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December 7, 2005

I can't believe what I'm reading

WARNING! Religious rant follows. You have been warned.

I don't know about you, but I am really, really excited to see the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it comes out this Friday. Well, I might not see it this Friday, but I'm pretty sure I'll see it in the theater. And since this movie is coming out soon we of course can read various reviews on what people think about the film adaptation of this beloved childrens' classic. Some reviews think it is good, some reviews think it is bad or mediocre, but most reviews discuss whether or not the movie sticks to the original story and it's overtly Christian message. Most feel it does a pretty good job of this, but at least one review I've read wishes it hadn't. And I am stunned with this.

A couple of days ago the Guardian published a piece of tripe called Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion. Obviously, this got my attention. A children's book represents everything that is most hateful about religion? So, I decided to take a look. The author begins by discussing how Disney is reaching out to Christian churches ala The Passion of the Christ in order to drum up business. I'm not sure what is wrong with this, in my mind that is just a smart thing to do. The author then goes on to discuss how this will backfire in Great Britain where a recent poll suggests that 43% of Britons don't know why they celebrate Easter. OK, fine. That isn't so much sad or tragic. That is just plain stupid.

But what really gets my goat about this article is the author's discussion of why exactly the Narnia books are so "hateful." Check out this masterpiece of a paragraph:

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. ... So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

Wait a minute. The central tenet of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Christ, is also its most "repugnant?" In order to take away the sins of the world Jesus laid down his life to save us all. This is repugnant? And I'm not asking you if you believe it or not, I'm asking you if you think it is repugnant. Well? When someone lays down his or her life for another we usually call that person a hero. And how does the author follow this up? What is her overwhelming comeback to the sacrifice of Jesus? "Did we ask him too?" Touche, madam! Touche! Gah! Whether you believe it or not, the gift is yours. Accept it or don't. That is called "free will." How is any of this "repugnant"?

In this paragraph the author also suggests that the guilt of Edmund is too much for a child to bear, and I'll agree that the burden of the death of Aslan would be hard to get over. Obviously, in this story the child Edmund represents Judas. But then she skirts over the more important point Lewis was trying to make concerning the grace of God. Aslan forgives Edmund! Aslan forgives the very person that betrayed him! What does this teach children, besides its religious message? How about the honor and beauty of forgiveness in general? Is this a bad message to teach our children? In viewing this scene, would your average child maybe think to him or herself, "Boy, my faults are nothing compared to getting Aslan killed, and yet Aslan still forgave him. Maybe I should be more understanding of my siblings and friends and try to forgive them when they wrong me." This might be too deep for a five year old, but the idea is still there. The author of this piece, I guess, would see this as repugnant and hateful.

The author goes on to write:

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight.

First of all, the Chronicles of Narnia are a story, an allegory, and they are not meant to be a complete mirror of the story of the New Testament. Lewis was also a big fan of fairy tales and other forms of mythology which he includes heavily in these stories. Secondly, the Lion in the Chronicles of Narnia did in fact humble himself, he did in fact become the "lamb" this article's author seems to crave, in laying down his life to save another. Again, I am just stunned with the stupidity of this article. Stunned but certainly not speechless.

The author ends her diatribe with this thought provoking sentiment:

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come.

Holy guacamole. It is just a children's novel with some magic, a couple of dilemmas to get through, a climax, and a hero. A powerful hero, to be sure, but I seriously doubt that anyone would suddenly come away from the book or the movie with the idea that we can now "avoid taking responsibility" in our daily lives. If that is your idea of Christianity then I can't help that, but it certainly isn't the idea the Chronicles of Narnia are trying to get across. Lewis often said that these stories were intended to introduce some aspects of Christianity to children. Quite frankly, they are just a very simple introduction. If this article's author would look past her own sterotypes of Christianity and actually look deeper than her shallow misunderstandings she would find a powerful hero that humbled himself, was born in a manger, lived a life as a carpenter first, then as a minister to the sick, poor, and helpless, teaching us all to love the Lord God with all our hearts, and love our neighbors as ourselves, before sacrificing himself for the sins of the world. Did we ask him to? No. But I don't really see how that is important.

Finally, it is very clear to me that this author dislikes the Chronicles of Narnia mainly because they are Christian. It reminds me of Christians who dislike Harry Potter books because they are about witches and wizards. If anything, this kind of article should be a powerful lesson for Christians that seek to ban books like Harry Potter because they don't agree with them. If this article's author can find so much "wrong" with one of our own classics, how far away are discussions to ban the Chronicles of Narnia? Freedom of speech, baby! It really is worth fighting for. Let's all keep in mind that these are childrens' books with heroes and villains, magic, guilt, redemption, sacrifice, and rip-roaring good stories. If you try to make them into something they are not, that is your own problem.

