Read the essay: Man or Rabbit?
In this short but very insightful essay Lewis responds to the question, “Can you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” Obviously, the answer is yes—we can all think of “good” people who aren’t Christians, from celebrities who donate huge sums to charities, to atheists who strive for social justice, to devout practitioners of other religions—Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But Lewis immediately takes issue with those who would ask such a question. What such a person is really concerned with is not finding out if Christianity is true or not, but in finding out what use it is to him or her. He or she is interested in Christianity only insofar as it will help to make him or her a “better” or “more moral” person. The attention is all on one’s self. If Christianity is true, Lewis asserts, then “every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all,” and if Christianity is false “no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be”. The real question is not whether we can live good lives apart from Christianity, but whether we should believe it or not. For if Christianity is true and we continue to live apart from it, even if we try to live “good” and “moral” lives we are “working in the dark”, acting “in a way which simply doesn’t fit the real universe” and risking “infinite harm” to our fellow creatures.
The person who asks “Can I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” is in a completely different set of people from those who have either never heard of Christ (such as Socrates) or those who have heard of Christ, considered his claims, and ultimately rejected them as being false. In the first case, the truth seeker is simply in “honest ignorance”; he or she is not a Christian at least in large part because he or she has never been given a chance to become one. Who knows what the ancient Greek philosophers would have thought about the Gospel? In either case, they can’t be blamed for their un-Christian beliefs. Those who reject Christ, Lewis asserts, are also innocent, in a state of “honest error”. For some reason, they simply cannot accept the truth of Christianity—but they are seeking after truth nonetheless. In the end, Lewis claims, “honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed”—startling, though he hints at similar things in the end of The Last Battle and in The Great Divorce. It is the person who has heard of Christ but chooses to ignore him, who refuses to answer the door that the Truth is knocking on because he is afraid to face the facts, afraid of having to give his life and his all, that will not be forgiven. Such a person is lukewarm, cowardly, lazy, dishonest—pursuing mere animal happiness rather than the truth for which God gave human beings an insatiable thirst. If I’m not mistaken, Lewis says somewhere that the opposite of love is not hatred but apathy. Those who reject Christianity but strive for truth and justice are, in the end, working to bring God’s kingdom. Those who simply don’t care are the true evildoers, wholly self-absorbed and, as the title of the essay implies, more rabbits than men.Yes, Christianity will help you, will do you good—but it will help in a way that hurts terribly before it heals, do real good—and what is ultimately for our good, that is, loving others, is usually “bad” for us in the short term. Christianity is suffering, hard work, heartbreak and loss. And it is much more than simple morality. This goes back to Plantinga—the law is not the goal of the Christian life, but the foundation and framework within which it is to be lived, like a trellis that anchors a flowering vine. In “the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and calls us to be gods…morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade.” The rabbit in us—our fear and laziness, weakness, anxiety, and slavery—will be stripped away to reveal what we really are: “a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”