While I found the movie to be powerfully uplifting, I figured that those who reject Christ will surely be appalled by the overt Christian symbolism of Aslan and his willing sacrifice and resurrection. But I didn't realize just how negatively some critics would respond. Rather than just saying something like, "That's stupid - I don't believe that," the reaction in some quarters is surprisingly angry. Based on my experiences with this blog, you would think I would have learned by now that anger is the expected reaction of some people to anything religious. But I was still quite surprised to read Polly Toynbee's response in Britain's outstanding online news site, The Guardian, with the headline: "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion." Here is an excerpt:
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. . . .Ah, Aslan is all about Republican neo-fascist power and sadism, eh? Aslan is not a tame lion, and that's exactly Ms. Toynbee's problem. She has no trouble with a Christ symbol that just rolls over, suffers, stays silent, dies, and vanishes forever. But the triumphant Christ, the Resurrected Lord and King of all, the Creator, the Ultimate Power of the Universe who will return and judge us, who alone can heal us and save us from our sins, this is a Being to be feared and hated by the wicked. He who has done all to be our greatest ally is the ultimate enemy to some hardened souls. He is not a tame lion, and those who fight Him have much to fear.
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".
Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. . . .
Does any of this matter? Not really. Most children will never notice. But adults who wince at the worst elements of Christian belief may need a sickbag handy for the most religiose scenes. The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gives the film five stars and says, "There is no need for anyone to get into a PC huff about its Christian allegory." Well, here's my huff.
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. . . . 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.