I have recently been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia in order to relive a part of my childhood. As much as I disagree with Lewis’s theology, and the fact that I find his allegory quite on the nose throughout the books, I have been enjoying reading through them for the most part. Today, while reading The Silver Chair a particular passage spoke to me. Leading up to the passage we find the three main characters, humans Jill and Eustace and the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum,having just rescued the lost Prince of Narnia, King Caspian’s son Rilian from the clutches of the Queen of the Underworld (a reincarnated White Witch). Having found her prized possession freed from her spells, the Witch attempts to lull these four characters into believing that everything they thought they knew (Narnia, the Overworld, Aslan) was really a dream. While the three humans are quite susceptible to the Witch’s charm, the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum is able to fight back against the charm. In protesting the Witch, Puddleglum steps into her magical fire and gives the following speech in response to the Witch:
“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 a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” (p. 190-191; emphasis mine)
While I don’t believe that Lewis intended this passage to relate to any sort of radical theology, I see some real ties to the Death of God Theology of people like Thomas Altizer, or the Pyro-theology of Peter Rollins. For our characters the death of god is temporary – God, Aslan and Narnia are still real – though they are not aware that this is the case. Despite the fact that there is a reality behind their beliefs (which is precisely what Lewis would proclaim) the message that Puddleglum will “live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia” and will remain “on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan” is really the core of the radical theological position. It is living the Christian life even if there is no God to guide it. The radical Christian understands that you can’t really live a true Christian life unless God is Dead. For only with a dead God can one truly live the tenants of Christian love. Without a promise of the life that is to come, one can truly live out faith. True faith that isn’t focused on belief, but rather on practice.
God’s image typically allows us to treat God as an object – we treat God as a means to an end. Typically belief in God boils down to belief in the image of God so that one might attain salvation. The entire religious experience can boil down to a costs/benefits analysis. While Puddleglum retains the image of God, he does so with a dead God. For Rollins the challenge of Christianity is this costs/benefits analysis of salvation. The only way to escape this costs/benefits Christianity is through the death of God. One must embrace the dead God in order to enter life before death – a truly Christian life. This is what Puddleglum strives to do: retain a Narnian life despite the death of Narnia; live life according to Aslan’s principles of love despite there being no Aslan. A full loving embrace of the world so that one can truly enter life before death as a disciple of God – no matter God’s ontological state.
Update: Check out the rendition of the speech from the BBC’s rendition. Delivered by Tom Baker as Puddleglum: