Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

His Dark Materials: The Seductive Power of Atheist Children’s Novels

I was greeted this morning by an ad for tonight’s premiere on HBO and AmazonPrime of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Adapted to film by the BBC from his series of childrens novels, His Dark Materials presents a fantasy world, just as captivating as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

The symbolism evoked by Pullman’s “Magisterium,” the evil antagonistic empire, that the 12-year heroine, Lyra, must contend against, is meant to represent the Roman Catholic Church. But evangelical Protestants should not be too smug in Pullman’s denunciation of Rome as tyrannical. Mark my word, His Dark Materials is targeted as an attack on a Christian worldview, as a whole.

Soon after Pullman finished writing these children novels in 2003, he marveled at just how little criticism he received, in comparison to the scrutiny of J.K. Rowling’s novels. Pullman states, “Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak…. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”

Pullman does not hide the fact that His Dark Materials is meant to convey a world that is completely opposed to the Christian world of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Pullman has publicly characterized Lewis’ Narnia series as “blatantly racist,” “monumentally disparaging of women, “immoral,” and “evil.”  Yet some Christians have been generous in considering His Dark Materials as more of a critique of religious dogmatism, and less of a full-throttled subversion of Christianity, properly understood. Furthermore, while some readers of Lewis have at times accused the Chronicles of Narnia as being “preachy,” it could equally be said that His Dark Materials is just as “preachy,” if not more so, in promoting atheism.

Rumor has it that HBO/BBC’s His Dark Materials intends to remove the most objectionable parts of the story, that admittedly sank the 2007 movie, that first tried to bring Pullman’s novels to film. But no matter how well viewers will take to the new film series, His Dark Materials will most probably generate a lot of interest. Pullman is an engaging and exceptional writer, even if the message is deeply flawed, according to Christian literary scholar, Alan Jacobs. Christians should be prepared to think through how they should respond, when a new generation of young, children readers begin to consume Philip Pullman’s books.

Here is Christianity Today’s take on His Dark Materials.


Bishop Robert Barron at the Graves of Tolkien and Lewis

Happy Reformation Day!…. which is a not-so-subtle reminder that I am not a Roman Catholic.

But I have a great appreciation for so many of my Roman Catholic friends, and particularly an admiration for a number of great Roman Catholic thinkers. Bishop Robert Barron is one name that comes to mind.

Father Barron has dialogued with the Canadian “Intellectual Dark Web” phenomenal figure and psychologist Jordan Peterson, as well as with Protestant evangelical apologist, William Lane Craig. Even as a “son of the Reformation,” I personally get an education from one of the most articulate and winsome Roman Catholic minds, whenever I heard Father Barron speak. Recently, Father Barron participated in England, as part of the beautification ceremony of John Henry Newman, the 19th century Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic apologist, perhaps the greatest Roman Catholic mind of the 19th century.

While in England, Father Barron stopped to visit the graves of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Below are two short, 3-minute videos that give you a flavor of Father Richard Barron. Finally, I included a clip of Father Barron’s Word on Fire episode, discussing the canonization of John Henry Newman, from Rome, with St. Peter’s in the background. I recall many fond memories from my trip to Rome, almost exactly a year ago. For those who appreciate “The Great Tradition,” that folks like Lewis articulated so well, enjoy:

Even though more people convert from Roman Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism, a surprising number of Evangelical Protestants move in the opposite direction, and “cross the Tiber,” so to speak, and join the communion in Rome. This can be quite puzzling for some.

If Roman Catholicism is like a “black box” to you, and you really do not understand much about it, you might want to investigate some of the videos put out by Ascension Presents. Father Michael Schmitz is a very gifted, dynamic, young priest and communicator, who knows how to explain the intricacies of Roman Catholic doctrine, to younger audiences. As opposed to Father Richard Barron, who can be academic at times, Father Michael Schmitz is very good at making Roman Catholic teaching accessible, to just about anyone. You may not be convinced about purgatory, but perhaps you will understand a little bit better what purgatory is all about.


