The Birth of Narnia and Why Tolkien Hated It – Sunday Share from Harry Lee Poe

Many of us have loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia series of fantasy books by C.S. Lewis for so long we just assume they have always existed and were inevitable.  Behind the books, however, is a story of the fight to get them written.  The partnership between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien is widely known, but less known is that one of the reasons Lewis had trouble writing Narnia was discouraging objections from his friends.  One said that “the children wearing fur coats since it seemed an endorsement of the fur trade and the murder of all the innocent animals needed to make such a coat,” while Tolkien himself criticized the story for not fitting the conventions of the genre.

What if Aslan didn’t exist?

In the article linked here and below, Harry Lee Poe, a professor at Union University, shares these stories and more about how Lewis persisted in writing and “experienced a renewal of his imaginative power.”  Each of us is a marvelous work of a powerful Creator, designed to represent Him in this world.  As you read the article, “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).  Is there a world of Narnia trying to come out of each of us?

(Estimated reading time 7 minutes)

I discovered this article through fellow blogger Barbara Harper, who posts a weekly list of good reads on Saturday.

When We Are Faithful, All Failure is Temporary

Doctor Strange with the Time Stone

In the Marvel movie Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange uses a powerful Time Stone to watch millions of possible future outcomes and find one where the Avengers win.  The solution involves huge, almost unconscionable losses, including giving the villain, Thanos, exactly what he needs to commit genocide.  The movie was part one of two, and the second wasn’t released until a full year later.  Infinity War ends with Thanos victorious, and audiences had to wait to see if Strange’s decisions and sacrifices would work.  Would the trust the Avengers put in him be rewarded and lead to their deliverance?  It didn’t look good at the time, and it was actually a pretty grim movie.

Marvel’s story had cast Strange in the role of a prophet, except that Strange himself saw the future, and decided himself what to report back to the others, who had to trust what he said he saw, his judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what.  As I’ve been covering Jeremiah’s call this week, chapter 1, verses 8-10 have some interesting comparisons with Marvel’s story line.  The verses are:

“Do not be afraid of them,
            for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
            “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
            to pluck up and to break down,
            to destroy and to overthrow,
            to build and to plant.”

Unlike Doctor Strange, Jeremiah did not have the big picture; he could not pick and choose what to say.  God would “put…words in your mouth,” words specifically chosen from perfect and infinite knowledge to be exactly what was needed.  Strange was able to act on his plan, although the others didn’t understand and resisted.  In Jeremiah’s case, Israel did not listen to him, and God actually told Jeremiah they wouldn’t, but he prophesied anyway.  He was created for that purpose, and in the verses above he was assured to “not be afraid of them.”

While Strange promised that his plan would work, we had to wait for the sequel to see it.  God promised Jeremiah, who also told the people, that his plan would work, and that the words God gave Jeremiah would determine the fates of “nations” and “kingdoms”, who God would “pluck up” and “break down.”  But Jeremiah died waiting for the sequel.  During his lifetime, Israel was plucked up by the Babylonians and sent into exile as punishment for their rejection of God, which was also a rejection of Jeremiah.  His life was like a pretty grim movie, but his story was not finished, as we now know.

None of us consistently

give God’s word the

full authority it deserves.

In three posts about the calling of Jeremiah this week, we’ve seen examples of God’s love for people who have a different calling from us, who have imperfect faith, and who aren’t seeing immediate blessings from their efforts.  We should be compassionate when we see others are flawed in these same ways, because they are no different than Jeremiah, and also no different from us.  None of us consistently give God’s word the full authority it deserves.  It’s a shame that Jeremiah is often seen as a gloomy, annoying bearer of bad news.  In Jeremiah, God has given us an example of someone who is like all of us and a call to love others as we love ourselves.  That’s good news, but it didn’t look good at the time.

