The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Puddleglum’s Speech

In my last post, I began a discussion on the role of “choice” in faith by addressing Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy and the implicit idea that belief in God requires proof.

So for the duration of this post, I will be working off the assumption that a Christian’s faith entails a reasonable and purposeful belief that is supported by evidence. This kind of faith isn’t “blind” by any means, but neither does it demand empirical, scientific proof.

If one accepts this definition of faith and the premise that Christianity has a chance of being true, where does this leave us?

In a recent post, Max Andrews asked himself the question: “What would it take for me to be an atheist?” Some of his thoughts are given below:

“I was speaking with my professor over lunch a month or so back and we struck up a conversation on what it would take for us to be atheists.  Proving the resurrection false doesn’t disprove God, it just disproves Christianity.  The cosmological, fine-tuning, ontological, and moral arguments still work….I believe these arguments are sound.  If I were to become an atheist it wouldn’t be for intellectual reasons, it would be for emotional and existential reasons. What’s interesting is that I’m a Christian for existential reasons. My existentialism is what drove me to Christianity.  I recognized my life was utterly meaningless, valueless, and purposeless without God.” (read the full post here)

An atheist friend of mine once dismissed this idea as “believing in something because you want it to be true”. He then compared Christians to those who jump off tall buildings because they want to be able to fly…and actually believe they can. This comparison, however, suffers from the same problem as Russell’s teapot analogy. It equates a belief in human flight (something with no evidence at all) with a belief in Christianity (something with considerable philosophical and historical evidence, regardless of one’s ultimate conclusions).

The reality is that one of Christianity’s greatest draws is its “appeal to beauty”. It reveals the ultimate source of meaning, value, and purpose that we’re all searching for. All that remains is to make the choice to believe; a “leap of faith”, but not a blind one.

In my opinion, this “appeal to beauty” is most elegantly conveyed in – of all places – a children’s book. In C.S. Lewis‘s “The Silver Chair“, the main characters have entered the underground realm of the Green Lady, where they’ve been enchanted into losing their belief in the above-ground world. One of the characters, a marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum, makes the following speech:

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” 

Related Articles

Atheism’s Universe is Meaningless and Valueless (J.W. Wartick)

Faith and Reason (Part 1) (Quadrivium)

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29 thoughts on “The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Puddleglum’s Speech

  1. Pingback: The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Addressing Russell’s Teapot | Well Spent Journey

  2. Great post, Matt.

    I’ve been thinking recently about the massive role that wrestling with existential and aesthetic issues plays as a driving force for art, and this post hits a lot of important buttons. I’m not saying that people who are relligious per se are necessarily the greatest artists (although Beethoven, Bach and Tolkein are pretty outstanding), it’s just that so much great music and writing and painting seems to come from these impulses.

    I don’t know where art would be with nothing beyond this physical world to strive for and/or rebel against.

    • Great point. I’m definitely no expert on art, but it does seem like a great deal of mankind’s creative power comes from a sense that there’s more to our existence than the material universe.

  3. Good post. Thank you. Existentialism brought me to Christ. The fear that this was all there was. The dark world only offers birth and death, sorrow and happiness. In truth, if one were to examine their lives, they would see a superficial world where relative thought is the thought of the day. I always use the analogy that One moral focal point is more logical to a morally united people over many inward focal points. Our egos and many levels of morality. The truth is I would rather live in fantasy than dark reality. However, our ‘fantasy’ has many realities and reason behind it and it is rational. God is our pinnacle of focus, and Jesus is our way to Him…It is chronicled that way in History.
    Rick

    • “The truth is I would rather live in fantasy than dark reality. However, our ‘fantasy’ has many realities and reason behind it and it is rational.”

      Exactly. Thanks for the feedback!

    • “the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.”

      i cannot fathom why atheists would want a universe without meaning, with the exception of weird people in religion, i much prefer God over Darwin!

  4. The thing I don’t like about Puddlegum’s argument there is that it does exactly what you encouraged people NOT to do in your last post: ignore arguments against Christianity. Though I know VERY well that Lewis would never stand for such a thing, I feel as though it encourages Christians to walk about with their fingers stuffed in their ears so they don’t have to hear the naysayers.

