I look upon the various particular religions as so many salutary institutions, prescribing in different countries an uniform manner of public worship; and which may all have their respective reasons, peculiar to the climate, government, or laws of the people adopting them, or some other motive which renders the one preferable to the other according to the circumstance of time and place. I believe all that are established to be good when God is served in sincerity of heart. This service is all that is essential. He rejects not the homage of the sincere, under whatsoever form they present it.Rousseau’s vicar views religion as the service of God, and that service may be done within any religious framework. Orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, is what matters: “I seek not to know any thing more than what relates to my moral conduct; and as to those dogmas which have no influence over the behavior, and about which so many persons give themselves so much trouble, I am not at all solicitous.”
Two hundred years later, C. S. Lewis is well-known as a favorite author among Christians for his many books, including Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. In the final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Lewis has a section near the end of the book in which a Calormene is welcomed by Aslan into the “new Narnia.” The Calormene has, for all his life, served the “terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people” (42). When the Calormene finally comes face-to-face with the “Glorious One” Aslan, the interaction between them is quite surprising for the average exclusivist evangelical:
I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou has done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? (205)Rousseau and Lewis convey very similar sentiments in their respective novels. Through the mouth of a vicar (Rousseau) and a lion (Lewis), each author presents an argument for a kind of religious pluralism. Both emphasize moral action over the profession of certain beliefs. Both identify religion with service to God. And Lewis, in particular, seems to view God as one who rewards moral human action while letting a person be punished by Satan for immoral action (it is clear that God does not punish, but rather gives that person up to the false god, who might be identified with the devil of classical Christian thought).
Questions for Discussion:
What do you think about these two passages? Do you agree with the vicar and/or with Aslan? What is the basis for your agreement or disagreement? Is Lewis the Rousseau of the 20th century? Or is Lewis something different altogether? Is the Enlightenment the basis for each author’s views? Is there a better argument for religious pluralism than the views presented by these two authors, and if so, what? What do you think about the emphasis on orthopraxy over orthodoxy? What is the relation between right actions and right beliefs, and how does one’s salvation relate to these twin dimensions of religion? Finally, where might an Eastern view of religion (as opposed to these Western European views) agree or disagree with the views presented here?