25 September 2007

Christianity, paganism and literature (synchroblog)

Christianity and neopaganism - synchroblog


When I have read or participated in electronic discussions on religion in general, and the relation between Christians and neopagans in particular, I have commonly found an expectation of hostility. Christians are expected to be hostile towards neopagans, and often are. Neopagans are expected to be hostile towards Christians, and often are.

Much of the hostility I have seen in electronic discussions arises from ignorance. Christians and neopagans do not so much attack each other as they attack caricatures of each other. And when they really get into the swing of the attack, they sometimes start behaving like the caricatures too. I believe the writings of the Inklings can go a long way towards removing the caricatures.

Some Christians have never heard of neopagans, and wonder what they are, and there is even disagreement about that, so here is a brief description. The word "pagan", as used by Christians, originally meant someone who wasn't a Christian. It was probably derived from Roman military slang, where it meant a civilian as opposed to a soldier, and for Christians it meant someone who had not enlisted, by baptism, in the battle against the evil "Prince of this World".

As a result of this origin, in the early days of Christianity, pagans were not aware of being "pagan", though as time went on some doubtless became aware that Christians called them that. They had many different gods and cults and philosophies, depending on where they lived. But whatever else they worshipped or didn't worship, citizens of the Roman Empire had a universal obligation to participate in the Emperor cult. Christians were awkward in refusing to do so, and this sometimes got them into trouble with the authorities, and there were sporadic persecutions of Christians.

In many of the places where Christianity spread people stopped worshipping their old gods altogether, and became Christians; sometimes this happened because they wanted to do so, sometimes their king or other local ruler became a Christian and then forced all his subjects to do the same. For whatever reason, though, the worship of the old gods ceased.

In the 19th and 20th centuries a movement of secularisation spread through Europe and other parts of the world. Religion ceased to hold a central place in people's thinking, and in some places, the so-called Second World, it was actively suppressed. The Western world had become post-Christian. People who were nonreligious, for whom God meant nothing, often called themselves, and were called by Christians, "pagans". But some people were dissatisfied with a secular worldview, and many were spiritual searchers. Some of these searched in the pre-Christian religions of their countries, and began worshipping gods that had long been neglected. And they came to be called "neopagans", new pagans, to distinguish them from those who had worshipped those gods before the coming of Christianity (who were sometimes called "paleopagans"). These revived pagan religions were not the same as the originals, and had a totally different social base. Many neopagans were eclectic, choosing gods who had never been worshipped together, and some worshippped gods of their own devising. It is impossible to describe all the different varieties of neopaganism here. Some have particular names: Asatru, the worship of the old Norse gods; Hellenism, the worship of the old Olympian gods of ancient Greece; Wicca, the worship of a goddess, and sometimes a god who is a consort.

As a result of some fanciful and now-discredited ideas propagated by Margaret Murray, some neopagans, and Wiccans in particular, came to believe that the Great European Witchhunt in Early Modern Europe was actually a persecuton of a pagan religion (labelled The Burning Times), and that the "witches" then persecuted were precursors of modern Wiccans. This fuelled the hostility that some neopagans felt towards Christians, while some Christians accused neopagans of being satanists and devil worshippers, and in some cases neopagans experienced real persecution in the present, and did not need imaginary persecutions of the past to make them aware of hostility.

One thing that strikes me about the fiction of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien et al) is that they are often enjoyed by Christians and neopagans alike. These three authors, and perhaps others who write in similar genres, may provide a way for Christians and pagans to communicate with each other without such hostility.

Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were Christians, and I am a Christian, so what I say here, I say from a Christian point of view, and I am mainly addressing my fellow Christians. That doesn't mean that I don't want neopagans or others to read this. Anyone who is interested in the topic is welcome to do so. It's just that I don't advocate a neopagan viewpoint here, and nor do I pretend to a neutral "objectivity". So if you are a neopagan, you'll probably disagree with a lot of what I say. A lot of Christians might disagree with it too.

