Tuesday, December 06, 2005

polly toynbee: 'narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion'

Read the whole thing here. And say a prayer for Polly Toynbee to be delivered from blindness and confusion. One is reminded of Kierkegaard's assurance (as though it were necessary) that the Gospel is indeed foolish and offensive. But, poor Polly Toynbee, like Gotthold Lessing in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, we will always find that we cannot leap the 'broad, ugly ditch' separating time and eternity. We cannot leap it because our legs are old and our head heavy. We desperately, desperately need Aslan, or less figuratively, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

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. 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 when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion’s breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.


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”.


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. When, in the book, the children first hear someone say, mysteriously, "Aslan is on the move", he writes: "Now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had enormous meaning ..." 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.


Garland said...

Poor Polly Toynbee. What a pathetic, venomous, vile screed. What a radically perverted understanding of Christianity! What a selfish, secular-humanism-at-its-most-cynical-and-inhumane credo!

Almighty God, I pray for the soul of Polly Toynbee, that he would be humbled by your infinite love and grace, but also that you would break the stiff neck of pride that keeps all of us from deeper communion with you and your church. Amen.

Anonymous said...


This post made me smile.

Those bad Christians; aways infecting the minds of the young with their crazy beliefs about sacrificial love. Absurd! Poison! It must be stopped!

Then again, it strikes me that name-calling generally represents an unwillingness, or inability, to enter into real dialogue with the 'other'. You can always tell when someone has not sufficiently engaged a claim, be it religious or otherwise. They use reductive words like 'basically' or 'like'. They settle for cras unsophisticated renderings of the idea they oppose. It is intellectually lazy and dishonest. That is what dear Polly has done here: name calling masquerading as real criticism.

Perhaps it is pain that keeps him/her from allowing the cross to call his/her life into question. Perhaps it is fear. Perhaps laziness. I don't know. I do know that rejection is always an option - you can always reject that which challenges you. The challenge, however, is to allow the 'other' to shake the ground you stand on; to see if it is a worth while place to be. Only then can one shake back. Dear Polly has not done the work required to sustain a viable attack, on Lewis or Christian faith. He/She won't shake my foundation - nor any thinking viewer's. Name calling. Poor Polly - better luck next time.


The Inclusive Worshipper said...

Ground of Being, you affirm us and empower us as we re-imagine your Gospel to reach each new generation: protect your sister Polly from all assaults of fundamentalists, enlighten her with your Spirit, and help her to reach young people with a New Christianity for a New World, knowing that the victory is historically inevitable. In the name of your beautiful Child we pray. Amen.

MM said...

Surely the Inclusive Worshipper did not just say "victory." Yow. Watch yourself, IW.

It seems to me that Lewis has an appropos metaphor for Toynbee... "we can do without an Aslan..." oooooh thats just too easy.