This person perhaps named Ebon, seems to prefer the Buddhist approach which it is believed leaves no child behind in hell.
These two chapters [12&13], the last except for a brief epilogue, are the most heartrending of the entire book. George MacDonald and the narrator come across an angelic procession honoring a Spirit named Sarah Smith, who evidently saved many souls while she was on Earth. But while passing through the woods, this Lady (as Lewis styles her) comes across a Ghost who used to be her husband. Shrunken and dwarfish, and silent himself, this Ghost leads around a bizarre, ambulatory puppet like a ventriloquist’s dummy, which Lewis names the Tragedian, that speaks for him.
The Tragedian claims to have been worried about the Lady, distressed that she was there without him, believing she must have missed him terribly. But she denies this, explaining that “There are no miseries here” (p.115). She says that she has been perfectly happy without him. The Tragedian is badly shaken by this.
Me, AE: Way more sympathy for the self-absorbed misery monger than the lady who has finally found untouchable joy in the Lord.
Over the course of their conversation it emerges that, while they were both alive, the Lady loved this man because she was emotionally vulnerable and needed to be loved by someone else to feel complete. She apologizes for using him like this instead of loving him truly, for his own sake, as she should have done. But the Tragedian seems unfazed by this; what upsets him is her confident assertion that she is no longer weak and lonely, but now happy and strong, and no longer needs him. The Tragedian takes this as a personal insult and grows increasingly angry. He demands to know why she does not pity him, but her reply is that she will no longer accede to pity used “for a kind of blackmailing”, to “hold joy up to ransom” (p. 120), used by people who deliberately make themselves feel terrible so that others will feel sorry for them.
Me: Imagine that. Ebon is a Tragedian himself.
As he hears those words, the dwarf Ghost dwindles until he disappears entirely, and only the Tragedian is left. The Lady refuses to speak to him any longer, and with these words the conversation ends:
“You do not love me,” said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.
“I cannot love a lie,” said the Lady. “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”
There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished. The Lady was alone in that woodland place…. (p.122)
And, alone, she walks away. The angelic choir accompanies her, singing joyously as if this ending somehow represented a victory. If this is a song of triumph, it is one that, to this atheist’s ears, sounded hollow indeed.Even Lewis’ narrator recognizes the incongruity of this, and has a long talk with MacDonald about it, a more detailed study than is given to any other theological issue mentioned in the book. “Is it really tolerable,” he asks, “that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?” (p.123). MacDonald replies that it is better this way, and in response to the narrator’s claim that “the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved,” responds, “That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it…. The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven” (p.124).
MacDonald explains that “every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured”, but “we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of someone who cannot abide the smell of roses” (p.125). In essence, he is saying, the good people in Heaven should not be troubled by the suffering and misery of the damned, because otherwise they would not be able to enjoy Heaven. This is an enduring problem for exclusivist Christians, but Lewis’ method of dealing with it is not inadequate. In fact, it is grotesque.
Me: I think he’s forgetting that the people who choose to go back to hell keep getting chances to come back to heaven. Though they probably get to so “hardened” a state that they quit coming.
It is a complete contradiction in terms to say to someone that you love them and want them to be happy, but you won’t be hurt or troubled in the slightest if they reject your love or spurn your offer. It is part of the definition of love that it is a state where the happiness of another is equal to your own. Lewis’ Spirits are no longer human beings at all; they are more like bright machines, emotional cripples, lacking the fundamental human quality of compassion. They no longer care about anyone but themselves. (Reading his book’s descriptions of their behavior, I was reminded of this case…)
Me: Earlier Ebon says you can’t give a kindergartner free choice to choose health or illness. But God deals uniquely with each individual in this story. They are given the conversation partner that is most suited to their particular level of development to help bring them up. It is the person’s choice to reject what the joyful, loving person is saying. So until all people decide for Christlikeness, everyone should be miserable? And if this never happens? Then there is no heaven. It is quite clear that this woman worried for her husband while on earth, but there comes a time when you have to respect their decision. An age of accountability as it were. When they come to the crossroads and knowingly decide for the wrong one. Sometimes you have to let them go or else choose hell for yourself. And this is rejecting God which an atheist apparently has no problem doing.
The only justification Lewis offers for this appalling state of affairs is that the damned have chosen their damnation, and it would not be fair to allow them to use this as a weapon against the saved. But as we have seen, this is not so. Lewis’ damned have not freely chosen their fate; they have been deceived into making the wrong decision because they do not understand the situation they are in, nor the nature or the gravity of the choice they face. Meanwhile, the saved stand by and watch, in a state of dazed euphoria, unable to question or protest.
