John on December 9, 2005 at 11:45 am
Polly Toynbee, an atheist with an axe to grind, uses The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as her whetstone in this review. [HT: blogs4God] She seems to like the movie, except for the Christian part, and spends the first half of her review making uninteresting observations about it. A little more than halfway through her piece, appropos of nothing, she shifts gears:
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?
It’s interesting to me that this rankles her so much. Someone once said atheists are people who hate the God they don’t believe in. I don’t think that’s always the case, but it certainly seems to be here.
Though she doesn’t bother to tell the reader (or the editor), the review is essentially over at this point. The piece continues for half a dozen paragraphs, wandering ever farther from the topic and becoming gradually more grandiose. You can almost hear the pitch of the author’s voice rising, this is fire and brimstone preaching in reverse. In the process she conflates nuns, America, Lewis himself and (of course) Republicans with fascism. The irony that in denouncing these things she has become a kind of fascist herself never hits her of course.
Finally, Polly reaches the climax and reveals the point which seems most likely to have motivated all the introductory blather about the actual film:
[Aslan] 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.
To her credit, she gives a kind of attribution for all of these “insights” to Philip Pullman, who styles himself as the anti-Lewis. All of which got me thinking. Hating Aslan isn’t so much destructive to the Narnia story as it is part of it. The joy of Spring comes as a relief from Winter. Even so, the strength of Aslan is just the thing one needs after listening to the rage-driven drone of the White Witch.
I think I’ll go read the Gospels.
Update: Doug Tennapel has a companion post at his site. Here’s the review he links to, which ends, “Narnia stands for death, destruction and renunciation of self in a poorly disguised Christian fairy tale.” Anyone looking for a clue to how the reviewer could come to this bass-ackward conclusion need only read this, his Thanksgiving day paean to positivist saint Ayn Rand. I guess some reviewers are important and some are not.