Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thin places

As the release of the first Narnia nears, material on Lewis is sprouting up all over. This article on Lewis at the Evangelical site Christianity Today is pretty fair and has a lot of information about Lewis' biography and publishing history that makes for interesting reading. Ex.:
By the late 1980s, Lewis seemed to be popping up everywhere, even in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. Phyllis Tickle, an author and former religion editor for Publishers Weekly, recalls that in the early 1990s, Lewis's books began to appear on the religion bestseller lists of secular bookstores. This trend continued after the Hollywood version of Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, was released in 1994. According to Gary Ink, librarian at Publishers Weekly, Mere Christianity has been on the religion bestseller list ever since. According to Harper Collins, Lewis's publisher, sales of his books have increased 125 percent since 2001. Part of Lewis' current appeal, says Tickle, is a postmodern interest in "thin places"- places where the physical world and the spiritual world meet - and for myth that makes sense of life in a way that rational thinking can't. For their dose of myth, postmoderns turn to The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and, of course, Narnia. "Fantasy allows you to explain and grasp and integrate into your life things that are not logical," she says. "Which is not to say that we're fantasizing about our lives. It is to say that we can tell each other truth in story."
As a Catholic, I find the Evangelical fascination with Lewis ripe with promise, since Lewis held in many ways to a fullness of traditional Christian faith. He was sacramental; he believed in the Eucharist and in Baptism, for example. He used the word Mass, with a capital M. He was in many ways on the Catholic side of Anglo-Catholicism. He was no literalist bumpkin and he may become a terrific conduit for that fullness. I saw one preview on the upcoming Narnia move, for example, where an evengelical was bemoaning the fact that a "supposed" Christian writer was using pagan symbols. Such stupidity drives me mental and I hope Lewis can be an antidote of sorts for it. I also find Lewis frustrating, since he never became a Catholic and was never very clear about what held him back. In C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, which I am almost done with now, Joseph Pearce writes:
The principal difference between Lewis' 'mere Christianity' and [G.K.] Chesterton's 'orthodoxy' is a difference of principle. Chesterton placed at the center of his quest for the essence of Christianity, the Apostles' Creed; Lewis placed at the center of his quest, the Book of Common Prayer. To quote once again from from the preface to Mere Christianity, 'All this is said simply in order to make clear what kind of book I was trying to write; not in the least to conceal or evade responsibility for my own beliefs. About those, as I said before, there is no secret.... "They are written in the Common-Prayer Book." ' Chesterton began with the Apostles' creed and discovered the Church of the Apostles; Lewis began with the Book of Common Prayer and was caught between the Church of the Apostles and the Compromise of Cramner. Ultimately, however, in spite of the limitations that 'mere Christianity' had placed upon him, Lewis groped progressively towards 'more Christianity,' accepting as integral to the faith doctrines that would have made Cramner cringe. Lewis might have failed to escape completely from the Puritania of his prejudices, but he would evolve into a very Catholic sort of Protestant or, perhaps, a very Protestant sort of Catholic.
Lewis' Catholicity can be seen in The Great Divorce, which is greatly inspired by Dante. The book explores the idea of purgatory and what that might be and what it might mean, a subject that is not Anglican. Due in no small part to its rich heritage, The Great Divorce is rich in literary techniques, fantasy and allegory and the like. Lewis just might represent a 'thin place' where the current hunger for fantasy stories can meet up with missing expository techniques that are at the root of the 'pagan symbol' whine I mentioned earlier. Such a meeting is likely, IMHO, to reveal the intellectual and historical poverty of the 'once a pagan symbol always a pagan symbol' mentality. A faith that can turn a symbol like the Cross into a symbol of victory and hope can surely turn a satyr on its head and use it to forward its own ends! Furthermore, in a media soaked age like ours, the ability to absorb and turn symbols to your own advantage is a hugely valuable skill, one that Christians simply cannot afford to walk away from.

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