The Catholic Thing
Tash and the Salvation of Muslims Print E-mail
By Fr. Dwight Longenecker   
Sunday, 29 June 2014

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East, the inter-faith prayer service in the Vatican gardens, and the outbreak of hostilities amongst radical jihadists in Iraq, what are we to hope about the possible salvation of religionists who would rather die a thousand deaths than convert to Christianity?

C.S. Lewis famously stole past “watchful dragons” to sneak theology into his series of children’s stories. His thoughts on the possible salvation of non-Christians are woven into the final Narnia story. It is impossible not to see the Calormenes, who invade Narnia, as Muslims. The swarthy Southerners have Turkish sounding names, are armed with scimitars, and invade by stealth and subterfuge. While treacherous, they speak with the highly formal language reminiscent of Islamic culture with its obsequious phrases and courteous manners.

In Narnia, an ape named Shift has been in league with the Tisroc – the Calormene ruler – and the invasion of Narnia begins. After he dresses the donkey Puzzle in an old lion skin and parades him as, Aslan, the great Lion, Shift has the Narnians in thrall and is soon conspiring with the Calormenes for the subjugation of all Narnia. 

The plot turns when the Calormene demon-god Tash arrives. A terrifying creature with the four-armed body of a man and the head of a hawk, Tash is conflated with the noble Aslan into “Tashlan” by the unbelieving Calormene captain, Rishda Tarkaan. Residing in the stable where the counterfeit Aslan was, Tash waits to devour all who enter. 

Among the Calormenes is a young nobleman named Emeth who has been taught to love and revere Tash. When he hears that Tashlan is in the stable he asks to enter and when Rishda Tarkaan tries to dissuade him Emeth says, “Thou hast said that their Aslan and our Tash are all one. And if that is the truth, then Tash himself is yonder. And how then sayest thou that I have nothing to do with him? For gladly would I die a thousand deaths if I might look once on the face of Tash.”

Emeth disappears into the stable and the story continues until the children of Narnia lose the last battle and are also thrown into the perilous dark. The stable, however, is “larger on the inside than on the outside” and it becomes their passageway to the real Narnia as they witness the quiet death of the Narnia they knew.

As the children journey into the real Narnia, they come upon Emeth. He tells them of his meeting with Aslan:

        Mr. Lewis and his lion

There came to meet me a great Lion. . . .then I fell at his feet and thought, “Surely this is the hour of death, for the lion will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him”. . .But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son thou art welcome.” 
But I said, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine, but the servant of Tash.” He answered, “Child, all the service thou has done to Tash I account as service done to me. . .no service which is vile can be done to me and none which is not vile can be done to him.”
Emeth replied, “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” 
“Beloved,” said the glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly, for all find what they truly seek.”

Lewis would no doubt have extended to a Muslim the generosity he showed toward the noble Calormene. Emeth sought with his whole heart all that was beautiful, good, and true. Therefore, in Lewis’ story, he found the Christ figure: Aslan. Conversely, any son of Aslan who lived in deception, cruelty, and evil would end up being devoured by Tash.

This bright stream runs through Lewis’ thought – a divine mercy that is universal without being universalist. For Lewis, there is a judgment and a judge, but the judge is not the Almighty as much as the individual soul.

In The Great Divorce, he states his understanding clearly, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

How does this generous spirit fit with the strict words of Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me”? Lewis’ clever perspective means that Emeth did come to the great kingdom through Aslan – even  though he thought he was coming through Tash.

All truth, beauty, and goodness is Catholic truth, beauty, and goodness. That is why we endorse and embrace all that is good, beautiful, and true not only within other expressions of Christianity, but also in other world religions.

So the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.” [843]

Emeth finds in Aslan the one for whom he was always searching. Likewise we may hope that Muslims who truly seek all that is beautiful, good, and true will one day see Christ and know him as the goal of all their longing.

In the meantime, we are called to evangelize tirelessly so that those who dwell now in the shadows might come to know the glorious light of Christ.

Read Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book, The Romance of Religion – Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty, and visit his blog to browse his books and be in touch at

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Martin Dybicz, June 29, 2014
Thank you, Fr. Longenecker. "A divine mercy that is universal without being universalist." Well said!
written by schm0e, June 29, 2014
Its prophetic quality is astoundingly clear to me from this review of the Narnia story. When I first read them to my children, 9/11 had yet to happen.

