Lewis, however, argues that, “as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact”. Thus, the old myth of the dying god is given historical provenance when we move from “Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where” to the historically verifiable crucifixion of Christ. He goes on: “By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle”. It is “the marriage of heaven and earth: perfect myth and perfect fact”. Thus, for Lewis, Christianity appears to be the “true” religion, standing at the pinnacle of human development. This was a view that Eric Voegelin understandably grew uncomfortable with in his later career, causing a profound change in his thinking in Volume 5 of his magnum opus, Order and History. For Cormac McCarthy, too, there appears to be a consistent wrestling with myth and the notion of “myth become fact”.
In McCarthy, we certainly see a reflection of the straining for contact with the transcendent God. The litany of characters who debate God’s existence in McCarthy’s oeuvre clearly reveals this, as do the heretic in The Crossing and the range of eschatologically-minded prophets who people McCarthy’s universe. God, of course, never appears, and this creates the tension which drives McCarthy’s fiction. Far from accepting Lewis’s conception of “myth become fact”, McCarthy continues to wrestle with the notion that there is no Christian certainty and the notion of contact with the transcendent God is no more than a chimera. The catharsis that comes with acceptance of the myth and surrender to the fact becomes impossible; the resulting existential tension is all the greater because of the sense of despair, or disappointment, or failure that ensues.
Thus, McCarthy appears to be caught between regarding with awe the mystery of religion and remaining sceptical about the very possibility of that mystery. He wants to believe the myth that Lewis believes. He is on record as saying so: Garry Wallace paraphrases him thus: “He went on to say that he thinks the mystical experience is a direct apprehension of reality, unmediated by symbol, and he ended with the thought that our inability to see spiritual truth is the greater mystery.” But his fiction consistently shows that he comes across a barrier which appears insurmountable. Thus, he appears to be trying to write his own myth, in order to make it work.
To be honest, the idea that God deliberately used existing primitive myths to seed the minds of humanity in order to make them accept the “truth” of the incarnation is wholly unconvincing. Jesus may genuinely have existed – the evidence is persuasive – but to assume that the myths surrounding him must also therefore be true is a logical non-seqiteur. To look at the myths as articulated by, say, Joseph Campbell, creation myths and stories of sin and redemption and so on, and to acknowledge the mythical nature of these stories, and then to look at precisely the same myths in a Christian context and claim that these myths must be “true” because Jesus was real seems naïve. It is almost impossible, now, to separate myth from reality in the American West of the 1850s, only 170 years ago, far less what occurred two millennia distant. The texts consistently tell us the stories are “true”, but one must not forget the role of propaganda in propagating myths.