Narnia, and the Danger of Becoming an Accidental Christian

“I don’t think I ever really feel in danger of accidentally believing… or stumbling into it.” Laura Miller

I’m listening to the Unbelievable? podcast replay of the discussion with Holly Ordway & Laura Miller: A convert and skeptic in Narnia. As always, I find the conversation on the Unbelievable! podcast intriguing and thought provoking, as the podcast usually engages people on opposite ends of the thought spectrum.

Holly Ordway and Laura Miller had similar experiences in reading the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. They read them as young children and loved the books purely for the fantasy. When they were older and discovered that the books had fairly obvious Christian themes and symbolism, they felt betrayed.

Laura Miller explained here sense of betrayal in that the fantasy world as she imagined it turned out not to be what she thought. The discovery left her feeling like she was on the outside looking in.

As I think about it, the allure of the Chronicles of Narnia is exactly the sense of being on the inside, of discovering a world through the back of an ordinary wardrobe that is unknown and unseen by adults. As a child, nothing quite intrigues like a secret adventure found in your own house that is unknown by your parents.

The experience of finding a whole new world quite by accident, and in a wardrobe that has been in your own house all along, is a fantastical and intimate experience for any child. That intimacy, perhaps, is what gave way to the feeling of betrayal.

The discovery of the Christian symbolism, allegory, and themes “hidden” in the Chronicles of Narnia may have seemed like the unveiling a secret behind the secret world she loved for its own sake. The secret that lured her in as an unwitting child was betrayed by a secret behind the secret that left her feeling that she was not as intimate with the fantasy as she thought.

The secret behind the secret turns the story on its head. The secret, the real secret, was hidden from them.

It’s almost like the experience of losing one’s innocence. In a moment, the childlike naivete is forever undone. A person will never be the same. Those books can never be approached the same way again.  The magic is lost.

I am reminded of a series of dreams I had as a child. I had a dream one night in which I held on to Silly Putty, and some combination of the Silly Putty in my hand and my wishing allowed me to fly. It was the most exhilarating dream I ever had. It seemed real, and the realness of it lingered after I woke.

I had the same dream the next night, but I became more aware of the fact that I didn’t know how it worked. I was still able to fly, but the sense of me not knowing the magic behind the flying haunted me.

The next night I had the Silly Putty in my hand, but my wishful thinking didn’t work, try as I might, to make me fly. I could not recreate the magic, and I never had another dream of flying.

I felt in my own dream experience that I had tapped into some magic quite by accident, and I could not reproduce it because I didn’t have the knowledge of the magic. In Laura Miller’s case, the discovery of the hidden secret behind the secret, the Christianity behind the secret entrance at the back of the wardrobe into another world, undid the magic for her.

She says that the world of Narnia was no longer as she imagined it when she first read the Chronicles. that knowledge was the undoing of her own understanding of that world. She could not recreate the magic. Some adult turned the lights on, and it was gone.

She says that the world of Narnia was no longer as she imagined it when she first read the Chronicles. that knowledge was the undoing of her own understanding of that world. She could not recreate the magic. Some adult turned the lights on, and it was gone.

I am putting some words to what she said, but I can feel her sense of loss. It was the same sense of loss I felt when I found that I could no longer fly.

It seems to me, however, that the experience I had is somewhat the opposite of the experience Laura Miller had, though the sense of the loss of the magic is the same. In my case, a lack knowledge about the magic flying was my undoing, or so I felt. In Laura Miller’s case, the knowledge of the Christianity behind the Chronicles of Narnia was her undoing, or so she felt.

She had developed her own image of that fantasy world of Narnia, and discovering Christian themes and allegory in the Narnian world fabric betrayed her own imagining of that world. The imaginary world she created in her own mind vanished in the light of the knowledge that the Narnian world was not quite as she imagined it.

I read the Chronicles of Narnia in college as a very new Christian. The way those Christian themes played out for me in the pages of those books were like technicolor on a black and white screen. The nuance and subtlety in which Lewis wove those themes into a beautiful story was inspiring. Images from those books live in my imagination still today and color my theology.

Laura Miller had a distasteful experience of religion as a child. She didn’t get into much detail, though she says she grew up Catholic, like I did. I don’t want to be unfair to Catholics or Catholicism, but I can relate to her negative feelings.

I have not listed to the whole discussion yet, because of some statements Laura Miller made at about the 24 minute mark inspired me to set off down this rabbit trail. It began with her characterization that “believers” live in a reality that “operates on another plane that, if I am lucky, I can fall in a hole and be in the reality they live in”.

