figure, and his church has had some good ideas (as well as some stupid ones), but to my mind the details of the crucifixion myth do not stand up to modern examination.

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