Outraged by The Chronicles of Narnia?

This week I took my family to see The Chronicles of Narnia, based on the book by one of my favorite Mormon authors. (Well, nearly Mormon. The writings of C.S. Lewis frequently jive with LDS views and he may be the most cited non-LDS author in General Conference.) I left the movie pondering the Atonement and my own treason to Christ and others through sin, and yearned to be more true.

While I found the movie to be powerfully uplifting, I figured that those who reject Christ will surely be appalled by the overt Christian symbolism of Aslan and his willing sacrifice and resurrection. But I didn’t realize just how negatively some critics would respond. Rather than just saying something like, “That’s stupid – I don’t believe that,” the reaction in some quarters is surprisingly angry. Based on my experiences with this blog, you would think I would have learned by now that anger is the expected reaction of some people to anything religious. But I was still quite surprised to read Polly Toynbee’s response in Britain’s outstanding online news site, The Guardian, with the headline: “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.” Here is an excerpt:

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. . . .

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. 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. Philip Pullman – he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials – has called Narnia “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read”.

Why? 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. . . .

Does any of this matter? Not really. Most children will never notice. But adults who wince at the worst elements of Christian belief may need a sickbag handy for the most religiose scenes. The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gives the film five stars and says, “There is no need for anyone to get into a PC huff about its Christian allegory.” Well, here’s my huff.

Lewis said he hoped the book would soften-up religious reflexes and “make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life”. Holiness drenches the Chronicles. . . . 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.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. 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.

Ah, Aslan is all about Republican neo-fascist power and sadism, eh? Aslan is not a tame lion, and that’s exactly Ms. Toynbee’s problem. She has no trouble with a Christ symbol that just rolls over, suffers, stays silent, dies, and vanishes forever. But the triumphant Christ, the Resurrected Lord and King of all, the Creator, the Ultimate Power of the Universe who will return and judge us, who alone can heal us and save us from our sins, this is a Being to be feared and hated by the wicked. He who has done all to be our greatest ally is the ultimate enemy to some hardened souls. He is not a tame lion, and those who fight Him have much to fear.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

31 thoughts on “Outraged by The Chronicles of Narnia?

  1. Why all worked up over a movie review?
    It was a review of a movie.
    Not the end of the world you make it out to be.

  2. [Aslan’s] divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. 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.

    The problem with this atheistic criticism is he doesn’t have an answer to why “we are obliged to settle our own disputes.”

    Why bother settling anything? If this life is it, shouldn’t I take as much as I can for myself? Why should I care about the feelings of other people, especially those about whom I care nothing?

    In fact, if death is the end, then I am a fool for doing anything that doesn’t benefit me, directly or indirectly. Every charitable act only takes money and time I could better spend making myself happy.

    The reviewer seems burdened with the delusion that there is a “human moral compass.” Thousands of years of war and human suffering are powerful evidence that this compass points everywhere but north.

  3. And for those who would claim that religion is to blame for the aforementioned war and human suffering, I would argue that only men’s distorted moral compass could justify killing in the name of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies.

  4. Jeff, excellent rebuttal to this venom. I agree with your conclusion here, and it underscores a deep irony in this review. The reviewer is in a “huff” about Narnia because it represents all that is bad about religion in the sense that it allegedly causes people not to take responsibility for things right now but instead look to a hereafter. This is an ironic objection since, as you note, the reason this depiction of Christ in Aslan is to be hated by the wicked is because he was triumphant over his foes, cast down death and hell, and will return again in glory to judge us according to our works. In other words, he will demand responsibility for our actions, and that very notion is repugnant to people who do not believe there is a such thing as sin or that they are an island or rock who must answer to no one for their deeds and misdeeds in this life.

  5. Sounds like the rantings of someone who was really hurt by those trying to give him religion as a child. I feel bad for this fellow.

    When people are in spiritual darkness for so long, the tiniest bit of light can be hard on their eyes. But it has been my observation, even as a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ, that those who so actively fight truth put themselves in a position to learn more about their ‘enemy’ and many switch sides in the end.

  6. I watched a thing on public TV a few weeks ago, it was an story of CS Lewis. It said that he originally told the stories to some children he’d taken in during the war, to entertain them. I was also surprised to learn that his best friend was Tolkien.

    I don’t care much about reviews, I didn’t enjoy The Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia, although CS Lewis is one of my favorite people. Not much into fantasy.

    My kids loved those books, though. Even though I’ve read most of his non-fiction books, I had no idea the fantasy books were a take on Christianity.

  7. I feel like a bad person. I never iked C.S. Lewis books. I tried reading them, but they were honestly just not entertaining for me. I had no idea there was such religous symblosim, because I never got past the first chapter. Is that a bad thing?