Posted by snackeru at December 7, 2005 8:31 AM | Books

Comments

It's obvious that the writer has a beef with Christianity and thus, writes the review looking to use the movie to discredit Christianity and vice versa.

This is no different than after the presidential debates when both the Repubs and the Dems claim they won and spin what was said to prove their point. She is simply spinning. Does the writer even cite his/her source that "43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated"? No. Who were the people? What background did they have? There is so much wrong and misleading with a statement like that it's dizzying.

Ignore the people who wish to publish heavily biased garbage like this. Their opinions will only be heard by those who think like they do.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at December 7, 2005 10:56 AM

Well spoken Shane. I too look forward to TCON:TLTWATW, however, not so I can enjoy a "christian" movie, but because it looks like a ripping good story. I have always been a little uncomfortable with fundamentalist Christian's "ownership" of the Narnia books. They are obviously an allegory of the Christian story, but because they are allegorical, one can read many different things into the stories. In fact I'm guessing many kids don't get the christian part unless their parents tell them.

Disney is marketing these movies heavily to the christian community, which makes good marketing sense. However I hope the movie isn't slanted too far toward appeasing christians at the expense of good story telling.

btw, that writer from the Guardian is an anti-christian fool who apparently has no concept of what being a christian is.

Posted by: freealonzo at December 7, 2005 11:38 AM

First off, I warn everyone I have not seen the movie, although I have seen several different versions of the trailer; and it's been about 24 years since I read the book.

I think there is an interesting question here (outside of this review, which is pure bunk) about whether the "quality" of the religious message has changed in some real fashion due to the change of media.

Before, it was a fantasy novel, not flashy in any sense, with a simple aim, written by a man with a specific and personal style of Christian belief. Now it's a multimillion-dollar, special-effects-laden movie that is actively being marketed in multifaceted ways (witness the two versions of the soundtrack), with an eye toward capturing specific demographics that have become "hot" over the last few years.

Enjoying this work used to be a fairly solitary, contemplative act, inviting imagination and involvement. Now it's a group activity, with specific depictions that tend to limit imagination and force specific interpretations.

So I think there is an argument to be made about whether something essential has been lost in the translation to the big screen. It reminds me of the difference between a monastery and a Hollywood megachurch.

Posted by: chapman at December 7, 2005 12:42 PM

Someone (I can't remember who) once said something to the effect that the hostility some athiests show to believers proves that on some level, perhaps one they aren't even aware of, athiests really do believe in God, and are fearful of Him. If not, why show such hostility to believers? Why not just laugh at them, or feel sorry for the poor, misguided fools, rather than being angry with believers for their belief?

Fortunately, we know that people like this writer have been around for thousands of years, that they haven't won, and that they never will win. You can deny that the sun rises in the east, but it still does. Similarly, you can deny that God exists, but He still does, and He always will.

What you wrote wasn't a "religious rant" at all. Don't apologize for it. Non-believers aren't afraid to say what they think. Why should believers be?

Posted by: Jeff A at December 7, 2005 4:13 PM

"Fortunately, we know that people like this writer have been around for thousands of years, that they haven't won, and that they never will win. You can deny that the sun rises in the east, but it still does. Similarly, you can deny that God exists, but He still does, and He always will."

Non-belivers are hostile because that common Christian remark is a hostile one aimed at them.

Posted by: Tootie at December 7, 2005 6:24 PM

"The author begins by discussing how Disney is reaching out to Christian churches ala The Passion of the Christ in order to drum up business. I'm not sure what is wrong with this, in my mind that is just a smart thing to do."

"Holy guacamole. It is just a children's novel with some magic, a couple of dilemmas to get through, a climax, and a hero."

Sorry, Shane, but you don't get to have it both ways. Disney doesn't get to pitch a film to the same evangelical Christian community that made 'Passion' a mega-hit, yet also get folks to pooh-pooh secular concerns over that kind of direct marketing as being over 'just a children's' story.

I'm firmly in agreement with you that freedom of speech is a good thing, but this isn't a freedom of speech issue - this is about a corporation that wants to maximize the profits for a commercial product. (It's particularly ironic, in that sense, to consider that when Lewis was alive, the only way he could conceive of his Narnia books being successfully brought to the screen was via Disney's animation studio, but resisted the idea because, in his own words, "if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!")

