Myths, facts and blood sacrifice: CS Lewis at his best and worst

 Lewis wrote many stories based on ancient myths. He suggested that these myths are based on dreams that God sends to the human race. For example, blood sacrifice and the resurrection of a saviour are common to many ancient dreams and myths. These dreams and myths become a reality in the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. I bring Christianity into the picture to show how it gives substance to these pagan myths.

 A materialist believes that human beings are nothing more than bags of remarkably versatile chemicals rattling through time and space. The materialist holds that myths, dreams, revelations, story-telling and the like are a lot of made-up stuff fabricated by a lot of stuff; chemical stuff.

If you are NOT a materialist then myths and the like will be more than stuff, even if you think that some myths are stuff and nonsense.

 CS Lewis’ view on the myths that have come down to us is that they are composed of a mixture of true history, allegory, ritual, the joy of story telling, and so on. Also included is the supernatural.

 If (as Lewis says) one’s religion (e.g. Christianity) is wrong, then the occurrences of similar themes and motifs in “pagan” myths, for example, Greek and Babylonian myths, must also be wrong.

 The prime example of motifs common to Christian history and Greek and Babylonian mythology (and many other mythologies) is the blood sacrifice of a saviour who comes down from heaven to redeem sinful mankind. Who then rises from the dead.

 It is not a sound argument to reject the blood sacrifice of Christ and his resurrection on the grounds that there were similar blood sacrifices in stories prior to Christianity. 

The disfigurement, death and resurrection of a redeemer in pagan myths prefigure the death of Christ. As Lewis said, “myth became fact.” The more mythical an event, the more poetic it is, while the more factual an event, the more historical it is. The incarnation of the Son and all the events that flow from it become incarnate in history, and not merely, like myth, encapsulated in the poetic carapace of poetry. (See ” CS Lewis on myth in Christianity and other faiths,” in “The Christian theology reader” By Alister E. McGrath, p. 613).

 Lewis argued that instead of rejecting paganism as a rupture in the fabric of common sense and history, we should give it credit for its role in preparing the world for God’s plan of healing the rift between Himself and humanity.

In general, CS Lewis has been, as is true for many, of great help. With regard to blood sacrifice, however, I think he has missed the mark – in a very serious way. I explain.

 What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. In his “Christian Apologetics,” Lewis writes:

Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.” With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, I was blown away by Lewis. In his “Mere Christianity,” Lewis has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” He says (in “Mere Christianity”:

You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he desired. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation. (See Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins).