Toynbee Narked at Narnia
The Guardian has a very ill-humoured column from Polly Tonybee: "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion". Polly, we learn, doesn't like the book because it's mythic inspiration is openly and overtly Christian, and not just any old Christianity either, but American Christianity which, as everyone knows, is the worst sort (vis) "Narnia is the perfect
Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted
neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right" I leave the rather cheap anti-Americanism to one side, and say that even as an atheist I find her argument reveals more about her own prejudices than those of C.S Lewis. Does she really believe a Christian message ruins art? She must find the National Gallery a rather threatening place; perhaps she averts her eyes at the Wilton Diptych and it's celebration of Christianity and feudalism.
Feudalism now there's another thing. Tolkien and fellow-traveller Lewis are, according to Polly, guilty of creating "worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children" Personally I'm not too troubled by the absence of participatory forms of government in fairy tales, because they are, well, fairly tales. Pity the children whose politically correct parents lull them to sleep with tales of Siegfried and the ratification of the Intergovernmental treaty on North Sea herring quotas or something.
What I find particularly closed-minded about Polly's position is that
she clearly doesn't object to books with a message, why else
her praise for Philip Pullman? If Lewis is a propagandist, Pullman is his
modern mirror. One can't damn Lewis for foisting blood and guts
Christianity on unsuspecting children and then praise Pullman for
ladling out a version atheism so powdered in sugary new-age nonsense it might
as well be the infamous Turkish Delight.
It all reminds me of when, as a teenager, I believed atheism was an explosive secret truth that only the intellectually courageous, like me, dared possess. It was rebellious anti-establishment stuff back in those pimply, hormonal days. I'm still an atheist and the pimples have almost subsided but now I find my lack of belief rather depressing and wish the world were otherwise. And perhaps it's for that reason I'm rather fond of fairy tales, but good old fashioned ones like Lewis and Tolkien, not this dreary philosophical stuff. I did that at college and I'm really none the better for it.
The God Pod
There's a firestorm on the web ignited by President Bush's remarks about intelligent design. Leaving aside the debate about whether or not religious accounts of creation belong in the school biology lab the row highlights an interesting contradiction in American culture; no nation is more technologically advanced, to America belong the two great symbols of modern science - the moon landing and the sequencing of the human genome , and yet here religious opposition to a cornerstone of modern science, the theory of evolution, is at it's strongest. Perhaps this is an echo of another division in the national psyche; the love of the homespun, the homely, an idealized rural-settler past contrasted with great enthusiasm for industry and modernity?
Well in this podcast we reflect some of the diversity of religious belief in America. A holocaust survivor, the co-president of Atheists United, a Vietnam veteran, and a young Christian leader all talk about God, whether he exists, and what belief - or the lack of it - means to them.