Tolkien's Lord of the rings is probably the best-known and most widely read of the Inklings' works. In the rec.arts.books.tolkien newsgroup, there are periodic discussions on whether it is a Christian book or not. Christians often claim that it is a Christian book, whereas non-Christians often claim that is is a "pagan" book. The elements of pagan mythology are plain to see, whereas there are none of the externally-recognisable elements of Christian "religion". The characters don't read the Bible, they don't go to church, and Christ is never mentioned. There isn't even a recognisable Christ-figure, like Aslan in the Narnian books of C.S. Lewis, to provide a reference point.

It is also fairly well known, at least among Inklings fans, that there was some disagreement on this point between Tolkien and Lewis. Tolkien disliked allegory, and said that he regarded the Christianity in Lewis's books as too explicit. Some neopagans also find the Christianity in Lewis's books too explicit, and avoid them for that reason. Others enjoy them, and either ignore the Christian references, or regard them as another "path" that they themselves do not need to take, though they acknowledge that it may have been legitimate for Lewis and others.

Lewis's fiction works might be a good starting point, however, precisely because they are most explicitly Christian. Even though this is so, one could also say much the same of them as many have said of The lord of the rings - there are no church services or Christian ministers, or any other religious activities. There is no religion in them. But there is quite a lot of pagan material in them.

Consider, for example, C.S. Lewis's The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. A child from the normal everyday world hides in a wardrobe during a game, and finds herself transported by magic into another world, where she has tea with a faun, a figure from ancient Roman pagan mythology. A faun is half human, half goat, and the encounter is an introduction to a world of intelligent talking animals - beavers with sewing machines and the like. Lewis has no hesitation in blending Christian and pagan mythology in his Narnian books. There is even salvation. Salvation is at the centre of the plot of the book, but one would have to look hard to find it attributed to any religion at all, Christian or pagan.

Of course Lewis was known as a Christian, and his conception of salvation is a Christian one, but in this particular book he does not deal with what seems to be the central question for many Western Christian "theologians of religion" - the question whether there is salvation in "other" religions.

The next book in the Narnian series, Prince Caspian, is even more populated with pagan deities - Bacchus and Silenus, nymphs and Maenads, and even a river god. Lewis does not identify these with the forces of evil - they are not "satanic", as many Christians seem to think pagan deities ought to be (and many neopagans think that Christians think neopagans' deities are). They are rather part of the army of liberation, and are themselves liberated from the powers of evil in the course of the story.

One could give more examples from the other books in the series, but the picture one gets from all of these is far removed from some of the common Western perceptions of the Christian attitude towards paganism and pagan deities, whether seen from the point of view of Christians or of neopagans. That is, the perception that Christianty and neopaganism are, and perhaps ought to be, hostile to each other.

This hostility was not always around


Back in the early 1970s a group of us were trying to set up a Christian commune in Windhoek, Namibia. We made contact with other groups with similar interests, largely through an exchange of underground magazines in something called The Cosmic Circuit (a kind of hard-copy Webring). One magazine dealing with communes was produced by a neopagan group in Wales, and was edited by Tony Kelly of the Selene Community there. We sent them our Christian magazine Ikon in exchange for their publication Communes. They also sent us a few copies of their neopagan magazine The Waxing Moon. There was no hostility that I could discern. The people who published The Waxing Moon appeared to want to revive the pre-Christian nature religions of north-western Europe. It seemed to be part of a wider "back-to-nature" movement, a reaction against the urban-industrial society of the 20th century with its wars and political systems.

Then we lost contact. Our community in Windhoek was broken up by deportation and banning, and we went our separate ways and got involved in other things. In the 1990s I once again came into contact with neopagans, mainly through electronic computer links, such as bulletin board conferences and reading Web pages put up by neopagans. The bulletin board conferences were more informative, because they were more interactive. But there seemed to be differences from my experience of 20 years earlier. There was a hostility and suspicion that I had not noticed before. It also seemed that where there was this hostility, there was also a lack of communication. Christians and neopagans did not so much attack each other as attack caricatures of each other. The electronic media made it possible for people who might otherwise never meet to talk to each other, but when they did, they failed to communicate and just talked past each other. As someone once put it, these new electronic communications media made it easy to communicate with people of other countries and cultures, but very often it is communication without community.

