Monday, May 26, 2008

Christianity Today and C.S. Lewis: Aslan Dancing With Bacchus

From Doug's Blog:

Christianity Today has this review of the latest C.S. Lewis movie:

“For Lewis, the modern world was a lot like the world that Caspian had grown up in-a world that had cast aside myth and magic and reduced the world to little more than a collection of parts. (In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace declares that stars in our world are nothing more than flaming balls of gas, and he is told that, no, even in our world, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.) Lewis wanted to give his readers-including Christians who had unthinkingly bought into modernity-a taste of the spiritual realm that animates our physical world. And since he believed that the pagan, pre-Christian man had a greater aptitude for the spiritual realm, and was thus easier to convert, than the secular, post-Christian man, Lewis wrote the Narnia books to introduce his readers to a “baptized” form of paganism. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the original book version of Prince Caspian, in which the Christ-figure Aslan literally dances with the Greco-Roman god Bacchus.”


Alyssa, Midenian Scholar said...

In advance, I apologize if my logic is hard to follow--I'm fighting a nasty flu/cold and my brain is very fuzzy. I'm not absolutely sure what the reviewer means by pre-Christian vs. post-Christian man, or what you mean by (I assume, since you posted it) supporting his comment. Is the pre-Christian man the man who lived before Christ's birth, or do you mean the average sinner? I'm understanding this as average sinner, so that's how I am addressing it. (Even if I'm reading this wrong, I think it's valid to say the following regardless.)

The first time I read this through, it appeared to me that the reviewer was claiming all Lewis did/set out to do was covert pagan earth-worshipers to "Christian" pagan earth-worshipers. Lewis did not believe in paganism and in no way supported it, first of all. There is a stark difference between being pagan and admiring the beauty of the trees and the earth. Obviously, a person who admires the beauty surrounding them is much more likely to become Christian because he or she can see God's hand in everything. In almost everyone's life, there is a moment when they look at beauty--the starry sky, the ocean, a flower--and are pierced with a sense of longing and happiness, bittersweet and sometimes frightening, but blissful. Lewis called this sudden longing for beauty, for eternity, "joy," and wrote his autobiography about his search for that beautiful fulfillment called "Surprised By Joy." Lewis appreciated that yearning in his heart as he grew up as what eventually allowed him to admit God's existence. I strongly believe that he uses fictional creatures in his book both to make it more interesting for children and to expound on that wonderment he has always felt.

As to Lewis caring more for "pagan" pre-Christianity, his best selling, world acclaimed book "Screwtape Letters" clearly is ministering to the post-Christianity mindset. "Screwtape Letters" is ALL about post-Christianity secularism, about how the Christian man converts and then does almost nothing, and how he must continually strive to be better and to grow closer to God. It may be that Narnia does not directly address this--though I see it several times throughout the series as characters struggle with their faith--but it may be that Lewis did not expect to find post-Christian secular children his primary audience.

Lewis used mythological creatures (including Greek) because his work was fiction, because Narnia was fiction. He was not saying that Narnia was real, he was not claiming that we should all dance with witches or whatever. Both Lewis and Tolkien did not see a problem with involving mythical, almost fairy-tale like creatures into their works.

It frustrates me very much when Christians turn up their noses to works of literature that are incredibly growing, maturing and fulfilling pieces to read--things the challenge and encourage--because the author chose to use some mythical creature[s] in his book, or perhaps to include some controversy. It's rather like when the Romans allowed Christianity to be public, and the Christians ruined hundreds of beautiful Greek works of art. But they didn't stop there--the very style of the Greeks was declared to be pagan, and all the Christian artists went back to drawing cartoon characters for the next four hundred years.

I showed my dad the article, and this is what he said (phrased perhaps clearer than what I've said):
I agree with your thoughts and your main assertion about Christians rejecting art/literature. But I think you're misunderstanding the meaning of "pre-Christian" and "post-Christian". If you research it I think you'll find this refers to general philosophy/worldview, not to the spiritual passage of an individual. I have one particular problem with the article. My understanding is that Lewis understood "conversion" is God's work, not an author's. His function was simply using the gifts he had received to help illustrate Truths. He and Tolkien had extensive knowledge of the mythology and literature of Europe and India, and they mined those images, enlightened by biblical knowledge, to build engaging portraits of Truth. Anyone who reads the Bible knows that God loves stories, and He designed us to learn through stories and parables. He doesn't provide us with an
endless library of laws and mathematical formulas so that we can know in every situation what we are to do. He gives us a few hard boundaries for an orderly place wherein we can chase after Him. He shows us people who had hearts to pursue Him, those whose hearts were set on lesser things, and many who were redeemed from the lesser to the greater. Tolkien and Lewis were 2 of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century. A person who wants to see more pictures that challenge and stir the soul will find great wealth in their works. A person who has a dried-out husk of a soul that only desires laws and formulas will be too distracted by the canvas and paintbrush to be moved by the painting.

