Monday, December 05, 2005


We'll be hearing a lot of Christ-hatred, apparently, with the release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Up till now I've been mostly running across Philip Pullman, getting quoted all over the place in his efforts to become the anti-Lewis and to keep interest in his own books going 10 years after the movie release. I don't think it will work, but the aim -- even if duplicitous -- is at least rational.

Now Polly Toynbee, writing in the UK Guardian, reveals the depths to which hatred of Christianity can go.

Just to clear up one thing, I think she's got a point when she says some Christians have used guilt to manipulate children:
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. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. 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.
I've read a book by a Catholic priest, containing various meditations on the stations of the cross. They were all awful (though the priest was a kind-hearted, well-meaning soul), but the meditation "for children" was hideous, containing just the sort of guilt-smack Toynbee says her mother got from the nuns. The result, as so often happens when guilt -- as it inevitably does -- goes sour, is a soaring rage full of fear, shame at having been duped, and a wall that keeps one from looking at the situation in any light but one's own defensive anger.

But however pitiably Toynbee came by her rage, her view is still warped by it.

At the core of her argument with Aslan -- and with Christ -- is that He's not just the Lamb but also the Lion.
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.
For Toynbee, Christ must always be "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," certainly not "a mighty fortress." She mocks the idea of a powerful Christ: "Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America -- that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right."

Lewis, a British citizen, was neither was neither Republican nor Democrat, certainly not as those parties align themselves in the dawning years of the 21st century. What Toynbee fails to understand -- or, understanding, hates -- is that in fairy stories good people are rewarded and bad people punished; heroes become kings and queens, and villains get their comeuppance. The Church is not a place for rolling over and letting the bad guy kick you; it's an army of martyrs who laughed at death and saints who killed dragons and cities protected from marauding armies by an icon of the Theotokos.

She says that in Great Britain 43 percent of people polled didn't know what event Easter celebrates. How much of that ignorance and disdain is due to the "sensitive," "mild" and "inoffensive" cup of weak tea that Christianity has become? Toynbee would like to keep it that way, but Toynbee, as she says herself, is no friend of the Church.

And Aslan, the Lion who plays like a being at once thunderstorm and kitten, may be a worthy opponent to such a view. The fact that Toynbee is so upset is a sign of hope.

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