The Silver Chair: C.S. Lewis Against the Seduction of Secularism

C.S. Lewis’ 1953 fantasy children’s novel has a scene where Jill and Eunace, the human children, along with their faithful, yet gloomy companion and Marsh-Wiggle, Puddlegum, have been living underground, for what seemed like forever. In their search to find Prince Rillian, they were stuck in a maze of dark caverns and sailing the Sunless Sea, in a world governed by a witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle. The children and Puddlegum have not seen the sun for a long, long period of time. The Green Lady seeks to enchant the others, in hopes of preventing them from returning to Narnia, and meet up with Aslan:

Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:

“There’s Aslan.”

C. S. Lewis had grown up as an atheist, eventually becoming a Christian, where the love of Christ showed him the truly reality of things. The Green Lady represents for Lewis the seductive power of secularism, bent on keeping us from seeing reality, as it really is. Prince Rillian had been imprisoned, in a spiritual haze, by the power of the Silver Chair, keeping him in spiritual bondage. The Green Lady was hoping to lure the young humans as well into her control, and away from Aslan.

But the children, Puddlegum, and the Prince were able to break free from the clutches of the Green Lady. The Green Lady was exposed as a deceptive serpent, and killed by Prince Rillian. The group was then able to clearly make their way back to the surface, and see the sun again in Narnia.

While there are many competitors to a Christian worldview, I find that Lewis had it right, that the greatest threat of all is secularism, whereby “religion” is shoved into a little, privatized corner. The “real” world, according to secularism, is a world whereby God is dismissed as a fantasy, an irrational, non-evidenced belief, that has been superseded by the world of reason, science and technology. The belief in “scientism,” that contends that only that which can be demonstrated scientifically is really true, reigns supreme in a secular world. The supernatural world of Narnia is merely an illusion, a “virus of the mind,” to quote Richard Dawkins.

The secular atheist rejects the God of the Bible because of insufficient evidence. There is no “sun” and there is no “Aslan” because we have not seen either, living in this secularized world. Well, at least, we have seen no evidence for either in a really, really long time.

And yet, Jill was compelled to remind the others about Aslan.

Like Jill, the Christian community is that assembly of people who are called to remind others about Aslan, to bear witness to the story of Jesus, the truth of the Gospel.

Sadly, there are times whereby the Christian church has reversed the roles, content to live in the land of the Sunless Sea herself. I have spoken with many an agnostic or atheist, who felt a sense of relief, when they were able to crawl out of their experience, in what they perceived as the dark world of “Christianity,” and discover the world “above” whereby they see the “sunshine” of reason, empiricism, and scientism.

I find that when atheists adopt this narrative, it is generally an indicator that the kind of “Christianity” that they emerged out of is one of a Christian community that has forgotten its true calling. Such a distorted “Christianity” has resorted to a type of navel gazing, that seems so self-absorbed with its own internal affairs, that it has forgotten its primary mission; that is, to be the Jills of planet earth, to remember and speak out words of true hope to a lost world, “There’s Aslan.”

After all, properly understood, the Christian faith is not opposed to rationality or scientific exploration. There is no war between the Bible and science.

Nor does genuine Christian faith seek to impose some archaic standard of morality on others today, merely lifted out of a Bronze age, that is better left forgotten. Rather, Christian morality seeks to illuminate the true of nature of what it means to be human.

Furthermore, a distorted “Christianity” often loses sight of the unity believers are called to have with one another.  As author Mac Pier puts it, “Disunity within the church breeds atheism in the world.” Such disunity can often introduce discouragement among the believers, such that we care less about God’s larger mission, to spread the Good News of Jesus. Instead, many Christians will often travel the path of least resistance, going along with the flow, seduced by the voices of the Green Ladies of this life.

As a Christian, are you being lulled into the enchantment of a purely secular world, or are you like Jill, who must remember something at all costs?

“There’s Aslan.”

 

 


Concluding Thought on Owen Barfield’s History in English Words

I have to return Owen Barfield’s History in English Words to the InterLibrary Loan, so I am putting in a quick, final comment here.

Owen Barfield was one of C. S. Lewis’ most influential friends, and exceptionally brilliant. J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of Middle Earth, was profoundly influenced as well by Barfield.

Barfield was most definitely quirky, theologically. But it really is amazing how Barfield was able to put together the philological insights he had in this relatively short book.

