‘Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion’

Perhaps you have read Polly Toynbee’s passionate article on the new Narnia film. Well worth a read. It is not one of her more measured responses, and all the more interesting for that.

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.

The article gives some real insight into Polly Toynbee’s real issues with abusive religion, which we want to be hugely sympathetic to.

The two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons – even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power – lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored.

But essentially this is a power struggle between conservatism and liberalism, and christianity is caught up in it. I don’t think we want the agenda of Jesus associated with that power struggle, and in order to do that any conversation will have to be humble about the failings of the church in the past and its throwing its substantial weigh behind political and social conservatism. However the crucial issue is this:

So Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children’s minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy – but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism.

Interwoven with that struggle however is a philosophical debate. Scientific humanism will allow no limits to be placed on human power and potential. Here we need to disagree. Pollys humanism is her weakness – her privilege and education, social standing and personal stature make her naive about the reality of human experience. We are guilty, we do suffer – the answer is not education (though that is a profound good) we do need redemption – but trying to help Polly to see that is a massive task, particularly given her experiences.

5 thoughts on “‘Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion’

  1. I like the juxtaposition of the post on Narnia and image of the lion Aslan with the post on love and the image of the bound lamb……

    If we take love out of the equation then I think Polly would be right.

  2. thing that got me musing from polly’s article is the issue of strength and weakness. i have to admit i always thought it kind of ruined most of the narnia stories that basically everything always got really bad and then aslan turns up and is essentially invincible- just a roar, a leap, a show of teeth and the battle’s over.

    but if aslan is the christ then omnipotence is a hard enemy to fight- except when he surrenders his life.

    why wasn’t aslan a lamb? I have heard that clive staples (CS) chose the name aslan from that bit in revelation 5 where John sees ‘a lion looking as a lamb slain’. Alsan is an assonant rendering of ‘as lamb’. So we have ‘the Lion as Lamb’. And on the stone table that’s what happens- he is shawn and becomes the lamb. It is interesting to note that John saw it that way round rather than the lamb looking like a lion, particularly as Jesus is referred to as the Lamb almost all the way through the rest of the book (waiting for the New Zealand epic of revelaion to come out one Christmas?? 🙂 )

    Anyhoo. Back to weakness and strength. I agree with Polly’s points about Republican muscular Christianity that seems to leave a bad taste in the mouth. Hmmm. Maybe the lamb has a stronger message for this culture.

    Yet Aslan is tender and playful- (although the girls feel that playing with the resurrected Alsan is like playing with a lightning storm if i remember right). He is def loving. I think he helps us regain ‘the friendship and the fear’ appropriate which is hard for us to hold onto.

    Although Tolkien and Lewis both express their hierarchies, their choice of hobbits and children surely also reflects a commitment to the small and weak- ‘the things that are not to shame the wise’…

    Which makes me also ask why is it that children ubiquitously love narnia and aslan but the scholarly likes of Pulman and Toynbee are wretching… stumbling… ??

    Sammy C

  3. You know, I think C.S. Lewis is getting to them. There was never this level of hype around the Jesus Video Project, Songs of Praise or Highway. Why? Frankly because they were a bit naff and who would want to see them anyway. But there is a danger some people might actually like these books / films and that’s a lot more concerning isn’t it.

    But why? It seems that people are being upset by Christianity by the back door and the thought of them being brainwashed byt the film. So let’s counteract that. Let’s make sure people know what the underlying message is for the film. Let’s make sure people know what Lewis was trying to convey. And then the issue is not about brain-washing or subterfuge, it’s simply one of freedom of speech. People, including parents, are then able to decide for themselves if it’s something they and their kids should watch. No pressure, no hidden agenda, it’s all out in the open. Then to repress it then would be censorship of the most ridiculous order.

    Is it offensive for a Christian to write an interesting account which reflects their views? Is it offensive to allow other Christians, and others who want to, to read / see it? In most art and culture there will be parts that people find offensive. What we need to do, and this is true across films, art, talks etc., is give people enough information so they can make an informed decision about whether they want to read/see it.

    Other than that we are then dealing about why people find the message so upsetinng. I particularly like this quote from the article:

    “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?”

    The central part of our faith is also the bit that seems like madness to the world and is their stumbling block. But isn’t this exactly what Jesus warned us? This is a whole other debate for a separate blog. For now we’ll leave it simply as an appeal for artistic freedom with the appropriate amount of information available for people to make an informed choise.

  4. An interesting article – esp when read with Peter Bradshaw’s 5-star review of the film last Friday.

    I think Toynbee’s final para is very interesting (see bottom of comment), and does in fact represent a pitfall that many Christians do too often fall into (feeling superior, and feeling as we don’t have to do anything in this life as we’re saved anyway). Even though these mistakes are made more often in certain Christian traditions, as Mark says, it probably infiltrates most Christian tradition to some extent.

    What Toynbee does not acknowledge though is the fact that those who believe in God should be – and often are – more mindful about what they do and say not less; more obliged to settle disputes, let nobody suffer, and ‘do what we can’. Ok, the church doesn’t do these things enough, but we do more than most.

    Don’t we?

    “Aslan’s divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility… Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.”

  5. Stuart pointed out this article too.
    ‘The strategy for marketing the movie The Chronicles of Narnia resembles nothing so much as the strategy used to re-elect George W. Bush as president in 2004: Pursue mainstream voters with adverts that stress martial valor and family values, and target Christian evangelicals with overtly religious appeals church by church, radio station by radio station.’
    I think that it is well worth recognising that the Christian market in the US is a hugely rich one and Disney are making financial decisions in marketing it to Christians.

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