From the moment I learned of it, I have understood the Muslim reverence for the Mary to somehow be the seed of the salvation of its followers.
written by grump, June 29, 2014
The conclusion I draw from this article is "better any religion" than no religion, even a false one. To my mind an atheist or agnostic has a better chance of finding the Truth than a Muslim, whose founder was a pedophile and whose followers believe that anyone who does not adhere to their beliefs should be killed. From the Koran:

"Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme.
- Sura 8:39

"... slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and be in ambush everywhere for them."
- Sura 9:5

The Bible says "do not be yoked with unbelievers," yet the Pope invites a Jew and a Muslim to pray with him. Any bets on whether those prayers got higher than the ceiling?
written by FrankXM, June 29, 2014
Great essay on the transcendentals. All truth is one and that is our secret, rejected by the wisdom of our time that sees truth as conditional. Lewis' greatness lies in his ability to use the safety of a children's story to deliver the Truth. There is no guarantee that his message will be recognized or if so understood. Yet the Truth prevails and everyone who reads his books encounter it and the Truth cannot be denied.
written by Howard Kainz, June 29, 2014
I have read the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads, Buddhist Sutras, Chinese Tao te ching and the sayings of Confucius, and found immense beauty in all of these scriptures, especially the Upanishads. The Qur'an and the Hadith are something else. They are so full of violence and hatred of unbelievers and misogyny and the narcissism of the Prophet, that the search for beauty is quite a challenge. But beauty may be found in the actions of individual Muslims, if not in their scriptures.
written by Manfred, June 29, 2014
I find it interesting that on a site which purports to be Catholic, that so much ink is given to a non-Catholic, Clive Staples Lewis, especially since in his private life he lived for decades without benefit of marriage with a woman twenty-seven years his senior, Jane King Moore. Lewis strove through his life to effect a generic or "Mere Christianity" with which all "Christians" would feel comfortable.
If this would be sufficient, why would anyone be a Roman Catholic in the Church which proscribed contraception, abortion, fornication, adultery, sodomy and which insisted on the permanency of marriage?
We do not judge ourselves-Christ does and He established one Church to tell us, in no uncertain terms, what would be on the FINAL EXAM. He gave us the Seven Sacraments to assist us in meeting the very high standards.
written by Steve Golay, June 29, 2014
How does one hand out this little Narnia Tract to the Christian villages in northern Nigeria. When the need there, since the central government has abdicated its responsibility to protect, is for the Christian leadership of those Christian villages to go on the offensive. How do they discover the "beauty" of that "other religion".

To rob from Lenin, "How then should we live?"

NOTE: The thought here is quite opposite to David Warren's of yesterday, with his near advocacy of a thousand blooming St. Bartholomew Days! Exaggerated, I'm just kidding. His was beautifully put but difficult to read. It was like reading a biography of Pope Alexander IV with rose-tinted glasses.

Like him, maybe yourself, I had passed through several wrenching conversion - which exhausted body, soul, and mind. From from parents fundamentalism to satanism; from that to the Near Abroad of God's Army and The Church of the Process of the Last Judgment (in short, never mind!); from that to some adulthood into charismatic/evangelicalism; there (along with a marriage) into High-Church Anglicanism; on from that into Eastern Orthodoxy (Russian in taste but Arab in jurisdiction, Antiochian Patriarchy - which was the most wrenching of the conversions; and finally across that Tiber into Rome.

The journey story from Orthodoxy to Catholicism is its own; one, though, in which Mr. Warren may find fault with. But doing so, for this conversion, I made a point to bind up sentiment and emotion. It was a very dry conversion. Heck, my wife and I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, right on the property of local parish in which the priest gloried in his awakening sexual encounter with a homeless man. Entering the Catholic Church in the midst of the abuse crisis, via an RICA program that mocked the very thing I was converting to.

Why all this on your Narnia piece? Maybe because my conversion into Catholicism had, at the time, very little visible beauty and goodness about it. When I stepped out of the Tober River, opposite, the banks were quite muddy. Can, though, I suppose, take some solice that I'm still here!

written by Steve Golay, June 29, 2014
Apologies for a second post. Today. This Sunday. In Nigeria. Five churches burned to the ground. Over 100 Christians murdered while at worship.

The point being that classical, orthodox, historic Islam would see that as a thing of "beauty", as a "goodness".
written by Elizabeth Sheehy, June 29, 2014
Our Lord loves EVERYONE whom He has created, without exception, and HE can provide routes to His salvation we have not dreamed of...One thing I've learned - don't argue with Him about who is and is not worthy to enter into the Kingdom. Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, and bring along as many as you can, God willing!
written by Schm0e, June 30, 2014
Gawd what a tough crowd!

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