Friday, December 09, 2005

Narnia: Faith, Heresy, or Just a Movie?

Many Christians are excited about “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and are taking their children to see it in droves. The film is based on the first book in a series of Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian apologist and good friend of “Lord of the Rings” author J. R.R. Tolkien. Those associated with the film are surely hoping it does as well at the box office as the “Rings” movies, and it is has been praised by many reviewers who compare it favorably to the “Rings.”

I presume that few Christians have read or heard of John Goldthwaite’s criticisms of the book of which the film is said to be a rather faithful adaptation. Goldthwaite is a Christian and scholar of children’s literature who, in his “A Natural History of Make-Believe,” accuses the book of being not only misogynistic in its depiction of women but also un-Christian if not anti-Christian in its portrait of the Narnia world and its inhabitants. In Goldthwaite’s words:

“…whenever a professed Christian feels he must create some wholly other world to explore the meaning of his religion, he is flirting with bad faith. When he fills that world with the make-believes of other religions, he is playing at polytheism. When he further sets sorceresses to rule over it, and werewolves, incubuses and wraiths, he is dabbling in Manichaean dualism, the idea that standing opposed to God's good creation is another, separate and equal, or nearly equal, creation given over to evil.”

In other words, it is wrong for a Christian to invent an imaginary world to teach anyone, including a child, about Christian principles in this one, and to populate that world with characters and objects that seem to symbolize important things and figures from conflicting religions. Worst of all, it borders on heresy for the evil characters in a supposedly Christian parable to be almost if not as powerful as the good ones. This implies that Satan and his minions are almost if not as powerful as God, and this is a huge no-no so far as Christian teachings are concerned.

I was never one to read books or watch movies about fantasy worlds filled with wizards and gnomes and talking animals. I always liked my fiction injected with a heavy dose of plausibility, be it sci-fi, Westerns, war stories, martial arts, or what have you. I never liked my fantasy to be too fantastic. So I have never read any of the Narnia or Rings books, and I will probably never see the movie and be able to address Goldthwaite’s criticisms in depth.

I will only say in passing that it seems to me that the Bible itself, in its numerous references to God and his followers being at war with the forces of evil, does the very thing Goldthwaite accuses Lewis of doing—making the agents and power of evil virtually equal to the agents and power of good. Just take a look at the Book of Revelation. Whether it’s seen as symbolic like the Narnia story or literally true, it depicts a horrendous battle between the armies of good and evil. Even though the army of good ultimately prevails, it’s an apocalyptic fight to the finish. I have always been puzzled over why an omnipotent God needs to wage bloody war with evil, and Lewis seems no guiltier of this dubious teaching than official Christianity has historically been.

In any case, I wish adults would just let kids see and enjoy the movie on whatever level or terms they want to see it, and leave religiously based proselytizing or criticism out of the picture.

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