The Perspicuity of Puddleglum

Puddleglum – Sketch © by Jef Murray

“Don’t pay any attention to what he says. You’re arguing with someone who believes God became a human being and then committed suicide….”

The comment left me literally speechless. I had been in an exchange with someone on Facebook regarding the decline of honeybees, worldwide, and I had challenged their assertion that it was due solely to the use of systemic pesticides. Our discussion had nothing to do with religion or philosophy, and this interjection came out of the blue, from a family member, whom I’ll call Chip, of the person with whom I was arguing. Chip knew that I was a practicing Catholic, but he and I had never spoken or emailed each other before.

How could I react to such a statement? Should I point out that my faith was unrelated to the topic at hand? Should I point out that Chip was attacking me personally rather than addressing the issues in the discussion? Should I point out that his knowledge of Christian belief was wildly distorted? Or that he was demonstrating the worst sort of bigotry: one that assumes that, because you don’t share the same race/religion/gender, you are unworthy of being treated with dignity and respect? Should I defend my faith by mentioning that it is shared, in total or in part, by nearly a third of the world’s population? Or that such profound thinkers, writers, artists, humanitarians and scientists as Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare, John Newman, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Copernicus, Louis Pasteur, Carl Linnaeus, Galileo, Enrico Fermi, Michelangelo, Rafael, T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mother Teresa, and St. Gregory the Great, to name just a few, had all tested Christianity’s tenets for themselves and found them to be sound?

I sat and pondered. I’d like to say that I did nothing other than to pray for Chip, and although I have done so since, my initial reaction was to attempt to point out the bigotry at play in his comment. This of course led nowhere, and happily for all concerned the comment and the entire thread of conversation that prompted it were abruptly removed from the internet by a member of Chip’s family.

Thomas à Kempis speaks eloquently on how to find peace in a world full of hatred. In his The Imitation of Christ, he states “the real test of virtue and deserving of praise is to live at peace with the perverse, or the aggressive and those who contradict us, for this needs a great grace.” Clearly, I did not pass that test, as after the Facebook exchange, I was greatly troubled and angry. So, there is much work to be done…on myself.

But Thomas goes on to speak about the nature of hate-filled people. “Some there are who can neither have peace themselves nor leave others in peace. They are a cross to others, but a heavier cross to themselves.” And this may be the key to forgiving those who hate us, and who hate the things that we most cherish; for they do not know what it is that they hate, and nurturing that hatred taints all that they do.

I have since recovered my own inner peace. But the exchange, since it involved someone who does not believe in anything transcendent…who apparently despises and can only ridicule any creed other than his own narrow secularism…reminded me of one of the greatest scenes in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles.

In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, Jill Pole, and Eustace Scrubb find themselves deep underground and in the presence of the mysterious Green Lady who kidnapped Prince Rilian of Narnia. She sings to them and to the prince, incensing the hearth fire with powerful magic herbs, and mocking their insistence that another world exists beyond the confines of her own underground chambers. They have created a make-believe world for themselves, she tells them, like little children do, but all that really exists is her realm: of dim light, stifling air, and dreary and meaningless toil for all of her subjects. There is no sunlight, she assures them, there are no such things as trees, or a sky. Nor is there such a person as Aslan, the all-knowing and loving Christ figure whom they claim rules the higher realms.

But as the power of her spell peaks, Puddleglum stomps out the fire with his bare feet, and proclaims to the witch (for such she is): “Suppose this black pit of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one…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 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.”

And that may be our best answer to those who hate us for believing in Christ. The Gospels reveal depths of goodness, truth, and beauty that could never have been invented, but must always have existed since the dawn of creation. They ring true, horribly and terrifyingly true, even to their greatest detractors. And that is what, I believe, fuels hatred of Christianity; that it does not allow one to live comfortably with denial. The teachings of Christ dog those who wish that they had never been, as Francis Thompson describes so eloquently in his poem The Hound of Heaven. Such folk strike out at Christians, because they themselves are haunted by Christ:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him…

I will continue to pray for Chip, and for all those who flee Christ not knowing Whom they flee, nor why. May true peace come to them, and to us all….