    This also presumes there’s no appeal to beauty in atheism, when there are, in fact, atheists who see that, since this world is the only one we have, and we’ve only got seventy some years at it, we best enjoy it while we can. While I would be inclined to agree with you that Christianity offers a greater appeal, this doesn’t mean that no meaning can be found outside of it, as many people of many beliefs would happily point out.

    It boils down to a matter of perspective. People can make Christianity a cold, heartless religion where, because God controls us like puppets on a string, there is no hope for anyone. We are but slaves to God and must worship our master accordingly. It doesn’t make it RIGHT, necessarily, but it is POSSIBLE to view it that way. Many atheists lead happy, productive lives believing that their views constitute the whole of truth and existence.

    All I’m saying is that it’s important to consider perspective when talking of such matters as these. While the truth may not always be affected by perspective, it does do a LOT of work in terms of the individual. Intellectually, you can completely sideswipe Christianity to the side of the road. You can do the same thing emotionally too. Either one of those matters will render a person’s perspective so rigid that breaking said perspective becomes quite difficult.

    • “The thing I don’t like about Puddlegum’s argument there is that it does exactly what you encouraged people NOT to do in your last post: ignore arguments against Christianity. Though I know VERY well that Lewis would never stand for such a thing, I feel as though it encourages Christians to walk about with their fingers stuffed in their ears so they don’t have to hear the naysayers.”

      Yeah, I can see how one might take it that way. I agree that we shouldn’t be walking about with our fingers in our ears to avoid hearing arguments that contradict our beliefs.

      I guess I interpreted Puddleglum’s speech as representing a person who evaluates the evidence, finds a strictly materialistic worldview to be lacking, and takes an emphatic leap of faith.

      “While I would be inclined to agree with you that Christianity offers a greater appeal, this doesn’t mean that no meaning can be found outside of it, as many people of many beliefs would happily point out.”

      I would agree with you here, given one clarification. Any person from any belief system can find SUBJECTIVE meaning and live a “happy” life…but I would contend that OBJECTIVE meaning can only be found through a knowledge of – and relationship with – the Creator.

      For example, a nonbeliever could live a life that is generally happy and fulfilling by most standards, deriving subjective meaning from their career, relationships, hobbies, etc. But at the end of the day, we’re all just clouds of atoms destined to die and fade away. With Christianity, we can find objective meaning – meaning that goes beyond this temporary life and has eternal ramifications.

    • (I’ve actually considered writing a post on subjective vs. objective meaning, so I might write more about this in the coming weeks.)

  5. “This kind of faith isn’t “blind” by any means, but neither does it demand empirical, scientific proof.”

    Exactly!

    I think a lot of modern atheists have an inordinate fascination with the scientific method. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing, a very useful tool for the purpose for which it was intended—investigating the physical facts of this world. But it can’t tell us anything about, say, intangible phenomena in this world, or what may or may not exist beyond this world—e.g., beauty or meaning, as you say, or the existence of God.

    Science is competent only within its field. If an atheist demands that I show him scientific evidence that God exists, he might almost as well demand to be shown philosophical evidence of the strong atomic force, or paleontological evidence that cell phones shorten our attention spans. The question is cross-disciplinary in such a way as to be nonsense.

    If such an atheist also believes in any such thing as beauty or transcendent meaning in life, I suppose I should also ask him for scientific evidence of that.

    • “If an atheist demands that I show him scientific evidence that God exists, he might almost as well demand to be shown philosophical evidence of the strong atomic force, or paleontological evidence that cell phones shorten our attention spans.”

      Great point. The way I see it, all of creation *points to* the existence of God. But if God (generally) or Christianity (specifically) could be scientifically proven, then what would be the point of faith? There wouldn’t be any room for it.

    • I guess I agree with that too. C. S. Lewis again:

      God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? . . . There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.