One difference, which may be significant, is that the neopagans we were in touch with in the 1970s were in Britain. Most of those I encountered in the 1990s through BBSs were American. And some Americans, at least, seem to get a lot more aggressive and bitter about things, and were more inclined to divide the world into "good guys" and "bad guys".

But what I think may be even more significant is the time. I got the impression (which could be mistaken) that the neopagans of the 1960s and 1970s were engaged in a search for spiritual values in reaction against secular modernity. They failed to find those values in Christianity, because many Western Christians had sold out to secular modernity. The most influential Christian books at the time were all about how the Christian church must come to terms with modernity and secular values: The secular meaning of the gospel (van Buren), The secular city (Cox) and Honest to God (Robinson) are a few of the better-known ones. Anyone looking for spiritual values at such a time would have been hard-put to find them in the Christian churches of the West. While Christian theologians were saying how difficult it was for "modern man" to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the youth were marching in the streets in their thousands with posters proclaiming that "Che Guevara lives" and "Chairman Mao will live for 10000 years". The theologians who were trying to address the "with it" generation were quite obviously "without it".

In the 1990s, however, when I began communicating with neopagans and others electronically, I got a different impression (which could also be mistaken) - that many people who had turned to neopaganism in the 1990s had reacted not against secular values, but against religious ones, and those religious values were those of Christianity, or, perhaps more accurately, those which American sociologists have called "Judeo-Christian" when trying to describe the middle ground of US culture. The difference between American neopagans of the 1990s and British ones of the 1970s was that the former were rebelling against a "Judeo-Christian" upbringing, whereas the latter were rebelling against secular materialism, and could therefore more easily find common ground with Christians who were rebelling against the same things. Those who are rebelling against a "Judeo-Christian" upbringing might on that account be more inclined to be hostile towards Christianity.

What happened to make the change?


I suspect that one cause is that in the 1970s many Western Christians rebelled against the "secular sixties", and changed. This rebellion took several different forms. One form was radical Christian "Jesus freaks". Another was the spread of the charismatic renewal, with its rediscovery of a sense of miracle and mystery. It is possible that in the 1970s this attracted many who in the 1960s might have been attracted by neopaganism.

By the end of the decade, however, a reaction had set in. The charismatic renewal had become institutionalised and domesticated in a kind of Protestant neo-scholasticism. A thousand loose-cannon prophets receiving direct revelations from the Holy Spirit (so they said) found that these revelations seemed to concern all the other groups and teachings but theirs, and began calling on the faithful to "Come out of Babylon" and join their particular version of the New Jerusalem. The denunciations became stronger, and the tolerance of deviation less, and euphoria of the 1970s led to the hangover of the 1980s, which some called "charismatic burn-out". The miracle and the mystery had been swallowed up in a sterile intellectual rigidity. (I've been toying with the idea of a research project into the history of the charismatic renewal in South Africa to test some of these hypotheses).

Having observed this process among Western Christians, I am a little disturbed by signs of something similar beginning to happen among Orthodox Christians in the West, only three decades behind the Protestants and Roman Catholics. There seems to be an idea going around that Orthodox Christianity must be inculturated in the West by having clean-shaven clergy in business suits, with pews and microphones and musical instruments in the churches. Orthodoxy could be beginning its own sell-out to secular Western culture. Not entirely, though. Groups such as the Youth of the Apocalypse, with their slogan of "Death to the World", affirming the countercultural character of Orthodoxy, might provide a counter weight.

So much for the background (as I see it) to the hostility between many Christians and many neopagans. What does the fantasy literature of people like Lewis, Tolkien and Williams have to do with it?

In the 1960s Lewis and Williams's fiction was reprinted in paperback, and so became more accessible. Tolkien's Lord of the rings was reprinted in 1966, and enjoyed a new popularity. Until then, Lewis had been widely known as the author of popular works of Christian apologetics. In a smaller, more specialised circle, he was known as the author of some works of literary criticism. Williams continued to be known mainly by a fairly small circle of enthusiasts. All three writers based their work, mainly or in part, on premodern myths and legends.

