The Lion, The Witch, and the Nonsense

Posted: Jun 05, 2001 12:00 AM
Squeezing the Christianity out of "Christian culture" leads to -- well, absurdities like the one that was front-page in the New York Times: this matter of HarperCollins playing with the notion of marketing C. S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles as something other than Christian, so as not to turn off the Harry Potter crowd, whose m-o-n-e-y we want. It may be this thing will come to nothing. It's the thought that, just the same, counts. The Times quotes the memo of a publishing executive mulling ways to cash in on the Potter phenomenon; Harry's milieu of witches and wonders is not dissimilar to that of the English schoolchildren who blunder into Narnia via a large wardrobe. "Obviously," says the publisher's memo, "this (Narnia) is the biggie as far as the (Lewis) estate and our publishing interests are concerned. We'll need to be able to give emphatic assurances that no attempt will be made to correlate the stories to Christian imagery/theology.'' Two reactions are equally legitimate. The first is: Huh? Marketing the Narnia chronicles as other than Christian would be some feat: like marketing McDonalds' pay phone service. Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was a conspicuous, as well as a very great, Christian apologist; and the Narnia chronicles -- seven novels retailing adventures in a made-up land -- could not be more conspicuously Christian. Not that they can't be enjoyed on other levels, such were Lewis' narrative gifts. Yet Aslan, the great lion of Narnia, is a Christ figure. He gives up his life in conscious sacrifice for a human wrong; he rises from the dead; he lives on in a kind of lionesque spiritual sense -- as guide and inspiration to the children. Lovely, charming Narnia is not its own place: rather, a jurisdiction of the Great Emperor Across the Seas, to whom its inhabitants owe allegiance and responsibility. There is a moral order; that order is recognizably Christian. The second permissible response to HarperCollins' gambit dovetails with the first: Surprise, surprise. It was going to come to this sooner or later. When you've been squeezing the Christianity out of "Christian culture," you can't wonder at some of the forms the culture then assumes. The implication that Christianity, too garishly touted, might turn off potential book buyers is an implication nobody would have made 50, or even 25, years ago. The old "Christian culture'' America was supposed to embody, and did embody in many respects, has lost some of its purchase on hearts and minds. Americans for some years have been receiving new signals about Christianity. Among the chief of these: 1. Christianity is just one creed among many. 2. The many-ness of our creeds imposes the obligation not to tout any one of them too strongly. 3. Christianity, too-strongly touted, could cause divisiveness and controversy. 4. Ergo, we must be careful about those easy expressions of faith that once seemed so normal. To this state of mind, the media, the courts and even a number of churchmen have contributed substantially. The media, bless their "diversity"-loving hearts, bend over backward to show they accord Christianity no more favor than they do Hinduism. The federal courts nearly always back up the American Civil Liberties. Union's demands for the removal of religious (i.e., Judeo/Christian) symbols like the Ten Commandments from public property. Clergymen of the self-consciously "liberal" and broad-minded type lavish their blessings on such endeavors. Cultural signals of this sort encourage many -- say, book publishers more concerned with dollars than truth -- to view Christianity in a way the mature (as distinguished from the pre-Christian) C. S. Lewis never did. Post-Christian times, these? C. S. Lewis would likely contend there's no such thing, Christianity being a vessel of Truth, unspillable, unbreakable, no matter what some functionary at a major publishing house might believe. Whether there's any m-o-n-e-y in that view or not ... well, that's another matter.