“Myth Become Fact”
Throughout history, countless characters have arisen who speak or act in ways that remind one of Christ. In light of this, how could Christianity explain its ideas as unique and more legitimate than others? C.S. Lewis addresses this question through the concept of Christianity as “Myth become Fact.” In his “Myth become Fact” argument, Lewis builds the case that all similarity to Christ claimed by other religions is the result of humans unwittingly comprehending aspects of God’s overarching plan. Lewis builds the argument by acknowledging a sense of mystery common to Christian and non-Christian stories, noting Christ’s historicity, explaining the existence of alternate views, and concluding that Jesus was the embodiment of what had previously been only vague notions. “Myth become Fact,” when paired with other theological arguments by Lewis, is a notion that fosters an understandable and convincing argument for the divinity of Christ in light of other religious beliefs.
Christianity possesses a sense of mystery which also arises in the examination of other spiritual stories. In his “Letter to Arthur Greeves,” Lewis admits that, as a questioning atheist, he approached Christian writings in a manner distinct from the way he approached other religious or mythical writings. In reading Christian writings, he disallowed any sense of wonder or awe to arise in the reading of Jesus’ words and actions. In reading other religious writings, he permitted his mind to accept its inability to understand the full scope of the subtleties of the work, and thus allowed the wonder-inducing aspects of the text to guide him to profundities engrained in the stories. The different approaches to reading, he realized, intensely changed his understanding and appreciation of the text. Christianity, then, must be approached with the same sense of expectation with which one approaches myths. Lewis does not end there, however. He points out a significant difference between the Christian myth and those of other religions: the myth of the Christians is true myth. Thus, while there is notable similarity between Christian and Pagan myth, the truth backing each differs. One problem remains: Why should one concretely believe this claim of truth? How is one to know that Christianity is the truth and that the others are not?
C.S. Lewis briefly touches on the historical evidence that backs up Christian claims regarding Jesus as the true myth. Jesus of Nazareth, he claims, existed and was crucified. There are ancient documents that record his existence within the legal system of the time. Ancient scholarship has no choice but to acknowledge the reality of His existence, independent of the validity of any other claim about Him. He existed, and the following that He garnered has carried into this generation.3 It is clear that Jesus Christ existed and was fairly influential. The question then arises: If the myth of Christ is true but other similar myths are not, then why does the false myth exist?
Lewis accounts for the existence of myths similar to Christianity by explaining how God is in man. As the creator of all things, Lewis claims that God left a piece of Himself in mankind. These pieces tap into the same divine nature, as demonstrated by the existence of the Moral Law. As creatures created by God, occasionally creative minds stumble upon a kernel of truth – a single aspect of God’s overarching plan for His creation. Thus, God’s status as the Maker and His action of putting Himself in His creation causes creative semi-truths to crop up even in cultures unfamiliar with the Christian gospel.
Lewis mentions that in making humanity, God placed a piece of Himself in each person. A special spark exists in each person that allows him to gain insights into the works of the Maker, since the spark is part of Him. This spark is one of “divine illumination,” shedding light on otherwise incomprehensible spiritual truths. The spark in each must be somewhat similar in nature due to each one’s origin at the source: God. The truth of their similarity can be found in the existence of the Moral Law. This Law is normative, not absolute: in other words, it depends on rules that should govern behavior instead of rules that inevitably do. It seems to be a natural conclusion that different norms of behavior might develop in different cultures. However, this is not the case. The Moral Law arises to some extent in every culture. Though it plays out somewhat differently for each – Lewis gives the example of monogamy versus polygamy – the general idea remains the same – a man may not have any woman he desires at any time he desires her. The Moral Law, similar across time and space, is evidence of God’s nature placed within each person. If there is a piece of each that is the same as the corresponding piece of everyone else, it would make sense that similar norms would arise. There is, then, a piece of each man that is connected spiritually to God, and which proves to be similar – just as God’s nature is constant – across people groups and time periods.
Lewis also explains that similar connections to God – similar pieces of Him – would logically lead to similar discoveries. While Christians possess a deeper, more complete understanding of God and His plan since they have knowledge of the true myth of Christ, it is nonetheless possible that non-Christian peoples may accidentally stumble upon hints of God’s truths and, unconsciously recognizing their legitimacy, flesh them out into myths. The innate God-connection within all people allows everyone to function to some degree in the spiritual realm. Wisps of God’s plan may alight upon the heads of cultural storytellers, inspiring them to action. If God has a master plan for the universe, and every person has some line of connection to His ways, it would logically follow that even people naïve to the reality of God’s ways would occasionally gain vague insights into that Plan. These insight, while not solid knowledge of the Plan itself, could be deemed “premonitions” of the plan; whispers of an event to come.
The God-connection could also allow God to directly influence people and their stories, Lewis argues. God is expressive and creative, as evidenced by the complexity of His creation. Since the universe tends toward His Plan to send Christ, Lewis maintains that God expresses Himself through Pagan religions. He does this by placing images and ideas in the heads of Pagan poets in the knowledge that these impetuses would be used to develop myths. In this way, God expresses Himself and His plan indirectly. It was not until Christ’s birth that God broke from manmade myth and placed Himself in human reality. He was then able to express Himself completely in the form of true myth – stories that truly occurred. The difference is the expressive medium: without Christ, God expresses Himself through wisps of thoughts and dreams which relate to His Plan; through Christ, God expressed Himself through earthly words and concrete demonstrations. It is man’s innate connection with God that allows men to grasp Heavenly concepts and allows God to place thoughts of expression in men’s minds. Myths of pagan traditions, then, touch on truth but do not fully encapsulate it. What conclusions can come from this point, then? What is the finished nature of the puzzle that Lewis has built?
