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  • Hatred between Belief and FaithConversion in The End of the Affair and Till We Have Faces
  • Brent Little (bio)

On the surface, Grahame Greene's The End of the Affair (1951) and C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces (1956) could not seem more different, beyond the superficial similarities that both books are written by British converts to Christianity and published in the 1950s. The End of the Affair, inspired by Greene's own adulterous affair with Catherine Walston, takes place in London during, and in the years surrounding, World War II.1 The narrator, Bendrix, converts from atheism to belief after the conversion of his lover, Sarah. In contrast, Till We Have Faces, inspired by Apuleius's ancient Cupid and Psyche myth, is set in a pre-Christian pagan kingdom. The narrator, Orual, undergoes a conversion that plays out entirely within a culture saturated by belief in, and at times fear of, the pagan gods, a conversion that is explicitly pre-Christian in its historical context.

Yet both novels portray characters whose conversions involve hatred of the divine. This hatred occurs between religious belief and faith, a hatred sprung from anger over the divine's interference in human affairs. Each character, at the onset of their journey, would prefer to be left alone to live according to their own flawed desires. [End Page 39] Their hatred occurs after the beginning of their belief in the divine, but this belief is a belief without love or trust. In this sense, they believe but do not have faith in the divine. Such a distinction between belief and faith blurs some popular conceptions. If hypothetically one were to approach a random practicing Christian, and say, "I have accepted the Christian faith and believe that the Christian God exists, but I do not trust or love this God," one could imagine that the reaction would be confusion and bewilderment.

Although both stories are shaped by the Christian faith of their authors—Greene, a convert to Catholicism, and Lewis, a convert to Anglicanism—the present investigation is not concerned with examining specific doctrines of the Christian tradition, but with exploring the murky boundary between belief and faith as depicted by the stories. Specifically, I argue that the characters' conversions require an abandonment of previous conceptions of divinity. In addition, such conversions require one to reimagine both the self and others as a recipient of divine love and mercy, a new frame of reference that emerges for belief to transform into authentic faith.

Belief and Faith

The End of the Affair and Till We Have Faces challenge any misconception of faith that would mistakenly speak of belief and faith as synonymous. As Terrence Tilley observes, such misconceptions are prevalent in modern definitions of faith, which sometimes view faith primarily as an intellectual act. Tilley describes such intellectual definitions of faith as flawed due to a "rationalist misunderstanding of faith . . . This view mistakenly equates faith with believing a proposition or claim."2 In other words, faith would be synonymous with intellectual belief. Tilley notes that such a form of faith can be held by nonbelievers or believers. Nonbelievers may cast faith as the antithesis of reason and insist that beliefs are only worth holding when they grant certainty; believers, such as fideists and rationalists, may insist that faith is the acceptance of propositions constructed either [End Page 40] from the Bible (as in the case of the former), or from reason (as in the case of the latter). Tilley dubs a more popular form of this rationalist misunderstanding of faith "the Gallup fallacy," so named after the polls that strive to measure religiosity by surveying how many Americans believe in God. But, again, the Gallup fallacy is grounded in the false assumption "that having faith is the same thing as believing a proposition. It takes having faith as equivalent to the acceptance of a proposition." However, Tilley notes, the various forms of rationalists' misunderstandings of faith are correct in one way: "propositions that express our beliefs are a component of our faith."3

Like Tilley, both Greene and Lewis distinguish between belief and faith. In a 1983 interview, Greene claims, "There's a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 39-63
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-21
Open Access
No
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