Hopefully this makes sense. *crawls back to bed*

Nathan said...

Well said, Alyssa. I couldn't agree more!

Alyssa, Midenian Scholar said...

Yay! *iz happy she expressed herself well*

olde.fashioned said...

Alyssa -- You always express yourself well, IMO. I feel grateful if I don't make a completely muddled mess of my own views when I try to express them!!

"It frustrates me very much when Christians turn up their noses to works of literature..."

Does my attitude towards LotR and Narnia frustrate you? I apologize if it does, because that is not my intention at all (as I think you know). I also would like to make it plain to everyone, that I very much hope that I do not seem like I "turn my nose up" at anyone, especially a fellow Christian, and over such a trivial matter as which books to read. I am merely trying to abide by my conscience, which I cannot comfortably ignore, and I sincerely doubt that you would urge me to do so, even if it would be more in accordance with your own personal views and wishes.

As they say, variety is the spice of life, and I am content to agree to disagree, and highlight similarites rather than differences, as I think my brother put it. :-)

Alyssa, Midenian Scholar said...

Wasn't really pointing fingers, Lauren. :) It's true that I can't help been a little, tiny bit disappointed, but I don't think forcing it on you would make you any more likely to enjoy the books. ;) So, no, it doesn't really apply to you--general statement about how a lot of people treat good books. And I'm all about abiding by whatever you feel is God's will--mayhap He'll change your mind someday. ^-^

olde.fashioned said...

I didn't think you were pointing fingers, but I just wanted to address it to be sure. ;-)

Perhaps! I suppose anything is possible, save bin Laden converting to Christianity and pigs learning to fly. ;-P

Mike said...

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His Glory and Grace."

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Okay, so it's finally time to get around to writing a reply! (I'm sorry Alyssa!)

For one, the reviewer did not seem to have a negative view of Lewis. OTC, it was Phillips who quoted the article from Christianity Today, which I in turn quoted.

As to Lewis's "pagan tendencies" I would refer you here, in Lewis's very own words:

I had some ado to prevent Joy and myself from relapsing into Paganism in Attica! At Daphni it was hard not to pray to Appolo the Healer. But somehow one didn’t feel it would have been very wrong — would have only been addressing Christ sub specie Apollinius. (Roger Lancelyn Green quoting C.S. Lewis in the biography C.S. Lewis: A Biography)

Quote cited in:

He doesn't provide us with an
endless library of laws and mathematical formulas so that we can know in every situation what we are to do.

True! But Deuteronomy 7:26 says (in reference to pagan idols)2 "Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing." Makes me want to avoid things near paganism. And this verse merely one of the many that says such things. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating climbing up a tree and staying away from everybody living!)

I hope I responded to everything Alyssa?



Alyssa, Midenian Scholar said...

(sorry, just saw that you replied)

Just got back from a trip, so I'm a little sleepy. Let's see.

I think that quote sounds like it was taken out of context, or cut off. It sounds to me like he's building up for a contradiction. I agree that it would be very easy for Lewis to have fallen into paganism--"A Severe Mercy" (by a friend of Lewis's) is rather pagan prior to the main characters' salvation (after they met Lewis, I think, or through his works--I didn't read that far because the writing was difficult for me to wade through). But I do not think he was pagan, certainly not after he became saved.

Is Lewis's book an idol? :)

I stand by that Lewis and Tolkien both used the Greek myths as fairy-tale devises. As to Aslan frolicking with them (Bacchus in particular), I think the point was that God could go among sinners, or dangerous people, and even they could rejoice with Him, even they could be used by Him (after having a feast and rest, Aslan brings Bacchus and his girls to free man good citizens of Narnia, which is one of my favorite scenes in the book but didn't make it into the movie).

And Lewis wasn't saying we should all go hang with the drunk and stuff. Lucy observes to Susan at the end of the chapter, "I wouldn't like to be here without Aslan. It's rather frightening!" To which Susan says, "Certainly not!" (paraphrased a bit, I don't have the book right here)

I still hold to the over-all picture vs. writing something off for a detail, which may have been put there for a good purpose. If you read the books, you might find it makes more sense.

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

I respect your opinion, and thanks for elaborating. ;-D But, I'm going to have to go with the "write-off" on this one.