Thursday, April 8, 2010

reading into it

How would I answer if someone asked me to describe the story line of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"?

Probably something like this: Four human children are drawn to a fantasy world called Narnia when they walk into a wardrobe. One of them meets up with bad company, the White Witch, and tries to betray the other three. Those three are helped to reach Aslan, and with his help they rescue the betraying brother, who has learned the error of his ways. But the Witch claims the life of the betrayer, so to settle that just account with her, Aslan lets himself be killed by her. But he returns to life, destroys the White Witch, ends her perpetually winter, and appoints the four children as kings and queens of Narnia.

Now, suppose the person who asks me to do that then starts shaking his head in a superior fashion, and tells me that I have it all wrong. He says that his explanation is the correct one, and then goes on to give it. He talks about how the four children, who are English and white, merely show the author's Euro-centric, or even Anglo-centirc, superiority, and the fact that all of the Narnians they encounter are non-human merely show how the English, and whites as a whole, held and still hold a view of non-whites as being essentially non-human. He gets particular agitated when it comes to the Father Christmas in the story, who gives the children weapons, and says that this is a polluted view of the friendly and harmless Santa Claus, and shows how religion has compromised with the military-industrial complex. He laughs with a proud tinge when it comes to Aslan's death, saying that it wasn't really a substition for the traitor, becaus that would be barbaric, but was meant to show how awful the reign of the White Witch had been, even though (you think) the people of Narnia already knew how bad her reign had been and was why they were against her and for Aslan in the first place. Aslan setting up the children to reign over Narnia comes back, this interpreter says, to Anglo-centric superiority, saying that even the children of whites are more capable of ruling than the adults of the not-human conquered natives, and that God approved and himself set up the Anglos to reign.

If you've read Lewis' story, you'd probably think that this person's take on the story would be nonsense. I would agree. Keeping that in mind, read these remarks about a much greater book.

To be a Christian--in the West at least, since the fifth or sixth century or so--has required one to believe that the Bible presents one very specific story line, a story line by which we assess all history, all of human experience, all of our own experience. Most of us know the story line implicitly, subconsciously, even though it has never been made explicit for us. We begin our quest for a new kind of Christian faith by questioning this story line.

This unspoken story line of the Bible that we were explicitly taught--or that we implicitly caught--can be diagrammed with six simple, elegent lines

(I can't put the diagram here, so I'll sum it up best I can here)

heaven or hell/damnation

...That's why this quest begins not by tweaking details of the conventional six-line narrative, but by calling the entire narrative scheme into question. We do not for a second say "These six lines present the true shape of the biblical narrative, but we reject it". Rather, we stare at this narrative, scratch our heads, and with a bewildered look ask, "How in the world, how in God's name, could anyone ever think this is the narrative of the Bible?"
Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, excerpts from pp 33-35

How in the world could anyone think that is the narrative of the Bible? A more important question would be, how in the world could anyone think that such a question is one worth asking?

Consider the elements of the narrative he wishes to denigrate.

Is there an Eden? Yes.

Is there a fall? Yes.

Are there seemingly endless pages of people falling into sin and suffering the consequences, even mention of the consequence of hell and eternal judgment? Yes.

Is there a Jesus who comes to offer salvation? Yes.

Is there a choice, Christ or the world, blessing or damnation, eternal life or eternal death, Heaven and a place in God's house or hell and the lake of fire? Yes.

Just as someone rereading a Narnia book to fit his politics is likely to sound ridiculous, so does McLaren start sounding ridiculous as he attempts to deconstruct/spin the Bible to do away with the obvious elements of the biblical account. Eden and the Fall and Cain and Abel becomes a coming-of-age drama and was actually a mythical story of mankind's rise from hunter-gathers to early farmers and city-dwellers; much of the Bible is fictional tales of people wrestling to understand god, and getting it less-or-more right depending on if the ancients agreed with McLaren or not; Jesus and the Apostles were actually anti-Roman Empire even though they never explicitly said so, and Jesus Himself seems to have disappointed those who were looking for an anti-Roman Empire Messiah.

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