At the same time as professional theologians were writing works extolling the virtues of modernity, of the modern world-view or "paradigm", and calling for Christianity to be "demythologised", these authors were in effect reaffiming the value of myth. At the same time as the publication of Robinson's Honest to God, which caused such a stir in the West, J.V. Taylor published The primal vision. Both Taylor's and Robinson's books were discussed at conferences of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa, and their somewhat incompatible messages seemed to cancel one another out. Demythology was very trendy, but Taylor included in his book a quote from Nicolas Berdyaev, who pointed out that "myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept".

But the best means of communicating the value of myth is myth itself. The primal vision is almost forgotten, but the demand for the works of the Inklings has grown over the last 30 years.

I've already mentioned the appearance of pagan themes in Lewis's Narnian books, and have discussed the appearance of some of these themes in his Cosmic trilogy, and especially Out of the silent planet on another web page. The third novel in the trilogy, That hideous strength, comes closer to the writings of Charles Williams. It has been described as Lewis's attempt to write a novel in the style of Williams. Like Williams's novels, and unlike the other two in the trilogy, or the Narnian books, the setting is this world, rather than an imaginary one, or a setting on other planets.

In That hideous strength spiritual powers manifest themselves in this world - the ancient Greek and Roman deities, who are also the planetary rulers, show themselves in human society, and, in alliance with a revived Merlin of the Arthurian legends, confound the powers of evil. The Arthurian theme has echoes of Williams's poetry in particular. It has echoes in the children's novels of Peter Dickinson, who wrote of a revived Merlin whose awaking provoked an atavistic fear of modern technology among the inhabitants of Britain.

Alan Garner, whose children's novels The weirdstone of Brisingamen and The moon of Gomrath were first published in the 1960s, wrote of a wizard, Cadellin Silverbrow, who is guarding a company of sleeping knights, who are threatened by the evil power of the Morrigan and Nastrond. The sleeping knights are to waken when Britain is in extreme peril.

The return of a half-forgotten power from a mythical past to battle an evil in the present is common to That hideous strength and the works of Garner. Lewis uses Graeco-Roman mythology in developing the characteristics of the planetary rulers, and also uses Romano-British mythology and folklore for the idea of a revived Merlin. Garner uses Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and modern folklore - the idea of the "old straight track", for example, which he uses in The moon of Gomrath is a recent one.

Unlike Lewis, Garner's books do not have many clearly-identifiable Christian elements. Yet for Christians, Garner's books are as enjoyable as Tolkien's. Neopagans have sometimes recommended Garner's books as an introduction to a pagan worldview and pagan values for children. I believe that the attraction of these books could offer a key to understanding the common ground shared by Christians and neopagans, and also the differences between them.

One of the attractions for Christians is a struggle between good and evil powers, which is a central feature of the Christian worldview. In That hideous strength Lewis asserts Christian, liberal and democratic values against those of a fascist technocracy, and suggests that the latter are part of a satanic cosmic plot. This happens at several levels. For the modern worldview, nature and politics need to be demythologized (see Harvey Cox, The secular city). Lewis effectively remythologizes them. For the early Christians (and for most of their contemporaries) political and spiritual power were inseparable. The emperor cult, which Christians refused to participate in, bore witness to this. Lewis shows how this power operates in a modern setting.

In Garner's books the struggles are for the possession of the symbols of power - the weirdstone of Brisingamen itself, for example. But there is the same struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

In Tolkien's Lord of the rings the primary symbol of power is the One Ring carried by Frodo Baggins to Mount Doom, to be destroyed in the fire in which it was forged.

Where does that take us?

This article has been nearly ten years in the writing. I posted it on a web page, and have added to it from time to time, as new ideas have occurred to me, but the main point has been to pose questions rather than to give answers. In the blog format it is easy to respond by comments, and I hope that it may be the beginning of a conversation. The conversation need not be limited to a blog, and could take place in face to face discussions, or even in a reading group.

Here are some of the questions that occur to me. I hope that if this provokes any ideas, you may respond in comments, or even with other questions.

What values do you see in the writings of the Inklings? Which ones are common to Christians and neopagans? Which ones do you think are incompatible with one or the other?

