As has been noted before, I have a knack for taking rather innocuous social institutions, etc., and reading way too much into them. So, I won’t go into a diatribe about the The Chronicles of Narnia — even as the movie is about to be released — as a propaganda for “muscular christianity,” thinly veiled enough that the young minds for which it was intended wouldn’t be likely to pick up on it. (I read it, and I didn’t until much later in life.) Fortunately, Polly Toynbee takes up the (likely to be) unpopular task in her recent Guardian Unlimited article.
Nevermind Disney’s obvious pandering to the religious right and evangelicals, since we’re all supposed to defer to them and their religious beliefs these days. Nevermind that there’s even a Narnia Bible Study out, or that Jeb Bush — brother of “God’s Own President” — is planning for every child in Florida to read the first book (including the children of non-christian parents). Nevermind that we’ve only just recovered from being beaten over the head with The Passion. Toynbee cuts to the heart of what’s bugging me about the Narnia resurgence at this point in our political/cultural odyssey.
Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America – that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis’s view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis’s earth. [emphasis added]
Addmitedly, Toynbee has an axe to grind with religion and with christianity in particular. And I’d be less than honest to claim that I don’t have my own axe to grind with organized religion in general and christianity in particular; especially the brand I was raised on. I’ve said as much before, that I have “issues with christianity” that sometimes manifest themselves as hostility and anger.
… I confessed that I have “issues” with Christianity; issues that often manifest in anger and hostility. Given my first experiences with religion growing up, and the pain that some religious beliefs have caused in my relationship with my family, some of that anger and hostility might even be justified. (Jim seemed to agree.)
I likened it to having a bruise. Everytime something touches it or brushes against it I respond to the pain. Jim pointed out that perhaps my bruise has never had a chance to heal. How to heal it? I don’t know.
I mention it here only as a disclaimer, realizing that anything I have to say on the subject will be taken with the necessary quantity of salt by whoever reads it.
Still, I couldn’t let Toynbee’s article pass without noting in it a pretty strong echo of the same basic conservative moral gestalt I wrote about several times back during Katrina response debacle. “[T]hey were made wealthy by God because they deserved it. The Godly will reap earthly reward because god is on the side of the strong.” As soon as I read it, bells went off, because I realized I’d covered it in at least half a dozen posts, like the following:
- Rhymes with Rich
- Drown the Poor
- Abandoning the Weakest
- Different Ideas on Rich and Poor
- Bankrupt America
But those were all interpretations and restatements of what I basically learned from George Lakoff; though I don’t know whether I learned it from him so much as heard distilled by him something I’d thought or sensed for a long time but was never able to express it as effectively as he does.
Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.
…Since to participate in the promotion or preservation of immorality is itself immoral, it is a moral requirement to eradicate immorality—through “tough love” if possible but through punishment if necessary—in every aspect of life, both public and private, domestic and foreign. (emphasis added)
…Promoting unimpeded economic activity means favoring those who control wealth and power, who are seen as the “best people,” over those who are unsuccessful, who are seen as morally weak.
Here’s the best that I can do.
The better off are so because they are better people. Thus if the poor were better people they would be better off. Therefore, there are very few good people who are poor, and probably even fewer well-off people who are bad. What we saw in the post-Katrina suffering was simply bad things happening to bad people. Most, if not all, of the good people had the means to get themselves out of the hurricane’s path and did so.
It’s the logical outcome of mindset founded in social darwinism, which fits right in with the conservative “wealth is well-being is virtue” ideal I mentioned earlier. It’s not just the physically or economically strong that survive (indeed that should survive, according to this POV), but the morally strong as well, because economic strength (manifested as material well-being, and the ability to move out of harms way) implies moral strength. Thus, poverty implies moral weakness.
And there is no obligation on the part of the morally strong to save the morally weak, because moral weakness is always a choice. The poor, then, have it coming.
I’ve often said we went through the looking glass a few years ago in this country. So in a sense we’re already living Narnia, where might — in terms of numbers, wealth, military strength, or all of the above — equals right, and the supposedly benevolent bullies rule. With “muscular christianity” seemingly at the pinnacle of its power (which one hopes means it won’t get any more powerful), it’s just a question of to what ends that muscle will be employed. Look around. I think we have the answer, and it doesn’t look anything like a fantasy novel or movie. Unless you’re the one with the muscle,that is.
But never mind me. It’s just a book about a lion, a witch, and a wardrobe; a good story and nothing more.
(Hat tip to Kevin Drum.)