C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves on the Myth of Christianity:

Oct 18, 1931

What has been holding me back (at any rate for the last year or so) has not been so much a difficulty in believing as a difficulty in knowing what the doctrine meant: you can’t believe a thing while you are ignorant [of] what the thing is. My puzzle was the whole doctrine of Redemption: in what sense the life and death of Christ ‘saved’ or ‘opened salvation to’ the world. I could see how miraculous salvation might be necessary: one could see from ordinary experience how sin (e.g. the case of a drunkard) could get a man to such a point that he was bound to reach Hell (i.e. complete degradation and misery) in this life unless something quite beyond mere natural help or effort stepped in. And I could well imagine a whole world being in the same state and similarly in need of miracle. What I couldn’t see was how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago could help us here and now–except in so far as his example helped us. And the example business, tho’ true and important, is not Christianity: right in the centre of Christianity, in the Gospels and St Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed (‘propitiation’ [which means to appease; to overcome the distrust or animosity of; to regain by pleasant behavior; to make compatible, to reconcile; to regain someone’s friendship or goodwill]–‘sacrifice’ [which means the act of offering something to deity in propitiation; forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim on oneself (ex. Christ sacrificing His life for us; and we sacrificing our life for Christ); to offer one thing for a thing considered to be of greater value]–‘the blood of the lamb’)–these were expressions which I could only interpret in senses that seemed to me either silly or shocking.

Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose "what it meant’.

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened.

No time for more now. I hope to have some literary chat in my next letter.

                                                        Your's, Jack