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October 24, 2006

Sneaking through the back door

Something occurred to me after the Nativity Story screening last night -- prompted both by something producer Wyck Godfrey said before the screening, and by Catherine's recent post about atheistic evangelists. Mr. Godfrey said (as Catherina recounts) that there have been no major studio-sponsored biblical films in the past fifty years, but he then went on to talk about some recent independent Christian films that have been doing pretty well, such as Facing the Giants, One Night with the King, and a modest little effort called The Passion of the Christ.

Not to overstate the case, but there seems to be a renaissance in Christian filmmaking that is coinciding with a similar renaissance in Christian fiction, as believing artists strive -- with, I believe, increasing success -- to make art that is truly art and at the same time truly glorifying to God, not just sermons dressed up as art. Which brings me to Catherine's post, particularly the part where she writes, "There’s a renewed anti-faith fervor these days. We’re seeing it in some of the top titles on the New York Times bestseller’s list like Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Sam Harris’s Letters to a Christian Nation," and goes on to quote a Wired News story on "the curse of faith." Chuck Colson's BreakPoint commentary today touches on the reasons for this: "To [Dawkins and his cohorts], the whole future of mankind depends on being able to coax people away from their so-called 'irrational' beliefs and to establish that there are no explanations of human nature that go beyond nature."

Hence the materialists are on the attack, trying to get at our minds and win us over via science, politics, and various other arenas in which our reason plays the most important role. And yet look at the arena in which, all at once, Christians seem to be flourishing: the arts. In other words, as the materialists attempt to sway our reason, Christianity moves to capture our imagination. Accident? Coincidence? I don't think so. C. S. Lewis made this statement about sci fi (in the essay "On Science Fiction"), but it could apply, in this context, to literature and art in general:

If we were all on board ship and there was trouble among the stewards, I can just conceive their chief steward looking with disfavour on anyone who stole away from the fierce debates in the saloon or pantry to take a breather on deck. For up there, he would taste the salt, he would see the vastness of the water, he would remember that the ship had a whither and a whence. . . . What had seemed, in the hot, lighted rooms down below to be merely the scene for a political crisis, would appear once more as a tiny egg-shell moving rapidly through an immense darkness over an element in which man cannot live. It would not necessarily change his convictions about the rights and wrongs of the dispute down below, but it would probably show them in a new light. . . . Stories of the sort I am describing are like that visit to the deck. . . . Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of "escape." I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.

John Derbyshire -- with whom I hardly ever manage to agree on anything, and who would almost certainly splutter at being cited as agreeing with Lewis -- made a profound point on this subject as well yesterday. He quotes an "irreligious" novelist, Neal Stephenson, who is so uncomfortable with materialism in the wake of tragic, senseless death that he ends up writing, "'May God have mercy on their souls' . . . seems like the only appropriate thing to say. Think what you will about religious people, they always have something to say at times like this." Derbyshire comments, "Even if you are not religious by temperament—and yes, it is largely a matter of temperament—the naked, unadorned materialism of that italicized passage [about the deaths] is hard to swallow."

Of course we should never give up battling in the field of reason -- but neither should we underestimate the power of imagination in aiding the cause of Christ. I believe Lewis, the most beloved of twentieth-century Christian authors precisely because of his strengths in both areas, would have agreed. Our imaginations understand, in a way our intellects aren't always willing to come to grips with, our desperate need for Someone greater than ourselves and for some sort of ultimate meaning to our existence. It's just like God's infinite wisdom, humility, and, I believe, sense of humor that while while Dawkins and Harris and company are zealously pounding on the front door with their materialist tracts in hand, He should be tiptoeing around to the back.

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