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November 14, 2005

Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?

Gary Farber takes time away from his plan for Global Internet Domination to direct us to the cage match between Phillip "Republic of Heaven" Pullman and C.S. (Jack) "Aslan the Jesus" Lewis:

Amygdala: PULLMAN VS. LEWIS GRUDGEMATCH. Phillip Pullman again lights into C.S. Lewis in an Observer interview/story. The Beeb covers it, with lots of reader comments.

For Pullman, who is an avowed atheist and a critic of Lewis, that is bad news. 'If the Disney Corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they'll just have to tell lies about it,' Pullman told The Observer.

Pullman believes that Lewis's books portray a version of Christianity that relies on martial combat, outdated fears of sexuality and women, and also portrays a religion that looks a lot like Islam in unashamedly racist terms.

'It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament itself, is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books,' he said.

The Narnia books, Pullman said, contained '...a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice; but of love, of Christian charity, [there is] not a trace'...

Certainly that is not the view of Disney. Film executives are eagerly anticipating repeating the success last year of Mel Gibson's Jesus biopic The Passion of The Christ, which was shunned by mainstream studios and then picked up by the evangelical churches.

At one level, Pullman is wrong: there's plenty of love in Narnia.

At a second level, Pullman is right: there is very little of: "love your enemies: do good to them that persecute you" in Narnia. More important, I think, is that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe fails as a Christian allegory: Aslan is not Jesus--at the narrative climax of TLTWATW, Aslan "dies" knowing that it's a trick to destroy the power of the White Witch, while (in the Synoptic Gospels at least) Jesus dies thinking that he has been forsaken.

And at a third level, Pullman is once again wrong: "Christianity" is not just the Synoptic Gospels--it is also the Gospel of John, where Jesus has and knows he has power over the grave; it is the Apocalypse with the human-sized locusts with the stings of scorpions and the faces of women; it is the Knights Templar, and the Crusades, and John Calvin's view that God's attitude toward (most of) us is like the potter's attitude toward the pot that doesn't measure up. What Pullman is saying is not that Narnia is un-Christian, but that Narnia is a kind of Christian that he (and I) do not like very much.

Posted by DeLong at November 14, 2005 11:51 AM