Stripping out the Christianity

There's a piece at the Federalist arguing against the authenticity of the new "A Wrinkle in Time."
Lee seems to feel that the Christian faith of L’Engle is not a big deal, and that it’s something that should be moved on from.... A story by a Christian author who made deliberate choices to incorporate Christian themes in a story about good vs. evil is a story with Christianity as a central theme, not just some minor element to be shrugged off.

The Christianity of “A Wrinkle in Time” is not implied or subtle, but rather masterfully and beautifully interwoven throughout the whole story. It’s a shame if the motivations and understandings of the characters are stripped from them. At the climax of the book, when the main character, Meg, is discouraged and needs hope, it is the Bible that is quoted to her: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The culture as a whole is trying hard to shrug off Christianity, so it's not surprising that they wish to do so here. Nor is this the first time this has happened. Though C. S. Lewis (mentioned in the piece) and L'Engle were explicitly attempting to tell Christian fairy tales that would reinforce the faith, other authors for whom Christianity was central have also seen it stripped of its place in their works.

To take just one example, consider the centrality of Christianity to Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Malory's sources are clear about Arthur's status as a Christian king. The whole book is built around the Christian liturgical year, so much so that you won't realize that scenes take place in winter or spring except by the feasts cited. The Quest for the Holy Grail makes up the dramatic center of the work, beginning at the high water mark of the secular Arthurian kingdom and hastening its downfall as so many knights -- successful at establishing worldly goods and attaining worldly virtue -- are destroyed by the pursuit of spiritual perfections of which they fall far short. Though the destruction of Arthur's kingdom is eventuated by Lancelot and Guinevere's sin, and Gawain's sin of pride and wrath in pursuing vengeance against them, the pursuit of the Holy Grail weakened the kingdom as a practical power; it stored up treasures in heaven for the martyrs, but at substantial earthly cost.

Yet go and find any version of the Arthurian story told since the 1970s, and you'll find that some sort of paganism is presented as the real moral core of the work. Arthur is secretly a worshiper of Mithras, or really the hero(ine)s were pagan goddess worshipers, or Merlin was secretly a pagan and guided Arthur around a benighted Christianity, or....

Indeed, the one easy counterexample is Tolkien. Tolkien's great work differs in that it barely makes reference to the Christianity it nevertheless assumes as basic to its structure. This seems to have been a conscious decision on Tolkien's part. You can engage with Frodo and Sam's quiet faith based on the stars being beyond Sauron's reach; you don't need to believe in a transcendent God. You can examine the heroism of Gimli and Legolas, or their friendship across differences of species and culture and history. Aragorn's acceptance of his need to strive heroically against the winds of fate is noble in a way that a Roman or a Viking would appreciate. Only occasionally, in the whispers of Gandalf, do you get the idea that there is a hidden power directing the world, a "Secret Fire" before whose worn and tired servants even Balrogs cannot prevail.

Even at the end of the book, you have only received a hint that Gandalf is one of those beings like the 'Wrinkle in Time' messengers. If you don't read further into the legendarium, you'll never be told that Gandalf is not just a 'wizard,' but a Maiar, a kind of lower angel. Tolkien hid it for them, for reasons of his own.


Ymarsakar said...

It is kind of obvious given Gandalf's resurrection sequence.

Tolkien synergized much of the lore of other cultures. I suspect he already knew what I know, concerning the elohim and the split post Babel.

A Witcher or a Witch King, is an actual person/title in Lithuania lore ground.

The one ring of power bears quite a similarity to Solomon's ring. It even has the same powers of command over the various forces and groups. Until people understand the Hebrew definition of elohim (look it up on biblehub), it will be almost impossible for a modern Westerner to adapt their paradigm to things such as the Norse Ragnarok being the same story as other culture's myths and legends.

While not all myths are true, much of it has a basis on actual historical events and powers.

james said...

I think Tolkien left out explicit references because the Christian story overwhelms the others--puts the other elements in different order and asks questions that the story-teller wants to answer himself. The famous hymn doesn't use quite the right word: "Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own." No, not "drowns," but revalues and reorders. When you know that Omnipotence loves and wins in the end, Ragnarok doesn't sound quite the same.
To get the mood you want in the small story, you sometimes have to hide the details of the Great Story.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ymarsakar - you are imposing thoughts on Tolkien that do not fit anything else he wrote.

To the main post, it is increasingly so that the culture wants to mine the works of Christian imagination without sensing the centrality of Christ to the stories. Lewis refers to this in "Surprised by Joy" (I think), that he kept encountering and trying to ignore the Christianity underlying Milton, Chesterton, MacDonald, Spenser and a hundred others, trying to get the good of them without all that barbarous superstition.

The center of the Christian faith left Europe and centered in America. Now it is leaving us and going to other places: SE Asia, Africa, China.