She says, “I just don’t experience it that way”, meaning life, I suppose, though I don’t want to put words in her mouth. I encourage you to go back and listen to the conversation yourself. This statement, however, sets the stage for what said that gave rise to my thinking today, which is this:

“I don’t think I ever really feel in danger of accidentally believing… or stumbling into it.”

She goes onto to explain her interpretation of Lewis’s past: that “he found himself wanting to believe…. and then he was able to find the pathway… towards the thing that he wanted. She goes on to say, “I don’t really feel that desire…, and it’s kind of impossible to accidentally, or sort of inadvertently, to come into a state of a desire to believe”. She concluded, “I have emerged from all kinds of literature from all kinds of faith without feeling [such a desire].”

Her comments about “accidentally believing” or “stumbling into” faith, or “a desire to believe”, as she puts it, is what inspires me to write today. It begs for some thought and comment.

First off, as an avid reader of Lewis, including his autobiographical work, I believe she misunderstands Lewis. Her “interpretation” (imagination) of Lewis, once again, is not the same as the story Lewis tells, in this case, of his own journey.

Holly Ordway points that out in her response. Lewis did chase a desire, for what he knew not. It was a desire for what he called “joy”, which he described as a longing like one a person might have for a far off country, of the longing, the satisfaction of which is greater than any satisfaction this world can offer. (Pardon my attempt to paraphrase.)

That desire/longing was something he “stumbled” upon in moments of reading literature, walking in the countryside, and in his imaginative play as a child. It is something of which he caught only momentary “glimpses”. These “feelings” were sensed only momentarily, and they began to vanish as quickly as he became conscious of it.

Thus, she is partially right in her understanding of Lewis. His desire, though, was not in believing. He simply desired to recreate those experiential movements. He had become quite the hardened atheist. His atheism was rooted in the tragic death of his mother, influenced, perhaps, by the emotional distance of his father, and energized by the austere certainty of the rationalism and materialism of an influential tutor.

His desire to experience that sublime longing that caught him in inadvertent moments, the immediate fading of which came with his conscious awareness of “it” tracked in his life parallel to the atheism that captured his imagination. It was a thread he was unwilling to let go, to be sure, but he didn’t know its source.

In fact, he didn’t know the source of that “joy” until well after he believed in God. That desire did lead him on a journey that ended with his belief in God, but it was not a desire to believe that led him there.

That experience of “joy” was only one factor that caused him to begin to doubt the atheism that he so thoroughly embraced.

In fact, the chief obstacle to belief in God for Lewis was his strong desire to “be left alone”. He found great beauty, strength of character, and “comfort” in the idea of atheism. He found beauty in the austere reality of an indifferent and often hostile universe that men can conquer by the sheer force of will and imagination. The comfort for him was in the absence of a “Great Interferer”.

Lewis recalls his progress from atheism to faith in Surprised By Joy. Lewis didn’t want God to exist for the very reason that he knew he would be beholden to God. He recognized the existence of God meant he was not the captain of his own soul.

The prospect of the existence of God threatened the loss of personal freedom, but Lewis’s fierce desire for personal freedom eventually gave way to his greater commitment to and understanding of truth.

The “joy” that he experienced became a chink in his atheist armor. The sublime, other-worldly nature of the thread of those sublime experiences had betrayed the rationalism and materialism he found so compelling.

Beauty, also, posed difficult for Lewis to explain on a naturalistic worldview. The universal sense of objective morality was an other problem for his atheism. By what means do people come to know that a crooked line is not straight?

Lewis tracks his thought process in the journey from atheism to theism to belief in the Christian concept of God in surprised by Joy. Lewis did not accidently believe in God. He didn’t stumble on belief. He resisted it to the end.

The desire/longing that he described as “joy”, for lack of a better word, that he sought to define led him, eventually, to conclude that it had an object. He recognized that the joy was nothing in itself, but the product of an encounter with something else. He examined all the possibilities and eliminated them one by one until he was left with few choices.

Those choices began to point toward a divine source from various angles. He describes the detail, like the diary of a man on a long journey to a destination that has no determinate end until the object of the quest is found. As Lewis was closing in on that object, he found God closing in him:

Lewis opened up to the possibility of theism, some divine nature, like a Platonic ideal. The safe, arms length deity Lewis conceived in his mind, however, soon became the façade that hid something else – God Himself.

Lewis’s conversion was hardly accidental, or even desired. In a sense, the desire that lead Lewis on the search for its source betrayed him. Once he realize that the desire had a source outside itself, and he started down the road to find its object, he was led inexorably to the threshold of the Divine – whatever that might be Lewis was at first unsure. Once he began to realize where the path was leading, it was, in a sense, too late.