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7 Comments

  1. Jef,

    I could not agree with you more strongly. And, by the way, what a perfect depiction of Puddleglum!

    Deacon Mike

  2. Jef,

    I love your depiction of Puddleglum! It is totally on point with what I too have had to deal with recently in my own encounters with people of different faiths. I was simply and innocent by-stander to a conversation where the person who had the floor was saying that they belived that Christ was not the Messiah, he was a prophet and that Judas was crucified in Jesus’ place. I just stood there perplexed thinking, “are you serious?”

    I did not want to make any waves and I hate confrontation so I just sat there quietly and listened and then eventually walked off. He wasn’t bashing any one religion or imposing his religion on anyone. He was just answering a question someone had asked him and then elaborated a bit. I thought the best thing to do was to just walk away since I wasn’t originally in the conversation to begin with.

    Your article is very refreshing to those of us who want to stand up for our Catholic faith even if it is by being silent, swallow, and suffering. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” I pray for wisdom to discern that appointed time.

  3. Jef,

    This is a great article. I think you hit the nail on the head on how we can feel like a deer in headlights when that which we love is so greatly attacked by hatred. You give the readers a straightforward explanation and wonderful insights (and resources) to help dismiss the initial anger that makes us want to fight instantly, and remind us of what we must do —trust in Him… and pray.

    “And that is what, I believe, fuels hatred of Christianity; that it does not allow one to live comfortably with denial.”

    Thanks!

    Kelly

  4. The Internet gives people the freedom to say something they likely would not say to our face. I have found that some of the most unchristian comments come from Catholics who consider it their sacred duty to protect the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church as undercover operatives of the Inquisition. One blogger recently pointed out what has happened to those in the medical profession as a result of Web-MD is now happening in Church related matters. Everyone thinks they are an expert because of something they read, heard or saw on EWTN.

  5. Fr. Paul,

    >>The Internet gives people the freedom to say something they likely would not say to our face.< < This is very true. People do say things on this medium that they would never say in a face-to-face setting. That is an abuse of freedom in most instances, not an exercise of freedom. But, there is also the tendency to misread what others have written. The physical gestures, postures and facial expressions that are so necessary to understanding conversation are lacking here. And not everyone is adept at composition skills. >>Everyone thinks they are an expert because of something they read, heard or saw on EWTN.<< That is certainly true of some folks... but not all folks or even a majority of folks. Perhaps you were using hyperbole? I have been subjected myself to this "undercover inquisition". I view each instance of this an opportunity to correct misunderstandings about Church teaching. Overall, I think the good that can be accomplished on the internet out-weighs the effects of those who misuse freedom. Deacon Mike

  6. Many thanks to everyone for your kind comments! Mea culpa…I had responded to folks individually on their feedback, but not here on the website.

    I do want to respond to pjw919 in more depth. Yes, it certainly is true that the internet encourages us to misbehave, and that’s true of all of us, whether Catholic or not. The only way to get past that is to insist on maintaining civil discourse online just as we are called to do in person (even if this, too, is becoming rarer in these etiquette-challenged times!).

    You cannot come to truth or mutual understanding in a debate/discussion without rules for conduct, and name-calling and all of the myriad other non-valid forms of debate must be shown for what they are and repudiated by all sides. This is _especially_ true when you are absolutely convinced of the truth and validity of your own position; you cannot _ever_ deny the worth and dignity of your opponent in a debate, and to the extent that you do so, you have effectively lost the argument on moral/ethical grounds.

    So, although I fully agree about the temptations of the internet to promote bad behavior, I cannot embrace the use of terms like “undercover operatives of the Inquisition” when applied to folk that annoy one. This is the very sort of behavior that we ourselves are justifiably angered by if aimed at us, and it weakens any valid point we are wishing to make to yield to the temptation to use such terms.

    This was one of the fundamental points I was trying to make in my original article.

  7. Jef –

    Thanks for taking the time to share this experience. This piece could not have come onto my radar at any better time. As the holidays are a time of relaxing with family and friends, there is also a stress that comes to the surface for many of us: Bickering.

    Your article will go along way toward keeping my inner piece intact and how it is that I am to respond in frustrating situations.

    All the best, and may God continue to bless us all.

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