Recently, I've been re-reading one of the stranger works of C.S. Lewis, Pilgrim's Regress. Pilgrim's Regress was Lewis' first attempt at trying to explain his new-found faith in literary form. Following the lead of Puritan writer, John Bunyan, Lewis decided to recast his own Christian journey as a work of allegorical fiction. Lewis and his friends promptly decided that the work was a failure, but that didn't keep him from other imaginative forays into the world of literature.
Looking back on the work, Lewis decided that its major fault was two-fold: obscurity and a lack of charity. As to a lack of charity, Lewis knew better than I do -I can't detect anything particularly spiteful. As to obscurity, that hits nearer the mark. However, if you are familiar with the intellectual climate of first third of the 20th century, then the book is actually quite a romp. Even if that's not the case, there are still many elements of Lewis' spiritual journey that are far more familiar than he thought. How many of us have struggled with the meaning of desire, beauty, and transcendence in a world that continually insists that such things are mere illusions? How many of us have been terribly thirsty only to be told, or rather have it insinuated, that there is no water to drink?
I was thinking about this the other day while watching an episode of Joss Wedon's Firefly. In the episode Jane's Town, we see each of the characters struggling with the issue of belief. This belief is ultimately understood from a Sartian (as in Jean Paul Sartre) perspective: it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you believe in something and that gives meaning to your life. The show ends on a pessimistic note with Jane distraught over a young man who gave his life to save Jane in the mistaken belief that the hooligan was a hero. The only comfort Captain Mal can give is to tell him that people just need something to believe in and that any guy who ever earned the title hero was some form of scoundrel or other. In other words, we all need to believe, but there is no ultimate basis for belief. Belief is a lie we tell ourselves to keep going in a world that is without objective meaning or purpose. There is thirst, and ways of pretending to drink, but no water.
Now this is simply a philosophical bias. Why believe that to be the case? We could equally choose to be Platonic about the whole thing and say that Jane, unknowingly, was partaking in some ultimate Form of heroic-ness and anything that participates even a little in that Form encourages belief. That would be a philosophical bias too, but that isn't the issue. The issue is why we moderns and post-moderns continually believe that the uglier a thing is the truer it must be. Why? That question bothered the young atheist C.S. Lewis. Pilgrim's Regress, for all its faults, reminds us that this question should bother us too.