It would be wonderful if both devout Christians and confirmed atheists could be civil, particulary in the presence of each other. On the other hand, I've never been surprised by an atheist, in the midst of an otherwise charming conversation, suddenly changing the subject to, "So, have you rejected the artificial construct of God, realizing it as a crutch that prevents you from recognizing the responsibility you carry for your own actions and decisions in the world?" The analogous topic-shift, coming from a devout Christian, on the other hand, is occurring with increasing frequency these days, sad to say.

Oh, and calling people whose beliefs you don't share "stupid" isn't a terribly good way to make a point, either, even if some of us have learned not to take it all that seriously. *grin*

Posted by: David Wintheiser at December 7, 2005 7:27 PM

Just a quick clarification, I am not saying an atheist's belief, or anyone's belief is "stupid." I am saying that anyone who celebrates Easter but doesn't actually know why they are celebrating it is stupid. I was being a little more specific with my reasons for calling someone stupid. Carry on with your bashing of my ideas ...

Posted by: Shane at December 7, 2005 8:24 PM

Secondly, thanks to both Tootie and David for chiming in. It is always nice to have diverse opinions. I'm intrigued by your sentiment, David, that I can't have it both ways but I'm not sure I follow exactly what you are saying. Disney shouldn't be marketing to Christians while at the same time convincing non-Christians that it is just a children's story? First of all, I'm not even sure they are doing that, and secondly I personally feel this movie probably has something for everyone. Like freealonzo said, his kids probably won't even pick up on the Christian elements unless he explains it to them. I guess I don't see much of a problem with the premise that this movie could really speak to some Christians and please them on a religious level, while at the same time being just a really good movie for everyone else. Disney is smart to bank in on that.

And the freedom of speech stuff I just threw in as an aside. I just find it ironic/amusing that the same Christians that have probably decried the moral depravity of Harry Potter are now on the receiving end of these kinds of accusations. Again, censorship is bad. Let's all remember that.

But you know how my mind works by now, all over the place at once. Anyway, I still feel strongly about what I wrote.

And Jeff, I wasn't afraid to say what I said (or I wouldn't have said it) I just warned people because I think most people come here looking for stadium rants.

I shall mull this over some more ...

Posted by: Shane at December 7, 2005 8:55 PM

Shane:

A superb posting on Christianity...I hope that you don't mind that I linked your posting to my blog...

Posted by: John B. at December 8, 2005 8:57 AM

I agree there is nothing wrong with Disney marketing this movie to both Christian and secular audiences. It is smart marketing, and let's face it, Hollywood does it all the time (minus the religious v. secular overtones). For example there are two "Walk the Line" commercials: one intended for men focuses on the "outlaw" story of Johnny Cash. The other, intended for women, focuses on the love story between Johnny and June. Smart marketing.

Where I have a problem, and I'm not accusing anyone in the comments of suggesting this, is when someone says I can't enjoy this movie because it has religious overtones or conversely I can only enjoy this movie if I embrace its religious elements.

Posted by: freeaonzo at December 8, 2005 9:19 AM

^^ agrees, although there are some movies where you can't really enjoy the movie without embracing the religious overtones a bit. Ten Commandments isn't one of those, but while enjoy isn't the best word to describe it, I don't think non-Christians get nearly the same effect out of Passion of the Christ.

Posted by: Tootie at December 8, 2005 10:43 AM

I'm surprised there isn't a wacko Christian boycott to this movie. I mean the ads don't specifically say "Christian Allegory" so it is downright offensive to Christians. Right?

:)

Posted by: bjhess at December 8, 2005 2:37 PM

Tootie--

Having confidence that your side will win is not the same as having hostility toward those who disagree. I respect the right of atheists to disagree with me, but any hostility in my statement was put there by the reader, not the writer.

Posted by: Jeff A at December 8, 2005 2:37 PM

I wasn't aware that it was about "winning."

Posted by: bjhess at December 8, 2005 4:14 PM

I whole-heartedly agree with the comments by chapman above, although it's a bit off-topic (but isn't the whole topic off-topic?)

Aside from even the religious issues (which everyone needs to chill out about, by the way -- nobody's stealing Christmas, your bank isn't funding a gay revolution, and certainly nobody should be concerned about "winning" in the afterlife!), there is something disappointing to me about this film, or any of the recent blockbuster epics based on literature. It's easy to defend it, saying "It's just fun, it's just entertainment, and it certainly won't replace the book in my house", but unfortunately that's probably not the case with most people, especially most children. This movie will increasingly replace the child's self-created imaginary world for future generations, and thus (I fear) hinder the development of the imagination in these children. If anything, we as a society should be encouraging imagination and creativity from our children. I have nothing against re-interpreting old works, especially in a new medium, but at some point, the motivations for these "artists" (i.e. studios) becomes all too clear.

