The other night I saw Anthony Lawton do his one-man adaptation of The Great Divorce at the Lantern Theater in Philadelphia. It's my third time, and if he is still up for it next year, I'll go again. In high school they told us Shakespeare should be seen and not read. Lawton makes me feel that way about C.S. Lewis.
In the "meet the actor" session after the play, one woman in the audience shared her delight that the lizard scene was "sooooo Buddhist." (You may recall the vignette in which a visitor from hell is plagued by a lizard on his shoulder that represents his oppressive lust.) She tried to get Lawton to say that Lewis was deeply influenced by Buddhism, and that all religions are the same "au fond"-but he wouldn't go that far, although it does not seem he is any more than a lapsed Catholic in his own personal life.
In many a college literature class, the woman contributor's comment would be lauded as profound. After all, look at the comparisons: Both Christianity and Buddhism talk about lust, and about a life permeated by suffering because of desire, and about a quest to get free of that bondage. Case closed, right?
If Lawton had not been caught off guard, I wish he would have responded something like this:
"Buddhism and Christianity are similar only as a cow is similar to a man-both creatures have two eyes for seeing, and a mouth for chewing, and for the obvious reason that both are bound by the physical constraints of the planet. It is only natural that every religion will have superficial similarities and will deal with these matters; they are unavoidable. But the lizard story is a dead ringer for biblical Christianity and its provision for deliverance and transformation. To try to make The Great Divorce Buddhist is like Cinderella's ugly sister Druzella trying to cram her size 10 foot into a size 5 glass slipper."
Interestingly, the white middle class Buddhist woman admitted to departing from Buddhism in one respect-she believes in a heaven and hell. Which is to say, her religious beliefs were, besides all else, à la carte.