    I do want to see the movie though.

  8. I generally liked the movie but I have some minor reservations of this being a good analogy to the atonement.

    Aslan appears to be paying a ransom to the white witch for the sins of Edmund. Is this what actually happens in the atonement? Christ paying Satan to free us? The Hymn I Believe in Christ seems to make the same statement. How doctrinaly accurate is this?

  9. Anon at 8:08, don’t get so worked up. This is just a blog offering my opinions, not the end of the world. In fact, I didn’t even hint that the review was “the end of the world.” That is at least several weeks away still.

    Eric is right that the analogy to the Atonement is defective. In fact, almost every analogy I’ve seen, even those used by wise General Authorities, are just imperfect shadows of the majesty of the Atonement.

    God owes Satan nothing, and need not make any deal with him. But in the movie, Aslan does subject himself to the vile powers of the world to be taunted and slain by the forces of evil, as did Christ. Christ fulfills the innate demands of the law of justice, not the demands of Satan. But in the movie, the demands of justice on Edmund as a traitor were not actually those of the witch, but of the “deep magic” that was an innate governing principle of Narnia.In general, I think the analogy in the movie and the book was still fairly effective.

  10. It’s wrong to try to read too much theological precision into the Chronicles of Narnia (which I, personally, love, and which I read individually to each of my children when they were small — along with, among other things, the Perelandra trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings). Lewis wasn’t writing an allegory. He and Tolkien both loathed allegory.

    Incidentally, the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was much better than its fairly tepid reviews had led me to expect. I thought it was quite well done, commendably faithful to the book, and very much worth seeing.

  11. yeah, it was fairly faithful to the book…except for that ridiculous scene on the frozen river.. still shaking my head about that one…

  12. Captain m, I didn’t enjoy his fiction, either. But Mere Christianity and A Grief Observed changed my outlook on God and religion. I had to have a little help with Screwtape and The Great Divorce, but once I got direction, I devoured them. I love how his mind works.

    But the fiction, not for me.

  13. Were there any of the same criticism of ET? ET came to earth peacefully, was ravaged by unkind humans, was loved by a few, miraculously healed people, couldn’t communicate to his family until he died, was able to communicate with them after he died, was resurrected, and promised to return or to be “right here”. Very Christian. Or is this criticism just because CS Lewis was a Christian. If Spielberg had made Narnia, would anyone complain?

  14. I’m surprised to see such a harsh review. Most of the reviews around here were saying it was good for non-religious people and great/better for religious people. It’s just a shock to see someone outraged about the movie (or the books even). I’m almost speechless in regards to this.

  15. MDJ: When someone has been beaten with the stick of one religion, then all religions (or at least all denominations of the offending religion) are seen as offenders.

    To claim that “Mormonism is Christian” lowers our esteem in the eyes of those who’ve already written off Christianity.

    BTW, I loved Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy: Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. (Not sure of the order, though.)

  16. Huh? I don’t think I agree, Bookslinger. I’ve been up all night, but didn’t I disagree with you earlier in the evening? It seems like years ago :).

    Sort of off topic, but Spielberg is taking heat for Munich. I remember when that happened feeling such impotent rage against those who killed the Israeli athletes. I’m sort of glad they got even. Which is so not PC.

    I wonder if Spielberg sat around and thought about which angle to tell that story and decided not to take the easy route of making the Israelis heroic victims? Hmmm….

  17. Mormanity, great post. I don’t understand why some people can get so upset about a movie that has religious overtones. I also don’t understand why “Christians” would pickit a concert venuue becuase they don’t like the music. I suppose it goes both ways.
    I am LDS, and myself nuetral to publically critisising media. I have no problem sharing my opinion on media. I thought you did a very good job in your post, bravo my good man. you are simply a man writing his opinion, now for the person who wrote the review, that is a different story. I understand he has a job to do, but to rip it to shreads because of religious overtones, come on.
    Rock on Mormanity! Rock on!

  18. Bradley, you have a point there. I suppose in my sexist unconscience mind I wrote “him”. You are correct, i should have been more PC. Is the critic a man?

  19. I would recommend that your readers not read the Dark Materials. I found it to be blatently anti-Catholic and anti-religion. My daughter brought it home and I read it. We then discussed at length the author’s views and underlying agenda. I’m glad that I pay attention to what my kids read. Parental censor? Sure, that’s my job. But I’m usually more a mentor than a censor. I read Catcher in the Rye with my son and we discussed how the protagonist was not a good role model.

    The critique writer seemed to have no problem with children’s books that would point the young to atheism.