In his lifetime he may have looked like a failure, but in the years after and in eternity, his work as a prophet and also his personal experience of God has provided invaluable lessons for millions.  God knew this from the beginning because He didn’t have to wait a year to see the sequel.  He has already seen them all.  Therefore, we can trust what He sees, His judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what, because His story and ours does not end in this lifetime.

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” – C. S. Lewis

(Prior posts on Jeremiah’s call are here and here)

Doctrine in Action

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, senior demon Screwtape writes fictional letters to Wormwood, a junior demon, on how to defeat his “patient.”  In one of these letters, Screwtape advises: “As long as [man] does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance… Wallow in it… Write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which [Heavenly Father] plants in a human soul… Do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm [the cause of evil] if [it is kept] out of his will… The more often he feels without acting, the less he will ever be able to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”

Christianity is not a soul-less doctrine, but a restoration of the right relationships between souls and their Creator, which should lead to action.  Teaching should lead to love.  In 1 Timothy 1:3-4 Paul writes to Timothy: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”  In his commentary on the verse, John Calvin says that Paul “judges of doctrine by the fruit; for every tiling that does not edify ought to be rejected, although it has no other fault; and everything that is of no avail but for raising contentions, ought to be doubly condemned.”

Calvin’s note and Screwtape’s fictional letter remind me of the linked Monty Python video of philosophers philosophizing about soccer while simultaneously “playing” soccer.

Every doctrine and institution of the church should empower His people to live for Him.  Are we playing the right game, and are we playing to win?

What Was the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ Really About? – History Bit for July 21

Some events in history bring a faint glimmer of memory to many people, but what they remember may not be the most relevant point. One such event was the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” decided on July 21 in 1925. What actually was this trial? Wikipedia’s summary[1] is that “a high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held.” The trial descended into theatrics and was covered by national news organizations. Time magazine called the trial a “fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war.” Each side had a famous lawyer seeking publicity: the Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president three times, was the prosecuting attorney, and the agnostic Clarence Darrow defended Scopes.

The immediate result of the trial was that Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a small fine, but years later, that’s not what people remember.  For some, the lesson of the Scopes trial is simple: “science good; religious fundamentalism bad.”  Another group of people might think the lesson was: “religious fundamentalism good; science bad.”  But did the case conclude either of these things?  It didn’t, so what’s the real issue?

The Culture Behind the Scopes Trial
In the background issues were simmering which still linger today – whether religion should have a voice in how science is used and taught.  Tim Keller notes that “Few people remember…that the textbook Scopes used, Civic Biology by George Hunter, taught not only evolution but also argued that science dictated we should sterilize or even kill those classes of people who weakened the human gene pool by spreading ‘disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country.’ This was typical of scientific textbooks of the time.”[2]  Wikipedia notes that “Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he incriminated himself deliberately so the case could have a defendant.”  So, the trial did not hinge on Scopes’ teaching, this textbook, or even eugenics, but the subject of eugenics sheds some light on how over-simplified the take-away of “science good; religious fundamentalism bad” really is.

Geneticist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, popularized the term “eugenics” from the Greek, meaning “good birth,” to describe ways humans could use evolutionary science to improve their condition.  He usually left unspoken that he meant not specific humans, but some abstract sense of humans in aggregate, and also that he meant to improve the condition of those humans in charge, or those humans with a voice among the humans in charge.   These beliefs were not rare, but quite mainstream.  Joseph Loconte, writing of the culture J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis lived in[3], notes: “In Britain, the Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907 to take up the cause.  By 1913, the American Genetic Association was established in the United States to promote the doctrines of racial purity.”  The United States was actually the first country where compulsory sterilization was legalized, and some practices implemented by Nazi Germany were lifted right out of laws used by U.S. States.  U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “Three generations of imbeciles is enough” in defense of Virginia’s sterilization law.