Lewis didn’t arrive at this place of decision-making by any accident. He may have stumbled upon that great point of decision unwittingly, but the path he took was quite deliberate, in that sense of one seeking to connect the pieces of a puzzle together, not knowing exactly what the puzzle pieces will reveal in the end.

For Lewis, the revelation of what he a had been tracking and searching to uncover was not what he bargained for. It caught him off guard. He was unprepared for it, and he was strongly tempted to turn back from it. Yet, he chose to go forward.

He sensed that he could have turned back, but for what? A lie? If his search had brought him to light of this place, what would be in store for him to go looking back in the dark again? He was hemmed in by two impossible choices.

[Excepts from Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life (1955) Ch. XIV]

Without trying to be unkind, I see in Lewis, himself, and Laura Miller a similar point of decision. For Lewis, he came to that place of his own volition, even if he got there unwittingly. For Miller, it was quite unsought, and she recoiled from it. Lewis wanted to recoil from it, but he had covered enough ground in getting to that point that he saw the stark contrast in the directions he could choose to go.

Lewis let go of his imagined Ideal (the safe, platonic god) for the real One. For Miller, she retreated back to her imagined Narnian world she thought she loved, until the Divine element was uncovered to her.

In the end, I think it’s clear that one doesn’t become an accidental Christian. It’s a choice. We might stumble on the Divine, but we don’t stumble into believing and committing ourselves to God. There is no danger of becoming an accidental Christian.

18 thoughts on “Narnia, and the Danger of Becoming an Accidental Christian

  1. Thank you again. Blessings from Sydney Australia. 


    div>Kaylene Emery

    Sent from my iPhone


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  2. no, there is no chance of accidently becoming a christian. One becomes one from trusting the wrong people. lewis shows that this is a problem since he himself advocates lying to potential christians about the constant splintering of the religion.


      1. You may want to read the preface to mere Christianity:

        “. And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no
        tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we
        are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our
        own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come
        to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.”

        An attempt to prevent people from making an informed decision is quite deceitful.


        1. I see, so deceitful that he put it in the forward to his book for all generations to read. I do share his concern about petty divisions in the church, and most of them are quite public, and distracting.


          1. Yep, he certainly did. I’m glad you agree it is deceitful. Especially since he only figured that christians would read his books. That preface is speaking to them.

            It’s curious that the divisions aren’t so “petty” as christians would try to claim. You disagree on some quite major subjects:

            free will vs predestination

            what morals your god wants

            what heaven and hell are and how long is one there

            how to interpret your bible

            is the trinity a thing or not

            how to do baptism and what it means

            what born again means

            These are not minor differences. Add this to the part in your bible where jesus prays to himself/this god that his followers wouldn’t split, and it seems that christians have a problem.


            1. I was being sarcastic. I am surprised you didn’t get that, so I will just say it: Lewis wasn’t being deceptive about anything. I think it’s probably safe to say that I know a lot about Christian doctrines than you do. People are people, and they disagree about many things. It’s no difference in philosophy or science. Darwinian evolution is currently straining under the weight of a failed paradigm. Some people hold doggedly to it while other scientists say they need to reimagine the paradigm. The current disagreement doesn’t mean there is no truth to it; it’s just that reality is more complex than we like it to be, and we are finite. We don’t know what we don’t know.. We do the best we can. Disagreements among people do not negate what is true.


              1. Why would I think you were sarcastic about something that is accurate?

                Lewis was being deceptive, since lies of omission are still lies. He benefits from leaving potential converts ignorant about how christianity fails.

                It’s not at all safe to say that you know more about christanity than I do sine I was a christian and did quite a bit of investigating as I was losing my faith.

                Your atempt to claim that the disagreements aren’t important is a typical christian thing, which would work, *if* you didn’t all didn’t claim to have some magical “truth”.

                You also show how ignorant you are about evolutionary theory since nope, it isn’t straining at all. Some christians do hope it is, in favor of some version of their creatoinism, but unfortunately for them, the theory is fine.

                yep, disagrements between people don’t negate what is true. Your problem is that not one of you can show your claims to be true. You all have baseless opinions. And we can know quite a bit, including that there is no evidence for your god or any of the supposed events it caused. We don’t have to be infinite to know that.


              2. I believe the universe us as old as science suggests it is, and I have no problem thinking that evolution may be the mechanism that caused life to begin and to adapt as the earth adapted to changes that affected its sphere, but you are wrong if you think that the old evolutionary paradigm is not in flux. Yes, I was being sarcastic. No, I don’t agree with your take on these things. You seem as convinced of your view as I am of mine, perhaps even more dogmatically so. I am not going to categorize or stereotype you as an angry atheist, as that would be unfair of me – just as you are being unfair in your categorization of me. There really isn’t much point in continuing the conversation in this vein, as we are miles apart in our “stances”, though I assume we might find some tings in common if we tried.