      (Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 5, “The Practical Conclusion”)

      I suppose that that’s what it means to say that faith should have a point—if God made Himself obvious in a way that left no choice but to believe, He would be leaving us, in effect, with no free will, and we wouldn’t be choosing Him after all.

      On the other hand, I’ve heard non-Christians say that even if God showed up in the flesh, in an unmistakable fashion, and spoke to them, they would not obey. And in the parable of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), on my reading, Jesus suggests basically the same thing: Guy in hell begs for someone from heaven to go back to earth and warn his brothers (like Marley in A Christmas Carol) to change their ways before it’s too late; unlike in A Christmas Carol, Abraham says, Look, they should already know better—if they didn’t listen to the prophets, they’re not going to change their ways even if they see someone risen from the dead.

  6. Matt,
    I teach a class on Apologetics and one on worldviews to seniors. We are just now walking through atheism and its feel. We are watching a few movies that also portray the conflict between atheism and theism. So…your post is really timely. I give my students the rational arguments for God’s existence and then I give them what I call the heart arguments, of which beauty is certainly a powerful one. It’s appeal to me is overwhelming.

  7. Matt
    Great post, well thought out and the arguments for faith are solid. My personal feelings are simply feelings. In my entire life, I never felt anything when I think about a Creator. I’ve read lots of philosophy books and listened to intelligent arguments for every kind of belief. For me, it comes down to that-belief. My love of the natural world is what gives my life meaning. It doesn’t bother me that when I die, it’s over. I fel no less, or more, important than the people, plants and animals around me. I feel we are all connected, and so are responsible for each other. I only have so long so I make a conscious effort every day to be present. Maybe this is a simplistic attitude but for me, it gives my life great meaning.

  8. I heard a minister say that when you accept Christ as Savior, you are a changed person whether you know it or not. I think you posted on the serpent some time back, the time when the snakes entered the camp of the people (Numbers 21). Moses was instructed by God to make the bronze serpent, upon which anyone who was bitten could look and be saved from the death of the serpent’s bite. God’s promises are just that way – they are real and true whether we believe them or not. In the case of the serpents, we’re told those who were bitten and looked as instructed were saved from death as a result of the bite. Which suggests perhaps there were those who didn’t? (Sin has a bite and a death, separation from God.) . (James 1:13-15).

    Once we accept Christ as Savior we are changed – maybe we build on that change and maybe we don’t. (1 Corinthians 5:10-15) Plus, verse 16 explains why a person is different. If God didn’t keep His Word about being saved from His wrath and eternal separation from Him, then believing and accepting would be meaningless.

    The leap of faith is the same type as leaping over a hurdle (on a track field, though I haven’t done that since I was really young, and probably only because I had to). You only know if you take the leap. Otherwise, you always wonder.

    Sometimes, we forget that change from that moment when we made that leap and how it felt. We get tangled up in life and the warfare that ensues to discredit God through discrediting our own hearts and lives. There are things in my life that I cannot explain both tangible and intangible. The changes in my heart . . . that I tried to make on my own vs. the ones God has made. Huge difference. I have zigged and zagged in thinking in the past because, as He put it in my heart, I failed to study His Word. Once I got serious about that, I began to understand better. Without that leap, without that experience of living this way and that, where I found I am quite destructive but God is faithful (which I’m really seeing in His Word these days), I might again drift into thinking the wrong things. I still have free will … we are God’s witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10) … what are we witnessing? Me? His faithfulness in my life and how that changes my heart, my compassion, my life and gives me hope against all odds. That’s not easy to explain, and can defy reason (even my own). Me? I found out that God loved me and I didn’t want to be apart from that love for an eternity. I didn’t want to risk it. It’s been an amazing journey since that day. Lots of ups and downs but finding God is faithful. He says what He means and He means what He says.

    🙂 Amen.

  9. Most deniers have never read the works or viewed the videos of such men as William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharius. Not that either could convince then anymoer than the opposing thinkers convince me, but it might at least settle freem them from their cocoon of thinking Believers do not have logic based arguments.

  10. Pingback: Alister McGrath on the Demand for Proof | Well Spent Journey

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