  20. Phillip Pullman’s books are the darkest, creepiest, down-right ugliest books I’ve ever read. They seemed anithical to everything I held dear, bright, beautiful and valuable.

    His athiesm explains why I hated his books.

    I don’t want my kids to read them. Reading books with your children and discussing them is great but (a) I’d rather keep my children away from that sickly, creeping ugliness and (b) you simply couldn’t pay me enough to read them again anyway.

    On the other hand, I didn’t read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” until adulthood. When I finally did read it, I didn’t like it. Lewis may have hated allegory but that is clearly what it is. The story part is just too thin. Also, I hated that all the wisdom and experience that the children had gotten as kings and queens in Narnia was reversed and wiped out in the end.

    What other Christian-themed childrens books are available?

  21. You could find some Christian themes is “Tuck Everlasting” if you wished. I’m personally a fan of Max Lucado (cheesy, it’s true, but I’ve always liked cheese anyway).

    In response to our reviewer-friend, is she not familiar with the passage in Revelation that refers to Jesus as the “lion of the tribe of Judah”?

  22. “Also, I hated that all the wisdom and experience that the children had gotten as kings and queens in Narnia was reversed and wiped out in the end.”

    It wasn’t wiped out, it was just . . . put on hold.

  23. Huh. Not to get sidetracked, but I remember Holden Caufield being a reasonably good role model. Despite being crass and profane (I wouldn’t want my kids emulating that part), he was at heart an idealist who hated hypocrisy and wanted to protect the innocent. Good things, those. It’s been years since I read it, of course, and maybe I’d see it differently now that I’m a parent. But I didn’t think it was *so* bad.

    Back to the subject at hand, though: That does seem like a pretty strong reaction on the reviewer’s part, lol. Says waaaaay more about her than about the movie.

  24. Anon asked: “What other Christian-themed childrens books are available?”

    I think CS Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy is good religious fiction for teens and young adults.

    “Out of the Silent Planet” was the first of the trilogy, “Perelandra” the second, and “That Hideous Strength” the third. The bad guys in the books, especially the third, get rather intense, so I would not recommend the books for pre-teens, but excellent for teens through adults.

    Other favorite books from my youth:

    The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck. (I read the Readers’ Digest Condensed version.) This book helped me develop compassion. Pre-teens would probably do better reading the condensed version.

    North to Freedom, by Anne Holm. 12 year old boy escapes a concentration camp in war-torn Europe and makes his way northward to freedom in Denmark. Excellent novel. Suitable for pre-teens.

    Saracen Blade, by Frank Yerbe. Probably not suitable for pre-teens. From an Amazon review: “The author explores morality, ancient history, geography, religion, and even mechanics of war. A great book for all ages.”

    As far as literary value, at least one friend and I put The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy far above the Harry Potter series.

    For reading the Bible to small children, I recommend the “New International Reader’s Version: (NIrV), or the “Today’s New International Version” (TNIV) from the International Bible Society, http://www.ibsdirect.com.

    I think the “Contemporary English Version” (CEV) is good for young teens, and the “New International Version” (NIV) is good for older teens and adults.

    Having finished President Hinckley’s BoM reading assignment, I’m now reading Psalms in the King James Version, but after each chapter, I re-read it in the NIV in order to understand it better. Whether it’s due to Hebrew idioms or King James English idioms, there are many grammatical constructs in the Book of Psalms that I just don’t understand without referring to a more modern translation.

    I don’t think there’s any sin in referring to translations other than the King James Version.

  25. qhunt: What do you mean? Did you mean to imply there _is_ sin in referring to some translations of the Bible?

    None of the English translations of the Bible is 100% correct, not even the Joseph Smith translation (Inspired Version), which is hard to come by and kind of expensive.

  26. North to Freedom also ended up as a movie.

    “I would recommend that your readers not read the Dark Materials” … Pullman can’t pull it off in the end. His world rules drift, his cosmos collapses, his great act of salvation and free will turns out to be teeniebopper sex, and his solutions don’t require that no one have told the chosen child what they needed to do.

    Basically, it is on par with the Final Fantasy movie which starts out as an action buddy film and ends up as a Japanese mangled heroic tragedy.

  27. mormanity thinks “the reaction in some quarters is surprisingly angry.”

    When I read the first couple of paragraphs of your post to my family, my 17-year-old son said it reminded him of this verse from the Book of Mormon.

    “For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Ne 28:20; italics added.)

  28. I find it ironic that the sour columnist from The Guardian wants Christ to be weaker, poorer, and more “peaceful” — quite the opposite of the people of his own time that wanted a powerful military leader to save them from the Romans. Reminds me of Goldilocks and Burger King. “Too hot! Too cold! Why can’t I have God my way?!”

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