The church was not entirely immune from the eugenics movement either.  According to Loconte, “Ministers in the Church of England held a Church Congress in 1910 in Cambridge, inviting several members of the Royal Commission on the Feeble-Minded to participate.”  Also, “By the 1920s, hundreds of American churches participated in a national eugenics sermon contest.  As the Rev. Kenneth McArthur, a winner from Sterling, Massachusetts, put it in his sermon: ‘If we take seriously the Christian purpose of realizing on earth the ideal divine society, we shall welcome every help which science affords.’”

This background to the Scopes Trial, often simplified to a “science” vs “fundamentalism” debate, makes us ask: which science and which fundamentalism?  Was eugenics, for a moment, part of “religious fundamentalism” for some of the church?  And is perfecting society on earth truly a fundamental Christian belief?  With a rule of thumb of “science good; religious fundamentalism bad,” or the opposite, what do you do if a scientific idea becomes also central to religious belief?

Also, if you take away science and religion from the equation altogether, which is better: “all humans have dignity and are worthy of care and love” or “some people deserve to be neutered like an ordinary animal”?  If science is the only source of our “fundamentalism,” where do we turn when it insists on destruction for the less favored?  Tim Keller argues that “Secular, scientific reason is a great good, but if taken as the sole basis for human life, it will be discovered that there are too many things we need that it is missing.”  What is missing is a meaningful reason to love your neighbor, regardless of their scientific knowledge, religious belief, disability, economic impact, level of intelligence, or any other characteristic.

It’s Not (Entirely) a Fantasy
Loconte says that although Tolkien and Lewis wrote of fantasy worlds populated not only by men, but also by elves, dwarves, orcs, and many other races, the topics of eugenics and other Progressive Era ideas served as background.  In Tolkien’s epic The Lord of The Rings, the solution to conflict between the races was not for one race to rule the others, or (even worse) to eliminate them.  Instead, the answer is to utterly destroy the Ring of Power, representing the desire of any tribe to use power to rule others “for their own good,” as some say.  While Tolkien insists his story is not a direct allegory, he may have been thinking of the centuries of tribal conflict between the English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh.  Or the conflict between any group of conquerors and the conquered.  By using fictional races, Tolkien was arguing that this lesson applies to everyone, in all places and at all times.

Therefore, when scientific fundamentalism says it’s OK not to love some people, Christians need to respond without exception that every person is a creation of God with innate dignity and should be loved as Christ loved us.  However, as shown on the cross, power is not the answer.  As Jesus told his disciples in Mark 10:42-45 – “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

God does not expect us to understand every issue of history, or even in our daily news feed, which is increasingly a “fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war,” but when we all meet our Lord in heaven, He will say “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:40

[2] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  This post draws from pages 12-13.
[3] Loconte, Joseph.  A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (2015).  This post draws on pages 15-19.

Will Green Be Greener in Paradise?

Psalm 98:7 declares: “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!” In Romans 8:19 Paul adds that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Pastor James Montgomery Boice connects these ideas and says, “The world will one day be renewed.”  Nature already shows God’s glory, but it also, like mankind, is not yet as it shall be.  Boice adds: “I think of the way C.S. Lewis developed this idea in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the first section of that book, when Narnia was under the power of the wicked Witch of the North, the land was in a state of perpetual winter. Spring never came. But when Aslan rose from the dead, the ice began to melt, flowers bloomed, and the trees turned green.”[1] Creation shares the hope of mankind – regeneration in a future paradise at the coming of its Lord!

Even now, we get an occasional glimpse of nature that’s somehow better than what we’re used to, and perhaps it is a glimpse of the paradise beyond the renewal of all things.  We were recently in Wales, on Mount Snowdon and a nearby trail in Llanberis, and below are some pictures from that day.  Some of these show the many brilliant shades of green, which seemed more glorious than the greens near our home in the U.S. We don’t often see rocks interact with the greenery like this here.

So, will paradise be even greener than this?  Will it seem like a perpetual winter has finally lifted?  I’m eagerly waiting to find out someday. In the meantime, enjoy these:

[1] From “April 19.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).