Thursday, March 4, 2010

328. Pilgrims Progress - John Bunyan

History: Published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print.
Plot: Christian is the protagonist of the allegory, which centers itself in his journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" to the "Celestial City" atop Mt. Zion. Christian finds himself weighed down by a great burden, the knowledge of his sin, which he believed came from his reading "the book in his hand," (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Tophet (hell), is Christian's acute, immediate concern that impels him to the crisis of what to do for deliverance. Christian meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the "Wicket Gate" for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the "Wicket Gate" in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a "shining light," which Christian thinks he sees. Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself when his attempt to persuade them to go with him fails. Two men of Destruction City, Obstinate and Pliable, follow Christian to persuade him to return and are unsuccessful. Pliable then decides to accompany Christian on the path, until the two land in the Slough Of Despond—whereupon Pliable extricates himself and goes back to the City; Christian is rescued from the slough by Help, who pulls him out.
On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian where he has stopped before a life-threatening mountain, Mount Sinai, on the way to Legality's home. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.
At the Wicket Gate begins the "straight and narrow" King's Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Good Will. In the Second Part, Good-will is shown to be Jesus himself. To Christian's query about relief from his burden, Good Will directs him forward to "the place of deliverance."
Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them "emblems."
From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the "place of deliverance" (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the "straps" that bound Christian's burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulchre. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story being quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three shining ones, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City — these are allegorical figures indicative of Christian Baptism.
Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House Beautiful, which is an allegory of the local Christian congregation. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with armour (Eph. 6:11-18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts "over half a day" until Christian manages to wound Apollyon with his two-edged sword.
As night falls Christian enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the valley amidst the gloom and terror he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful.
As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.
Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the fair. Faithful is put on trial, and executed as a martyr. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity, takes Faithful's place to be Christian's companion for the rest of the way.
Along a rough stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who takes them to his Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The giant wants them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape.
The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful's journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as "Immanuel's Land".
On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who has the vain hope of entering the Celestial City even though he believes in work's righteousness. A ferryman named Vain Hope ferries Ignorance across the River of Death, only for Ignorance to be turned away from the gates of Celestial City and cast into hell.
Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it, but Hopeful helps him over; and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.
The Second Part of The Pilgrim's Progress presents the pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana; their sons; and the maiden, Mercy. They visit the same stopping places that Christian visited, with the addition of Gaius' Inn between the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Vanity Fair; but they take a longer time in order to accommodate marriage and childbirth for the four sons and their wives. The hero of the story is Greatheart, the servant of the Interpreter, who is a pilgrim's guide to the Celestial City. He kills four giants and participates in the slaying of a monster that terrorizes the city of Vanity.
The passage of years in this second pilgrimage better allegorizes the journey of the Christian life. By using heroines, Bunyan,n the Second Part, illustrates the idea that women as well as men can be brave pilgrims.
Review: The Pilgrim's Progress is not an apologetics book, and perhaps its true value lies in that. Rather than attempting to present a view of the faith palatable to outsiders, Bunyan unflinchingly depicts what lies at its heart: a morality based on fear, a vengeful god who values meaningless symbolism more than conscience and rational thought, and at the end, a fiery hell of eternal torture for all nonbelievers. All the while he condemns disbelievers for their dogmatism and refusal to heed the truth, apparently without recognizing that the attitude he seeks to instill in his readers is the very mirror image of that. Though the superficial components of such dogmatism may differ, the hostile and violent refusal to abide or even permit dissent is the same. Every chapter reinforces this view, whether through more subtle measures such as associating doubt with whispering demons or sadistic giants, or through the explicit presentation of Hell as an ad baculum argument, warning of grievous and painful doom for all those who do not believe exactly as the author does, down to every fine detail. Although many Christians have justly recognized and rejected these immoral and intellectually deadening tactics, the fact remains, unfortunately, that they come straight from the Bible. That book does indeed threaten dissenters with torture, does indeed call for dogmatism and the out-of-hand rejection of other views,and does indeed elevate outward symbolism over the contents of the heart. As far as moral lessons go, we can do far better than this.
Perhaps a better allegory would be an atheist's journey out of the intellectual darkness of superstition into the paradisal country of the truth?
Opening Line: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, the jail, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream."
Closing Line: "Shall it be my Lot to go that way again, I may give those that desire it an account of what I here am silent about; mean-time I bid my Reader Adieu."
Quotes: •"And behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful."
•"Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security."
Rating: Awful.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy following your blog and love the way you review stuff. Usually...

    Unfortunately, with this one, I wonder if you've considered the significance of the book to Christian thought and the religio-political scene of the time. I've made the same mistake with a book I didn't enjoy because I didn't understand the era and reason it was written. For example, it influenced a whole genre of Christian allegorical writing that was, as most genres tend to become after their initial seminal start, much more mature: C.S.Lewis, George MacDonald, Madame de Guyon and, more recently, Frank Peretti. So, whatever our opinion of its theology and literary style, we can't deny it's legacy. Sometimes, you rate books as "Boring... but important." Perhaps this one should have been "Awful... but important."

    While misrepresenting a book on a book blog is one thing, misrepresenting God and the faith of billions who follow him is another. I appreciate that not everyone will want to follow the God I love. But I do expect people who have valid criticisms of Him to respectfully make sure that those criticisms are based on a true understanding of the issues involved before they voice their claims. To claim, for example, that "immoral and intellectually deadening tactics... come straight from the Bible" is to forget that for the vast majority of Christians Literary Criticism is bordering on heresy. For the vast majority of Christians, who are Dispensationalist, the Bible is a watertight document of Truth and there are good intellectual and moral reasons for believing so, and there are many writers (Lewis, Zacharias, Schaeffer) who can help you far more in that department than I can, although I'd give it a go.

    I respect that you have a right to your opinion that Christianity is all about "a morality based on fear, a vengeful god who values meaningless symbolism more than conscience and rational thought." After all, it's your blog. But I would like to find out what you base that opinion on. I'm afraid that my 20 years of Christian experience reveal a fundamentally different reading of what the Bible teaches. Even my reading of Bunyan helped to reinforce this. It is a morality based on grace alone (the beautiful allegory of Christian's progress to and relief at the cross is one of the most powerful images of this in western Christian writing), vengeance falls largely on His own Son, and there is an intellectually unimpeachable God who says "come let us *reason* together. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." The question remains, therefore, are you prepared to engage your intellect and reason with Him?

    Feel free to get back at me at Arukiyomi.