“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-respect. No, no, cousin. Do not put back your ears and shake your main at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.
“And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.”
My oldest daughter and I continue reading through the Chronicles of Narnia. We’re in Book 5 (not Book 3, as the abominable new numbering system would have it), The Horse and His Boy. I’ve read each of these books many times, but there’s always something new to notice. This time I noticed the strange way in which the hermit of the Southern March addresses the talking horses Bree and Hwin: Cousins.
I notice this because, earlier, I’m sure I always took this as a squishy “brotherhood of life” kind of term, or one that signified the extraordinary closeness between humans and talking animals in Narnia and Archenland. But now, having made my peace with evolution as the method with which God chose to create the world and humanity, that phrase takes on a new light. Indeed, we know C.S. Lewis himself accepted evolution and did not think that a particularly big deal theologically speaking: “I don’t mind whether God made man out of earth or whether ‘earth’ merely means ‘previous millennia of ancestral organisms.’ If the fossils make it probable that man’s physical ancestor’s ‘evolved,’ no matter.”
But I don’t mean to make this a big post about C.S. Lewis and evolution, merely to note that when Lewis has one of his human characters – arguably the wisest one in the book – refer to horses as “my cousins,” he is perhaps giving us a way to look at the world and life around us. Indeed, how would we treat our planet and our fellow inhabitants on it if we thought of them as part of our family and not merchandise or product to be consumed?
Our family tree does not just include our own family members, but every person on the planet, plus hundreds of thousands of years of hominids, plus millions upon millions of animal species, some of whom are closer relatives than others but all of whom are our cousins.
In the same way, our church family tree includes far more than we perhaps acknowledge. One of the eye-opening things about the Christian History class I just finished is how closely related all of us who claim Jesus as Lord truly are. It’s easy enough as a New Testament restorationist, two significant movements (the Reformation and the Restoration) removed from the Catholic Church, to belittle the doctrines that branch of the faith still holds dear – things like transubstantiation or indulgences or purgatory or the assumption and perpetual virginity of Mary. They’re so illogical! They’re crazy! There’s not even a hint of them in the Bible!
Yet not so much if you follow the evolutionary patterns of the church’s first 1,300 years – and, further, not so removed from us.
Modern-day Protestants, especially those, including most evangelicals, who are products of the free-church movement of the 19th century, I think tend to see themselves as recovering a “true” church that either went underground or disappeared entirely sometime in the second or third centuries then began to re-emerge during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th. This is an inaccurate assumption – and it’s dangerous for our efforts to live out Jesus’ entreaty to unify.
Rather, we are the product of 2,000 years of evolution, and the same evolutionary impulse that led to our own movement is the same one that led to the beliefs of our Catholic cousins. We share common ancestry with every person claiming the name of Christ, and it includes well-meaning Christians who believed many – if not all – of the doctrines we scorn today.
And that means the unreservedly negative pieces of church history – the Crusades and the Inquisition and the violent power grabs that occurred in the ever-present medieval struggle between the papacy and the empire – they, too, are part of us. We can’t just pretend that since we’re not Catholic, we don’t have any ownership over those tragedies. They are no less a part of our heritage than they are of those who still place themselves under the authority of the pope. Their great-great grandfather is also ours.
This is an important lesson, I think – the most important I learned in an incredibly educational 15 weeks. Just as we should treat both our human and non-human animal cousins differently with the knowledge that we are all family, so too should we treat our Christian cousins differently. No matter how different, whether they belong to the Orthodox branch that split off in 1054 or the Catholic branch from which we split in 1521 or any of the smaller branches that have proliferated in the nearly 592 years since, we are all cousins, united by common ancestry and an allegiance to the Messiah who fulfilled Israel’s story and promises to restore all things to rights.
As we prepare to celebrate his incarnation, it’s worth remembering just how closely related we all truly are.