I mean, now if I say Legolas is one of my favorite characters, people immediately peg me as an Orlando Bloom fan. It sucks.

Posted by: spycake at December 8, 2005 4:42 PM

BJHess--

You're right. I shouldn't have used the term "winning". I wrote the comment too quickly. I realized this later this afternoon, but hadn't had time yet to change it.

What I meant to say was "having confidence that your side is right is not the same as having hostility toward those who disagree". Sorry about the error.

Posted by: Jeff A at December 8, 2005 5:14 PM

Well, Shane, I figured you were used to me bashing your ideas every so often... *grin*

freealonzo is right in saying that movies are often marketed in different ways to different audiences - any film that isn't pure one-dimensional entertainment will have different things to appeal to different folks, and that is smart to focus on, I agree.

When I say you 'can't have it both ways', Shane, I mean that there are folks out there who, upon learning that Disney is marketing the film to an evangelical Christian audience, might well wonder if it's a film they'll enjoy seeing. They'll wonder if it's a film they really want to expose their children to. To dismiss these peoples' concerns by blindly waving the 'oh, it's just a children's film' hanky is not just dishonest, but dismissive of their concerns.

To put it in more personal terms, I've never seen 'The Passion of the Christ' and have no plans to. The idea of the movie didn't particularly interest me, and the subsequent controversy over it turned me completely off. Now I say this knowing full well that I may be missing an outstanding film - I had much the same reaction to 'Shindler's List' until a good friend convinced me to watch it with her on video and I am ultimately glad she got me to see it - but of course, that's my choice.

And while I do agree with you that banning the Chronicles of Narnia from the local library is no better in the end than banning Harry Potter, again, I don't see that as the issue here. Nobody is calling for a boycott of the Narnia film (or at least nobody 'reputable'). Nobody is calling for the Chronicles (or Lewis's less-well-known Christian-themed science fiction trilogy) to be yanked out of libraries. All that's really happening is that one person in the UK has presented a negative review of the Narnia movie because she objects to the Christian underpinnings of the tale, and uses that as a springboard to discuss her own problems with the Christian faith. How is that really different from someone who, say, bad-mouths a politician who votes against a stadium issue and using that as a springboard to discuss his problems with a 'me-first' society that would rather watch a baseball team leave town than build a ballpark?

As for being "stunned by the stupidity of this article" (referring to, I assume, the Guardian essay and not the Britons who don't know why they celebrate Easter), didn't Christ say something about 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'?

Posted by: David Wintheiser at December 8, 2005 5:57 PM

Sorry I missed the party! Well, here's my two cents. First, I think it's silly to use a movie review as an excuse to air one's personal grievances with Christianity. Isn't that what blogs are for? But to address your point about the term "repugnant." That is probably hyperbole, but I can empathize with her, and maybe I can help explain why. The Christian doctrine assumes that we are all flawed and need to be helped, and that someone has died, and this death was exactly the help we needed. But as an atheist I dispute the underlying assumption. I'm not perfect but for me to assume that I can't improve using only tools available in the "natural" world is to give up. Obviously most Christians don't just give up, and live fulfilling lives and try to improve themselves, but it's just another instance of Christians using reason over what the Bible tells them. So, while I don't personally consider the sacrificial lamb idea "repugnant", or even "mildly offensive", I think it's based on a flawed assumption about humankind. For that reason, I can kind of see why people might be offended to be told that they are helpless without the help of someone they may have never heard of, when they thought they were getting along fine without him. Does that make any sense?

Posted by: Tim at December 9, 2005 11:07 PM

Tim! Thanks for the comment. I was wondering what the official atheist of the Greet Machine would think about all of this. I can buy what you are saying, but (and I think you point this out too) the word "repugnant" is just plain wrong for this sentiment. The more I think about it, in fact, the more I think she is speaking mainly about the brutal death of Jesus. I think we can all agree that crucifixion in general is repugnant, but I feel now that she also thinks our continued focus on the crucifixion is repugnant (especially as seen through the Passion of the Christ).

Anyway, instead of telling people they are flawed, I guess I would prefer to tell people that a relationship with Christ can make you more complete and more happy. That isn't to say you weren't happy already. That is definitely possible. I think there is something to be said though concerning conversion stories ... where new Christians consistently say they have finally found what they are looking for. People are searching for something. For many Jesus fills that gap.

Posted by: Shane at December 10, 2005 1:19 PM

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