“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else, even if he had wanted to. ” –The Magician’s Nephew, p. 137.
Though the prequel to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe isn’t the most widely read of the Chronicles of Narnia, it has certainly spoken to me as I read them aloud to my kids in preparation for the intergenerational Bible Study/Book club I start leading next week. I read that page to them and dogeared it immediately. It sounded so current, so familiar, so timely.
In case it’s been a few years since you last read The Chronicles, let me explain what’s happening here. The Lion, Aslan, has just sung the world of Narnia into existence. Uncle Andrew, a witness to the creation of the new world, pretends that instead of hearing the lion’s earth-birthing song, he hears only roaring. In addition, he actively tries to perceive the voices of the other beasts as snarls, bays, grunts and growls, rather than the precise, cognitively complex, self-aware language they speak.
Uncle Andrew, tries, you see, to make that which is oddly like him, OTHER. He wants to see as inhuman what the creator has made human. That thing that speaks as he does, he hears through a veil of self-altered perception, as wicked, evil, base. Uncle Andrew cannot tolerate beasts who wish to be seen as any person would. He imagines they are out to terrorize him, to destroy him. Uncle Andrew legitimizes his fear by making up the truth. Seeing other humans approaching the animals, TALKING to them, he becomes incensed. He fears that broaching any kind of relationship with these brutes will hinder his overall safety and return to his normal life. “If they want to throw away their own lives, that’s their business. But what about me? They don’t seem to think about that. No one thinks of me,” he says to himself.
The companion book that we’ll be using on Tuesday nights refers to Ephesians 4:18, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” It’s a human failing that we only seek information to confirm biases already held. It is a shame that we impose the term inhuman on one another to make them out as beasts who do not speak as we do, are not motivated by similar objects and care not for one another. Choose your topic, today, and you’ll find intolerance like that Uncle Andrew shows here. Lately, I’ve heard about the evil motives of Muslims, gays, liberals, conservatives, Christians (Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, both against Mormons), teachers, immigrants, rich and poor.
I can’t say I haven’t been there. I’m incredibly intolerant of bigots. I hate it when people lie in the name of Jesus or pass along conjecture and falsehoods as truth without checking the veracity of that information. When Tom Short came to Texas A&M, I joined those who protested his hate-filled demonification of nearly every student on campus who didn’t ascribe to his very narrow view of Christianity. I have a hard time recognizing the humanity of KKK members, Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps, and occasionally friends who repeat bigoted “jokes.” I struggle not to harden my heart every day. I don’t want to wallow in my hatred or believe anyone to be beyond the grace of the one who spoke our world, and all the people in it, into existence.
My proverb chapter for the day, being the first day of the month, is Proverbs 1. In that chapter, I learn, “If they say, ‘Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave…do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths, for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood” and “wisdom calls aloud in the street… How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery?” I don’t want to fall to the temptation of an easy joke or strawman. I don’t want to deceive myself that those who speak in the tongues of men and women are not human. I cannot bow to the human desire to make OTHERS of those who are not like me.
Someone on a board I frequent said something to the effect of, “Tolerance is just a stepping stone between ‘Kill the infidel’ and ‘Hello, Ahmad, how are the kids?” I don’t want to be tolerant. Tolerance implies forbearance and condescension. I prefer to live Grace. Grace requires getting to know individuals and loving them for who God made them, not as nameless hordes who don’t speak the language. My prayer is to have a heart for all humankind, not just those I like or find inoffensive.