12.07.2005

Ambiguity, Evil, War, and the Chronicles of Narnia

The LA Times review of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" was published today. I've been dreading it, for I sensed (correctly) that the incisive film critics of my favorite daily might pop my happy Narnian bubble.

Don't worry: the movie itself is fine, perhaps even great. It's the story itself, the "Christian" story, that is troublesome.

Carina Chocano writes,
The story climaxes with a scary battle scene. No wonder that some might take it as religious instruction: It's a medieval vision of Christianity for another dark age, with the Christ figure as soldier and war as the way to make the world safe for Santa Claus. As a Christian primer, it's terrible. As a story, it's timeless.
As I've been making my way through these books, I've been ignoring a nagging, small voice (I believe this nagging, small voice is the irritating cousin of the still, small voice). What's with all the violence. Are you forgetting your pacifist Christian ethics? Didn't you rail against the violence in the Book of Revelation in that preaching class? Why are you buying this version of Christianity now? My ordinary concerns have been swept away by Lewis' masterful narrative. What's more, I've been enchanted by Aslan, the not-safe-but-good version of Christ.

My seminary education taught me to be critical of simplistic Christian theology. My ethics courses teased out the infinite ambiguity of the human experience - that there aren't simply two sides, Good and Evil, right and wrong, God and Satan. The God in whom we live and move and have our being permeates the whole of Creation. It simply doesn't work to fight it out in chain mail with God on our side, because the Light of God is within all people. Jesus' death on the cross was the penultimate repudiation of violence, and Christ's resurrection was the ultimate rejection of the power of death. It simply doesn't work to move from that to a battle scene, no matter how spiritualized you paint the warfare.

On the other side of the wardrobe and on the other side of the world, there is a war. This war was described as the right thing to do. The benevolent United States would bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. Good would conquer evil. Ambiguity was forbidden in the months preceeding the war. Not in the interpretation of intelligence, not in the well-crafted propaganda. And, to be fair, not on the "other side" either, among some antiwar activists who demonized the Bush Administration. The left gladly responded to the "axis of evil" rhetoric with it's own version of unholy triangle.

War can only unfold in simplistic, good vs. evil terms. I really believe that it is necessary to demonize and dehumanize one's enemy to kill him or her. I am good, and my enemy is evil. I work for God, and my enemy works for Satan. Violence doesn't work if one actively recognizes the ambiguity of one's self and one's enemy.

Four members of the Christian Peacemaking Team in Iraq have been kidnapped. They are serving in Iraq as nonviolent peacemakers, acting on their faith in the nonviolent gospel of Jesus Christ. They witness to Christ the Lamb, not Christ the Lion, by becoming a shield, not brandishing a shield. Tom Fox, one of the captured men, wrote in his blog in October 2004:
If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? “Stand firm against evil” (Matthew 5:39, translated by Walter Wink) seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God...if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I’m willing to keep working at it.
Pray for them. Pray for all of us. Changes come, Jesus come, turn this world around.

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