No, Lewis took great pains to show that the people preferred hell. They rejected that painful feet are required to find joy, which they rejected as well. Yes I believe in deception, but when the Truth comes along, we are given a choice. Ask to be shown the truth, and you shall receive. Then you must choose if the revelation is worth it. In my experience I’ve seen people look at sore feet, reject them and then will make all sorts of excuses because they are committed to comfortable feet which Lewis shows is indeed enough for them. They prefer the rain/darkness/a self-made world. They have their own version of happiness, and God in his mercy doesn’t endlessly pester them to try to get them to change their mind. Love respects the others’ choice.
All of the self-justifying ink Lewis spills cannot alter the fundamental immorality, the injustice, of this belief system. In the end, we are to believe, the damned will be lost forever, all because they did not understand the choice they were making, while the relative few who reach Heaven will immediately lose all concern for those left behind, and will pass eternity without even a thought for their loved ones who did not make it. This cannot be described as anything other than deeply selfish. (Why did the Ghost who was converted to a Spirit immediately ride away rather than stay behind to help his fellows? After all, he was one of them only seconds earlier; does he no longer care what happens to them?) And we are told that this is a good outcome.
God is love and joy, so choosing them is choosing God. Rejecting them is rejecting God. Putting another person before God is idolatry. And again, I think he forgets all the spirits who do come back for these people. But the newly illumined one is like a babe himself and needs nurturing before he can help someone else. Ebon is justifying himself and his choice to reject God and the Christians who have presented the Gospel to him. He rejects going to Church to become enlightened himself and expects everyone to turn their gaze from Christ to argue endlessly with him why Christ isn’t good enough for him. Stop it, come up right now! There’s still time for you. Quit rejecting joy in the Lord. Is that good enough for you? I doubt it. Prove me wrong, but I’m not going to hold my breath till I pass out over it as much as you would like me to.
As a counterexample, consider Buddhism. In this belief system, there is a class of beings called the bodhisattvas – human beings who have become enlightened and who have therefore won their freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, who no longer have to be reborn into the mortal world that is dominated by misery and suffering – but who freely choose to stay in that world, regardless, and help other beings escape it. Consider their vow:
“Never will I seek nor receive private individual salvation – never enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the universal redemption of every creature throughout all worlds. Until all are delivered, never will I leave the world of sin, sorrow and struggle, but will remain where I am.”
Who would you consider a more moral, a more admirable being – the Buddhist who willingly takes that vow, or one of Lewis’ Spirits who blithely ignores the suffering of the damned because he is happy?
Seeking private salvation is hell. I didn’t see any spirit selfishly and ignoringly alone in the whole story. The spirits did leave a better existence for others, though I’m not really sure this is necessary. I think maybe they can keep ascending and intercede for others at the same time. Also being a Christian and choosing Salvation instead of hell are sort of selfish. But the paradox is that choosing hell is more selfish. It is rebellious, misery-loving though ironically comfort-loving, impulsive, short-sighted, self-defeating, obstinate, voluntary blinders on, self-justifying, self-choosing torment. Christians choose to obey Christ instead of themselves, but they are actually more true to their intended self which needs obedience to Christ to truly be fulfilled. Choosing emptyness is self-destructive and dysfunctional and will only bring others around you down. How selfish to want people who are willing to get their feet stabbed in order to gain Christ to reject Him for an atheist’s stubborn rebellion. If Christ says to let them go, let them go. There comes a point when a parent has to let their children go as well, though I would imagine they still pray for them. But there may be a time when we are out of love told to stop doing that too. His will be done.
But even granting Lewis the benefit of the doubt – even assuming that the Ghosts had freely and willingly chosen their fate – why should this be considered relevant? Why shouldn’t God, whom we are continually told has an infinitely greater perspective than that of finite human beings, make the right choice for them if they will not make it themselves? Why shouldn’t he tear down Hell and change all the Ghosts into Spirits? Would they be unhappy? Would they be ungrateful? If Heaven itself sang with joy for the conversion of one sinner, imagine the exaltation for a billion! All old wounds would be healed, all grievances set right at last; instead of having to be made invincible to the suffering of their damned friends and loved ones, the saved could rejoice to be reunited with them. There seems to be no reason why God should not enact such a plan – no reason, that is, except that Lewis is bound by his Christian beliefs to reject universalism. In fact, this book was written specifically to combat it, and to do this he concocts this bizarre, Kafkaesque Heaven where the saved are stripped of humanity and the damned are condemned for being offered a choice they cannot understand and choosing wrongly. In an ironic twist, Lewis’ effort to defeat universalism only goes to show how it would be a much better plan than the Christianity of the Bible.
Because God loves them too much to force them into happiness that they don’t want, and would indeed make them miserable. They are in heaven, but they hide from it, as you are doing. Stop it. (the feedback to Ebon’s site is by email only and I don’t want to give him my personal information that the email could lead him to, so I think I’ll decline inviting him to read this. Besides, if he rejected C.S. Lewis and Sarah Smith, why should he listen to me?)