Exclusive: Dr. Ted Baehr on media derision of Christianity, Western virtues
A debate in the mainstream press has arisen over the Christian messages in Disney’s new movie, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” based on the popular books by C.S. Lewis, the acclaimed Christian Oxford professor.
The criticism has been unremitting from the liberal elite. The books have been derided for their positive depiction of Christian spirituality and Western virtues. In the Dec. 4 issue of The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Laura Miller calls Lewis’ insertion of Christian metaphors in his “Narnia” books “a terrible betrayal.” In her Dec. 7 review of the movie, Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times made snide comments about the movie and the book’s Christian metaphors, calling it “a medieval vision of Christianity for another dark age.”
Philip Pullman, an author whose “Golden Compass” fantasy trilogy explicitly seeks to encourage children into faith of materialist atheism and rejection of traditional morality, has called the books, “so anti-life, so cruel, so unjust. The view that the “Narnia” books have for the material world is one of almost undisguised contempt.”
The Left has extended its argument into the life of C.S. Lewis and continued its obsession of seeing derelict sexual morality in all those celebrated as heroic. The New York Times published a piece in its magazine that attacked Lewis’ personal morality, muttering dark allusions to sexual indiscretion based on nothing more than the fact that Lewis cared for the mother of a fallen war-time comrade for decades. Though the charge originated in the A.N. Wilson biography of Lewis (another liberal revisionist), it is based on nothing more than the Left’s obsessive belief that all are addled with deviant sexuality.
The reality is alternately so much worse than the Left understands, and so much better. Indeed, to the horror of the critics, Lewis was an unabashed apologist whose faith drove his literary and scholarly endeavors. Lewis says as much in a March 1961 letter. He makes it clear that Aslan, the lion in “The Chronicles,” is a Christ figure. He confirms that “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is about the crucifixion and the resurrection, and each of its sequels covers another element of spiritual truth as Lewis saw it.
Lewis also proved a devoted lover of the West and its traditional morals. Throughout the pages of his pieces rings the value of Western martial virtue: much of “Lion” is about Peter’s rejection of pacifism in the face of the moral need to stand against the Witch’s totalitarianism no matter what the cost. Lewis’ respected traditional gender roles, including an exhortation in the novel that wars are ugly when women fight. This understanding has been watered down in the film, which depicts female centaurs in battle, but it is common in Lewis’ stories and a belief shared by the majority of Americans.
The filmmakers depiction of the West vs. the rest will only become more interesting as they attempt to deal with the subject matter of “The Horse and His Boy” in a politically correct way – a story about an epic battle between the Narnians, arguably the West, and the Calormenes, a dark skinned arguably Muslim people. The vicious battle we face today may have been predicted by Lewis, but the liberal imperative to pretend no such threat exists survives in their criticism of his lack of multicultural sensitivity. The critics could not be more right that Lewis loved the West and Christianity and promoted such ideas through his literature.
The critics could not be more wrong, though, in their view of these loves as a destructive vision that weakened Lewis’ literature. It is the secularist contention that Lewis’ story would be stronger if he had only omitted the spiritual references, which they argue are unnecessary to a full appreciation of the pieces. What they fail to recognize is that the spiritual elements are what give “Narnia” its life and make Lewis’ books, otherwise utterly unremarkable, profoundly powerful and relevant.
There are countless books about prancing unicorns and hidden worlds, the vast majority have long been forgotten, even though they were stronger than Lewis’ series in character development and pacing. Lewis’ stories have lived on in popularity because his most powerful character, the Christological lion Aslan, speaks spiritual wisdom into the story in ways cognizable to people of all faiths or none. These words have the feel of deep truth, like scripture.
The conclusion of the stories, with the triumphal entry of the children into heaven, has the feel of a great homecoming powerful enough to illicit tears from the hardened. These indisputably spiritual elements of sacrifice, salvation and redemption pervade the books. Without them, the books would be hollow and unmemorable.
A comparison with Phillip Pullman’s writing may be helpful in concluding that Lewis’ spiritual view makes “Narnia” matter. Pullman decries the theology of Narnia while promoting his own ideology in story form. In his fantasy world, there is no heaven, just this life and nothing when it ends. In his world, the church tortures children and spreads lies to control the world. In his work, the children find true meaning when engaging in sexual self-discovery, not in the spiritual values that emphasize sacrifice over the lust of pleasure. What solace would a political prisoner, tortured and enchained, enjoy if told that this is her only existence? What truth would a seeker find if told his only source must be his own limited, relative experience? What contentment would an abandoned, pregnant girl discover who had followed Pullman’s vision of sexual exploration?
Is it really that difficult to understand why “Narnia” has resonated for 90 million readers, and will continue to do so? Is it hard to see which books responsible parents would want their child to read? Its incorporation of spiritual values that have been a source of comfort and clarity for billions for millennia is what powers its enduring vitality. And long after the critics have been forgotten, Lewis can smile down from Heaven as another child opens “The Chronicles” and steps softly into the wardrobe in winter.
Editor’s note: For more information about C.S. Lewis and “The Chronicles Of Narnia,” please read “Narnia Beckons,” available from Christian Film & Television Commission by calling 800-899-6684 or going to MovieGuide.