For Christians: what kind of Christian theology of religions to you see behind the works of the Inklings? What are the similarities and differences between it and that of your community or tradition?

For neopagans: what do you think of the view of pagan deities in tho books of the Inklings? Do you find it hostile, friendly, condescending, cooptive?

[ Continued at Towards a theology of Religions ]

See the other Synchroblogs on the theme of Christianity and neopaganism:

This article is loosely based on an article I posted on my web pages about 10 years ago, and have been adding to since then. An older version may be found at Christianity, paganism and literature

It is also a continuation of a series of posts on Theology of religion, which bedan with the August synchroblog on Christianity, inclusive or exclusive. The instalment previous to this one can be found at Theology of religions and interreligious dialogue. The next instalment is at Towards a theology of religions.
See also an earlier post on Beats, Inklings, Christian literature and paganism.

27 comments:

Pastor Phil said...

Steve,

It is late here, and I will have to consider your questions later, but I love the article. As far as your observations about dialogue difficulties appearing in the 90's, you might look to some of the history of Christian/Pagan interaction in the 80's. Some nasty stuff went on then.

Steve Hayes said...

Phil,

When you have time I'd be interested on your take on my thesis that the nasty stuff in the 89s was due, at least in part, to the congealing of the charismatic renewal from openness to the Holy Spirit into fixed ideological positions from which people bashed each other.

Kay said...

Very good article Steve. I appreciate very much how you brought the Inklings into it. I'm going to have to browse through your archives for your other posts that deal with them.

Steve Hayes said...

Kay

Just enter "Inklings" in the box at the top left of the page, and click "Search this blog"

Jarred said...

This was well worth reading. I don't have much to comment on the topic, but hope to come back after I've had time to digest it more.

sonja said...

Wow ... this is an intense post, Steve.

You've delved into some of my very favorite books. I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the allegorical links between LOTR and Christianity ... even though I *know* that Tolkein said there were none.

Here are some of my favorite allegories that I saw in the books:

First the picture that is drawn that evil is always working to harm us in any way possible. Tolkein drew a picture that evil is inherent in modern, industrial progress. I think he preferred a more pastoral way of life ... that was inherently good.

Another allegory that I see in the book is the picture of addiction shown in the power of the ring over its bearer. I think that is also a picture of the nature of how power corrupts. But if you look at how Frodo deteriorates over the course of his journey and the power of the ring over him, it is a great picture of how addiction works in people.

Another favorite allegory I have is this ... that Denethor's stewardship of Gondor is an allegory for church leadership. I wrote a blog post about this a couple years ago. But when I think about it and I think about Tolkein's general disgust with the military/industrial complex he might have been using it as an allegory for our stewardship of the earth too.

Those are my three favorites ... there are more, but I don't want to take up your space (big grin) ... this is a favorite subject of mine.

Sally said...

excellent and thoughtful post as always Steve. I am mulling over your questions....

Iambic Admonit said...

Steve: Thank you for these in-depth thoughts. Instead of commenting at length, I think I'll reply with a series of posts over on Iambic Admonit. There's one on there now about Lewis & Romanticism that kind of lead into the conversation about the Inklings and paganism/mythology.

Steve Hayes said...

Sonja,

I don't really think any of the eorks of the Inklings that I discussed were allegorical. Lewis did write an allegorical book, The pilgrim's regress, and there was possibly some allegory in The great divorce, but not in Narnia or the space trilogy.

Tolkien disliked allegory, and so avoided it. Some have said that the ring was an allegory of power, or of atom bombs, but he rejected that. It was a symbol of power, certainly, but a symbol is not an allegory.

I'll probably post a following up in the next week or two, linking to the last sychroblog as well.

Steve Hayes said...

Iambic Admonit,

If you do respond, please use the "link to this post" thingy, so people can follow the discussion in both places, as it frovides a two-way link, from this blog to yours, ansd from yours back to this.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Steve,

Wow! Great post. The first 1/3 was particularly good. :-)

I didn't notice any mention of George MacDonald in there. He was one to whom Lewis and Tolkien owed much.

Erin said...

Wow some deep wading but a great post...thanks Steve. I might be back when I have time to digest it a bit.

