Tash and the Salvation of Muslims

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.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an Anglican convert to Catholicism. He is married with four children and lives in Greenville, South Carolina where he serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church. He is an acclaimed author and blogger.