              3. So, how is it “in flux”, kev? Christians have tried to claim this for years.

                Well, since I’m not an angry atheist, I guess that’s why you can’t categorize me as that. It has nothing to do with fairness at all.

                We are indeed quite far apart. The difference is that I have evidence for my stances and you do not. You still claim that your version of the christian god somehow created the universe and there is nothing to support that. You also haven’t shown you know more about christanity than I do. Or that lying by omission isn’t really a lie. If someone attempts to keep information secret to limit someone else’s ability to make an informed decision, that is a lie, a falsehood created to benefit the liar.


              4. You say you have evidence for your stances. I don’t even think you have good reason to trust your intellect based on a materialistic worldview. You say there is no tension in there scientific community about Darwinian evolution. I can give you some examples from without looking very hard:'s,evolution%20to%20an%20alternative%20explanation and and and
                I could on if you like.


              5. Kevin, you are trying a common bit of nonsense that christians always try. Unfortunately, for you, I can trust my intellect based on a materialistic worldview, since I interact with reality quite well.

                You must try to pretend that people need your god to understand things, much like how every other cult makes the same claims.

                You offer links to comments by medical doctors, etc about evolutionary theory from the proceedings of a Christian university and unsurprisingly, those people aren’t anthropologists, geneticists, etc.

                “The three limitations of Darwin’s theory concern the origin of DNA, the irreducible complexity of the cell, and the paucity of transitional species.” are all common lies from Christians. A shame you didn’t note the source of your nonsense.

                Then you tried to give a link by Michael Behe, a known liar about the “irreducible complexity” nonsense he repeatedly claims and has yet to support with evidence. It is from a publication by Union University, yet another christian university.

                the article from “towardsdatascience” has no evidene supporting it and has this “nature has taken blind chances over a long enough time in selecting variations among genetic mutations” a classic ignorant claim by someone who has no idea how evolutionary theory works, since it is not random.

                You also included an article from Scientific America that you don’t seem to have read, since it doesn’t support your claims, showing that attacks on evolutionary theory fail.

                You didn’t look very hard at all and this is no surprise.


              6. I told you I didn’t look very hard. I could find you atheist scientists who are questioning the traditional evolutionary paradigm, but you can look it up if you care to know what I am talking about. But, I don’t think you do. You just want to bash Christianity and religion. And me. You have given me a lot of your opinion, but not a single fact. I am used to it. I have heard it all before. But, I don’t wish any ill on you. You and I are finite creatures, which means at the end of the day what you think and what I think does not matter one iota. You might be right, and I might be right. If you are right, we may never know it because life ends, and that is it. If I am right, things might be a bit different. If both of us are wrong, we might both be surprised. All either one of us can do is reach the conclusions that make the most sense to us and live our lives accordingly. I am not sure what that means for you, but you are not my responsibility. That is on you.


              7. you didn’t look very hard and you found nothing.

                Yep, you have to hope I’ll do your work for you since your claims have failed, Kevin.

                Alas, I’ve given you facts. it’s always good when a christian chooses to lie.

                Unfortunately for you, you have nothing to support your claims, and yes, it does matter here and now. You try to claim we are equal, and happily, we are not.

                All you have is a rather limp version of Pascal’s wager.


              8. I have no to reason argue with you. You have made up your mind. You are the king of your universe, the captain of your own destiny. Or are you just dancing to the tune of your own DNA. Perhaps, you have no choice in the matter whatsoever. Your mind is nothing but molecules in motion. No different, ultimately, than a rock. I have never said we are equal. I am sorry that you have lost your belief in God. I really am. I would like to have a good discussion with you, but you call me a liar. I have a judge, and so do you. You can deny Him, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. I pray you would leave open the possibility that God exists, if for no other reason than to hold onto a little humility.


  3. Thank you. This is a timely blog. I am currently re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia (on Prince Caspian at the moment) plus reading Rowan Williams’ The Lion’s World because our churches are following Not a Tame Lion as our Lent course. I agree one doesn’t accidentally become a Christian- we choose to accept or reject the astonishing claims that God loved the world and decided to show us how much by sending Jesus. I still have moments of thinking “do I REALLY believe this?” And the answer is always, yes. I have been surprised by joy that comes from knowing that God knows me and loves me. Doesn’t answer all the difficult questions but then if we could have God and the mystery of life, death, suffering etc all sussed and taped up, then that would bring God down to our level. Will add Surprised by Joy to my reading list.

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