I am ultimately a “Bible guy” on the “God Squad,” as some people think of me. But I am just fascinated by how Christians, and my fellow evangelicals, in particular, get stuck on the meanings of words, as they make their way from the pages of the Sacred Text, through voices of preachers in the pulpit, to the average Christian, who is trying to figure out what the Bible is all about. Even more fascinating is how various interpretations of the Bible, that are hinged upon key words, get morphed over time, without people completely realizing it. Barfield is a great companion here, to work these thoughts out, in this introduction to his thought, History in English Words.

The standard recommendation for studying Barfield is generally to start with History in English Words, then move on to read Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, and then finally tackle his Saving the Appearances: A Study of Idolatry. Not sure when I will be able to get to these.

In the meantime, back to C.S. Lewis (later this summer??)…..


“Conservative” and “Liberal” as Christian Labels

A quick followup to a previous post from a week or so ago about “verbicide”…..The shifting sands of culture, underneath our very feet, have a far reaching impact on how Christians use words.

Take the labels “conservative” and “liberal.”  To conserve, as in conserving or preserving a tradition, is pretty straight forward.  To be liberal, or to liberate, is to set free, or to discard a tradition, is well known. But most of the time, we use these type of words as pejoratives, to identify parties or viewpoints we do not like.

Owen Barfield, one of the Inklings, in company with friend C.S. Lewis, writes about the history behind the adoption of the predecessor words to “conservative” and “liberal,” namely “tory” and “whig,” respectively (History of English Words, p.73-74).

“Spite, which always loves a rich vocabulary, is also the father of those venerable labels tory and whig. The old Celtic word tory was first applied in the seventeenth century to the unfortunate Irish Catholics, dispossessed by Cromwell, who became savage outlaws living chiefly upon plunder; after that it was used for some time of bandits in general, and at the close of James II’s reign the ‘Exclusioners’ found it a conveniently offensive nickname for those who favored the succession of the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York. Thus, when William of Orange finally succeeded in reaching the throne, it became the approved name of one of the two great political parties in Great Britain. Whig is shortened of whiggamore , a name given to certain Scotchmen from the word whiggam, which they used in driving their horses. It was first used of the rebellious Scottish Covenanters who march to Edinburgh in 1648; then of the Exclusioners, who were opposed to the accession of James; and finally, from 1689 onwards, of the other great political party or one of its adherents.”

Lewis himself observes that the terms conservative and liberal came to replace tory and whig, having been born into a political context. Along with the terminology of conservative and liberal came the use of right and left.

In the summer of 1789, France had its revolution, only 14 years after the American colonists declared their independence from Great Britain. That summer, the French were divided amongst themselves as to what to do with the French monarchy, which had become an unmanageable form of government under King Louis  XVI, burdened by overwhelming financial debt. When the French National Assembly met to draft a constitution, different parties gathered together in the room, according to their sympathies.

The meeting of the famous Tennis Court Oath, when French leaders met on a tennis court, standing on one side of the tennis net, as opposed to the other, gives a visual picture of when “right” and “left” got embedded in the Western consciousness. Those who favored a constitutional form of monarchy, much like the British system, gathered on the right side of the room. Those who favored dismantling the traditional monarchy, advocating a more egalitarian form of governance, gathered on the left side of the room. The language of right wing and left wing has been with us ever since.

Eventually, such political language entered the theological arena, whereby conservatives on the right would hold to a more traditional view of Scripture and Bible doctrine, and liberals on the left would reject such tradition. Among evangelicals today, the use of the word “liberal” is tantamount to questioning a person’s theological orthodoxy. Alternatively, to be a “conservative” theologically is considered to be a good thing, as the surrounding Western culture continues to be ripped from its traditional, Judeo-Christian moorings. But when and if such “conservatism” is perceived to be reactionary, or otherwise ill-advised, we often hear more pejorative sounding words used to describe one’s theology, like the word “fundamentalist.”

What a shift from the older meanings that these words once possessed! To be “conservative” was once understood to be something noble, conserving those traditions which were indeed truly good. To be “liberal” was to contend for freedom, one of the greatest virtues found in the Bible, as in, for the “truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Alas, not any more.

Labels. Labels. Labels.


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