Faith According to a Marshwiggle

I’ve always hated Pascal’s Wager.

It’s this apologetic thing attributed to the brilliant scientist Blaise Pascal that goes something like this: If you believe God exists and you’re right, you win everything. If you believe God exists and you’re wrong, you lose nothing. But if you don’t believe God exists and you’re wrong…you lose a lot. Like, your soul. So why not take the better odds and believe in God?

I first heard about this wager when I was in sixth grade, and distinctly remember twelve-year-old Amy going, “Wait…really?” In my not-terribly-logical mind, we had just reduced a relationship with God to a coin flip. Heads, I win, Tails, I don’t lose. Might as well be a Christian!

This, to me, did not seem remotely okay.

(Or maybe I had that reaction because sixth grade was also when we started doing probability equations in math, and I hated those. That could be it too.)

This is Pascal, not a marshwiggle. In case you were wondering.

This is Pascal, not a marshwiggle. In case you were wondering.

Either way, when I went through my question-all-the-beliefs, read-all-the-apologetics-books stage about a year later, I didn’t find good ol’ Pascal terribly helpful, even when some of those books put it forward as a good debate model.

As I mentioned in a past blog post, what I read in those apologetic tomes wasn’t particularly helpful to a seventh grader who had just barely started thinking abstractly and had no idea what the heck a “theodicy” was, much less the “cosmological quotient.” What’s a girl to do?

Read The Chronicles of Narnia, that’s what.

(This has been the answer to a surprising number of faith questions/struggles in my life.)

If you take my copy of The Silver Chair down from the shelf, it will fall open to the same chapter every single time. It’s the one that meant so much to thirteen-year-old Amy, and the one she went back to over and over again.

GreenKirtle

The Queen of the Underland has our heroes trapped, and is strumming her magical lute thing, with incense burning, and speaking soothingly sweet words to make them forget about Aslan and Narnia and the surface in general.

And, slowly, it’s working. Jill and Eustace begin to believe it was all a dream, an illusion, and it looks like they’re going to be stuck underground forever.

At that point, the normally laughably morose Puddleglum has his moment of glory when he defiantly proclaims, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things…Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones…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.”

He also steps on the fire to put it out, the enchantment breaks, and it’s all very cheer-worthy and dramatic.

When I got to that point in the book, I stopped, because I knew—I knew—that was the answer I was looking for, the one I couldn’t find in the texts and tomes on theology and cosmology that mostly just had me running for a dictionary.

Puddleglum challenged me with this: maybe it’s not foolish to say that, for the moment, I choose to believe.

He's not the best-looking guy ever, but he's pretty great.

He’s not the best-looking guy ever, but he’s pretty great.

It is not what Dawkins and the New Atheist crowd would scorn as “blind faith”: believing something that has proven to be untrue or even believing something for which there is no evidence.

It is believing something when the evidence is not definitive proof. When there are paradoxes that you can’t neatly grid into certainties that make sense from every angle. When what you know and what you feel are two different things, and you are praying that someday, your emotions will line up with your creed again.

I called it “brave faith” in my journals then and in my blog posts now: the ability to believe even if.

That I could understand, even as a thirteen-year-old. More than that, it was something I could feel, in a way that made me cry into my bedroom carpet.

And so I waited. And eventually I understood more, and some of the answers to my questions came. But there are still times when I need Puddleglum’s Wager—the feet-in-the-fire faith that goes beyond probability and resonates with something deep inside of me.

Theologians are great, and I owe them a lot. But I owe the most to a gloomy marshwiggle.

Puddleglum

6 comments

  1. Puddleglum was always one of my favorite characters…there’s something incredibly endearing about a pessimistic half-man half-frog who turns out to have more faith than half of Narnia. Thanks for writing about him.

  2. I remember deriving the same basic thing as Pascal’s wager sometime in junior high. Of course, junior high me thought it was terribly clever, but that didn’t last long. While the basic “brass tacks” of its logic is more than less inarguable, I soon found it to be a deplorable rhetorical mechanism. It seems a lifeless and begrudging way to see something that should otherwise breathe the heat of creation into our souls. I agree with you.

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