Lewis concludes that Jesus is the embodiment of all previous myths, and that this “Myth become Fact” has established the similarity between Christianity and Pagan myth, demonstrated the fact of Christ’s existence, and used Christian thought processes to account for competing worldviews. Christianity’s ability to connect and explain a variety of cultural phenomena is enough for Lewis: he concludes that because all phenomena explored in his work can be explained using his reasoning, then it necessarily follows that Jesus was the reality foreshadowed by ancient myth. All vague concepts – all loose interpretations of possibility – become concrete in the truth of Christ. All aspects of myth draw to the brief period of Christ’s life, to the time when God Himself directly addressed His Creation via Christ. Christ’s existence is as incomprehensible as magic in Pagan myth, is historically verifiable through ancient documents, and is the culmination and the expression of all previous myths. His life draws all key aspects of myth into His true myth – that of His physical existence on Earth.
Lewis’s argument thus far holds together well if Jesus is God incarnate. Unfortunately, there is no argument as such in the “Myth become Fact” explanation. This seeming hole in his logic is not a problem for Lewis. One need only turn to Mere Christianity for a thorough view of Christianity and its doctrines – including the divinity of Jesus. Lewis’s “Mad, Bad, or God” argument fleshes out a potential hole made by his inattention to Jesus’s divinity.
In the “Mad, Bad, or God” argument, Lewis presents the choice that each person must make regarding Christ. If Jesus is God, then all that Lewis has explained is true, and Jesus, since He existed, must be God incarnate. Lewis looks to Jesus’s claims in order to close the argument for Jesus’s divinity. In the Gospels, Jesus often claims that He forgives sins – wrongdoings against God and others. In so doing, He subtly claims to be God, for who could forgive one’s offense against another unless that offense personally affected the forgiving party? The only Person hurt by all offenses is God, as each offense directly violates His commandments. Jesus, then, claimed to be God.
When a man genuinely believes – or at least consistently and thoroughly claims – that he is God, there are three possible conclusions. The first conclusion is that the man is crazy. Any man who completely and consistently believes himself to be something he is not – such as a gardener who believes himself an astronaut or the King of Spain – would be classified as mentally unstable. Though some profundities may arise from such a brain, one should not accept them as anything more than random talk based on unsteady grounds. The second possible conclusion is that the man is a devil.16 If the man making such claims is neither crazy nor correct, then he must be lying. The only conclusion to be drawn in this case is that one must respond in complete rejection, since a person so intent on acting as God – pulling strings and making commands as He does – can have no good intentions at heart. In fact, the intentions must be of the utmost horror. The man, therefore, should rightly be distrusted.
The only option remaining, if he genuinely proclaims himself as God and is neither crazy nor lying, is that the man truly is God. In this case, an appropriate response would be to prostrate oneself before Him. In this way, by showing and describing the options of classification for Jesus, Lewis pushes the reader to a conclusion about Him. No longer available is the comfortable classification of “good moral teacher” – a good moral teacher would not claim to be God as Christ did. This final claim is controversial. Many people enjoy the comfortable ability to pick and choose which of Christ’s teachings to apply to their own lives, and this is an option only available when Jesus’ claims of divinity are dismissed. However, Lewis hopes that the reader is drawn rationally to the conclusion that Jesus must be God. It is not the guaranteed conclusion, but Lewis believes it the most logical. Thus, he has accounted for the hole left by his lack of argument surrounding Jesus’ divinity. Jesus must be God Incarnate, so the remainder of Lewis’s arguments are maintained.
The argument of “Myth become Fact” allows C.S. Lewis to account for the existence of world-religious beliefs while supporting the divinity of Jesus. He acknowledges a sense of mystery that surrounds world religions and Christianity, notes Christ’s historicity, accounts for similarities to other religions, and comes to the conclusion that Jesus was the embodiment of what had previously been only fleeting ideas. While the argument leaves a gaping hole in the proof of Jesus’s divinity, this hole is fixed when one takes into account a large portion of Lewis’s other work – especially Mere Christianity. “Myth become Fact,” when paired with other theological arguments by Lewis, creates an understandable and convincing argument for the divinity of Christ in light of other religious beliefs. It is a cohesive, clear, and captivating argument that is very convincing to any reader.
1 C.S. Lewis “C.S. Lewis Letters 1930’s (Selected),” The Inklings, 3 October 2014 <http://cslewisjrrtolkien.classicalautographs.com/cslewis/bookexcerpts/letters1930s.html>.
2 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 128.
3 Ibid, 128.
4 Ibid, 127.
5 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: harper Colins, 2001) 2.0
6 Ibid, 5.
7 Ibit, 6.
8 Lewis, Weight, 127.
9 Ibid, 129.
10 Lewis, Letter to Greeves.
12 Lewis, Weight, 130.
13 Lewis, Christianity, 51.
14 Ibid, 52.
15 Ibid, 52.
16 Ibid, 52.
17 Ibid, 52.
18 Ibid, 52.
Becky Bowman Saunders ’16 is a physics and dance major from Lakeville, MN.Tags: art, atheism, creativity, CS Lewis, culture, historicity, history, law, literature, mystery, mythology, reason