(CCSLQ-26) – Only Believe

This is part of a series exploring quotations attributed to C.S. Lewis that are questionable for one reason or another. Presently a new article is posted the first Saturday of each month. There is an “at a glance” page HERE to quickly see what has been posted so far in this series. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to read the INTRODUCTION to this series. 

Only Believe

“You can’t know. You can only believe – or not.”

I’m sure there will be many to complain about me questioning this quotation. After all, it is clearly attributed to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books from The Chronicles of Narnia. Indeed it is from the thirteenth chapter entitled “The Three Sleepers,” and it is quoted correctly. So, what’s my problem with this quotation?

It all has to do with context. When these words are isolated they can mean a variety of things. Does it mean someone is not able to actually “know” anything? Does it mean if you “believe” anything that it’s all that matters? Within the story it has a specific meaning to a specific question or situation. In the story our friends have landed on Ramandu’s Island and they’ve met a girl (who turns out to be Ramandu’s daughter). Just before the words spoken by her in the quotation above, she states that they are in front of “Aslan’s table.” It is covered with delicious food and drink. The only trouble is they don’t know at the moment if this girl is a friend or foe. She says the food and drink are okay, but how can they know she is telling the truth?

That’s when Edmund says the following:

“I hope I’m not a coward— about eating this food, I mean— and I’m sure I don’t mean to be rude. But we have had a lot of queer adventures on this voyage of ours and things aren’t always what they seem. When I look in your face I can’t help believing all you say: but then that’s just what might happen with a witch too. How are we to know you’re a friend?”

The answer he receives is the quotation in question. Now can this quote be applied to a different situation? Sure it can. However, I believe you can agree it is more meaningful knowing the context.

The next quote examined is:

“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger, Strike the bell and bide the danger, Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had.”

Related Articles:

What Lewis NEVER Wrote  (Podcast)

Not Quite Lewis – Podcast Version

Not Quite Lewis – Questionable Lewisian Quotations (Conf. Paper)

Updated 8/6/2016

One comment

  1. Lee G /

    If this isolated quote were taken as a universal assertion, it would contradict Lewis’ argument that faith is hanging onto what you have had reasons to believe, even when feelings do not support that faith.