Sam Norton said...

Now that is really interesting, many thanks. On the subject of Tolkien's Christianity being expressed in LOTR have you read 'The Gospel according to Tolkien'? Very good, and makes the case that LOTR describes a world which is pregnant with the word, but whose virtues are resonant with those of Christianity.

Much to ponder...

Paul Walker said...

Thanks for the post, which went into much more depth than I was able to in my fleeting effort. It certainly taught me a lot I did not know, and I'm grateful for what you've shared here.

Guy McLaren said...

Very interesting theories. I like the caricatures theory, I think the theory can be broadened to include atheism.

Being atheistic myself, I have found the characterisation of atheists as demon possessed and lost by christians to be fairly common. I have a lot less discussion with the pagans about my lack of belief. What are your thoughts on this?

Hekateris said...

Interesting questions, and a very interesting post(s). I like the idea of Synchroblogging.

I think there is a very great difference between today's neopagans and those from the 60's. I wasn't born until '68, but I can tell you that I had rejectd Christianity by, oh, 6 at the latest. My mother is Roman Catholic (not church going, however, but not lapsed, either) and we occasionally went to the local Congregational church for Easter services, and Midnight Mass if we were in the nearby large town, so I was familiar with Christianity. And, of course, I watched all the religious specials on tv during the holidays, read the Bible as part of various literature courses in high school (private) and college (liberal arts).

For me, Christianity leaves too much out, it's too...oh, I don't know what the word might be. I guess you could say it mirrors itself and itself alone, without ever taking into account other influences or, as one of the other Synchrobloggers wrote, taking only what serves it and damning the rest. So that's my story.

As for the Inklings, I've never considered Tolkien particularly influenced by Paganism so much as by history and mythology. I tried reading both Narnia and the Ransom Trilogy and found both of them to Christian for my tastes. Of course, I'm not particularly interested in fiction with agendas of any type, however Lewis was the first author that made me want to hurl his books across the room, but definitely not the last(I'm talking to you, JK Rowling).

It's been so long since I tried to read Lewis (oo, I was 10? 11?) that I can't remember much of the details apart from that the fact that the writing seemed good and that I really disliked the Christian themes. I read Tolkien as fantasy, and these days often in admiration of his research and linguistics. I'm a writer of science fiction and fantasy myself (I find non-genre fiction a bit boring, with the rare exceptions like AM Holmes, Allende, Kingsolver, and Smiley) so I'm always on the lookout for good writing.

Well, I'm not sure I've answered any of your questions, but here's my answer!

Cheers for the conversation.

Snortiblog said...

I thought your discourse was thought provoking and interesting.
My split from "Being a Christian" was when I asked a friend who was a
priest, "Can I be a Christian, if I don't believe in ALL of the 32
articles." he said "No".
So decide that if I had to believe in 32 impossible things before breakfast,
I really couldn't "Be a Christian". Sounds odd, but I really felt a kind of
release from internal wrestling. Great I thought, I can be what I want to
be. And I have kept on searching.
It's nice not to be a Christian. ( for me anyway, a kind of freedom to see
God )

--
Jackdaw, collector of facts, trivia and bright twinkly things
to get me remove removethisbit.
lllllllllll
Ö¿Ö¬

Yvonne said...

Interesting article. You might like the chapter "The Inklings and the Gods" in Ronald Hutton's book Witches, Druids, and King Arthur (he's a world-renowned historian of the Pagan revival).

As someone who straddles the fence between the Christian and Pagan worldview (and has a lot of sympathy for Orthodoxy), I agree with your assessment that it was the charismatic revival and the subsequent hardening of attitudes that gave rise to the mutual hostility between Christians and contemporary Pagans (I've never liked the 'neo' label).

I enjoy the books of the Inklings and find the Ransom trilogy
very compelling - in fact, it was reading That Hideous Strength that made me take on even more of the Christian worldview than I had hitherto.

I like the fact that Orthodoxy has more respect for other worldviews than many other forms of Christianity - and I hope they don't make the priests shave their beards, I think it makes them look like Father Christmas (who was after all, an Orthodox priest). That said, I think there's too much emphasis on celibacy and asceticism in it, and I think they should bring back women priests and adelphopoeia - but I applaud the panentheist worldview and the emphasis on nature spirituality. And I tried really hard, but I couldn't get my head around the Trinity, sorry.

It's difficult to say what is specifically Pagan and what is specifically Christian in the work of the Inklings, since the two world-views have influenced each other; the Platonists and the mystery cults influenced early Christianity, and late Christianity has influenced the Pagan revival, even if it's only in what is rejected by many Pagans. One positive influence is the idea of the "priesthood of all believers". You might also be interested in reading "Wicca: the Christian heritage" by Jo Pearson (an academic study of the influences of Christianity on Wicca).ejz

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks for the comments everyone -- haven't been able to respond before because of the end of the month broadband blues, so I'll try to catch up:

Adam,

I didn't mention George MacDonald because I don't find the themes as clear in his work. Some people have (I believe erroneously) called the works of the Inklings "allegorical", but Lilith is allegorical, and I found it heavy going, and didn't "get" much of the allegory.

Hekateris,

Well, if you don't like the books, they won;t do much to aid communication. A friend of mine once wrote a paper on Christian art, in which he said that true art cannot be propaganda, but i suppose people draw the line at different places.

Yvonne,

I've read several of Hutton's books, but I haven't come across that one. I'd like to, because that will be the theme of my follow-up post to this one, but I don't suppose I'll have the opportunity. But when I do manage to see it, perhaps it will prompt yet another blog post :-)

daryl said...

A very nice article Steve but there are a couple of points I think shaded a bit toward overstatement. Knowing a few of the "Jesus people" (now older and perhaps mellower) I wouldn't actually consider their POV extreme, nor would I think the Charismatic infusion played out just yet, though much of it has simply been absorbed into the various church traditions.
Also I think LOTR carries a good number of Christian messages, I agree not as allegory, chief among them being that seemingly isolated acts by apparently "small" people have consequences that can affect the world.
As to modern paganism, I often wonder how much of it actually involves worship of a dieity someone believes in, and how much involves seeking the unity, solice and comfortable familiarity of ritual. My daughter has turned to Wicca but I really cannot imagine that her relationship with The Goddess really corresponds to my communion with Christ.

Steve Hayes said...

Daryl,

I'm not sure that I follow some of your comments. I didn't say that the Jesus freaks were "extreme" (I'm not sure what "extreme" means in that context, unless there is some analogy with bungee jumping that I've missed). What I said was that they (or at least some of them) rebelled against the 1960s Christian flirtation with the secular.

Check Phil Wyman's comments on the charismatic movement, as he seems to have noticed the same phenomenon there.

Thomas said...

On the treatment of pagan deities with the works of Inklings...

In Lewis, his treatment of pagan deities seems to me to reflect some of the odder points of his theology which at times veered into almost a sort of henotheism. As I recall even in one of his "apologetic" works he veers away from the standard Christian position of viewing pagan deities as either "demonic" or non-existant postulating their actual existance, but veering away from classify as precisely "angelic" or "demonic" and theorizing that they should be classified in some other way. However, so far as I know, he never precisely decided how he felt they should be classified.

In Tolkien, you really don't have a great deal of discussion of deities as such outside of the opening portion of Silmarillion, and there you see a sort of weird amalgamation of Pagan and Christian mythos where you have a single supreme deity but then the actual act of creation carried by a group of lesser ones.
Past that though when reading Tolkien's work, I must confess I see far more Paganism (and specifically of the northern European variety) than I do Christianity. Certainly there are some Christian themes there, but they often seem quite muted in comparison the direct allusions to the old norse Sagas and such.

But based on Tolkein's own motivations for writing that isn't terribly surprising. His goal wasn't to write Christian allegory, but to create a mythology for the English people. And when it was argued that they already had one in the form of Arthurian mythology, Tolkein replied that he found it to be "too Christian".

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Carmina said...
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Carmina said...

I love the article Steve, thanks!

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what an interesting overview on Christianity, Paganism and their hostile relationship some people may have highlight it on literature. Thank you for the article.

Titanium said...

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