So Ancient and So New
There are things we understand organically, things that are inside of us, and other things we can only comprehend from the outside, by observation. Let me use the example of homosexuality. When I was a young man, thankfully homosexual men were still in the closet. In fact, I don’t think in my teen years I could have given an accurate definition of a homosexual. By the time I entered my college years, however, homosexuals were being encouraged to come out of their closets, and I was then forced to acknowledge that, strange as it might seem to me, there were men who desired to be with men in the way I desired to be with women. But as a heterosexual I was not a minority of one, so I don’t recall being particularly upset that some men were not heterosexual.
It was a different case with my religious orientation. I lost and regained my childhood faith while in the belly of the beast called academia. My “teachers” undermined Christianity, but in the Library there were antique books that existed side by side with those of the despoilers. Men like Walter Scott, William Shakespeare, and Le Fanu told a different story than the philosophical speculators. My nihilism then gave way to the very elemental faith -- let’s call it the ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ faith -- of my European ancestors. (1)
Man is a very social animal. Having come to believe in that faith which is “so ancient and so new,” I sought fellowship, not only in church but in society. And in both church and society I had to confront the fact that what I believed about God and the European culture, which showed me the face of Christ, was not the organic belief of any of my fellow Europeans.
The new Europeans had broken with the past that was the source of my new found faith. The Europeans of the older times looked on the Christian faith as an epic poem with Christ as the Hero. Through His incarnation, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, He revealed to men the humanity of God and the divine element of humanity. Man was the centerpiece of God’s creation, a personality of infinite value. But in the new Christianity, which cut across all denominational lines, Christ was the great Illuminator; He came not to set hearts on fire, but to enlighten men’s minds. The new Christianity was a mathematical system, and the elect were the men who could figure that system out.
I’ve never been able to understand, from inside, why mathematical, cosmic Christianity is more appealing to modern Europeans than the poetic, fairy tale Christianity of the Europeans of the past. But I have to acknowledge that it is because that is the faith they preach and practice.
Let’s place the faith of our European ancestors up against the faith of the modern Europeans. Our ancestors believed that heaven visited earth in the form of Jesus Christ, and through a divine act of charity He bound our hearts to His heart. All that we know of God and our fellow man comes from our hearts which He set on fire. This is why the folktales of the European people always stress the miraculous powers of a human heart that is connected to the divine heart: “Charity never faileth.”
In contrast to the way of charity, the way of the Third Dumb Brother of the European fairy tale, is a religion that exalts the superior intellect. God does not impart to human hearts, He enlightens human minds, or at least some human minds. “You too can become one of the illuminated” is the call to which modern Christians respond. And in such a religion there is no need to stay connected to a particular people’s past. In fact there is no such thing as a people, either as a group or as individuals; there is only illuminated minds connected to other illuminated minds. The white man is not committing suicide because he has lost his mind; he is committing suicide because he has lost his heart. It is in the coffin he built for the fairy tale faith of his European ancestors.
I found the folklorists of Europe left a trail of bread crumbs that led back to the cottage of the Son of God. Their apologetics of the hearth and the heart was the same as the one He used when He walked the earth. His apologetics consisted of a story about a hero (our Lord was the hero of His story) woven around dogmas illustrated by stories.
Why does the use of stories and parables mark a work as inferior apologetics and lacking in serious moral purpose? In illuminated circles such a work is labeled “natural” and thus inferior to the supernatural works of the Doctors of Theology, but by such a standard the Gospels would be considered inferior apologetics, and Christ a second-rate theologian.
The false assumption of the illuminated apologist is that reason alone stands unpolluted by original sin. This is false. Our reason is not meant to be separated from the rest of our being; it is only when we seek Christ with our heart, soul, and mind, that we can attain a vision (through a glass darkly) of the true God.
Genuine apologetics must be like the old apologetics of our Lord, showing us a vision of the true God through the use of parable, story, and the image of the Hero. When the central dogma of Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ risen is still strongly present in the consciousness of the reader, the story of the Christ-like hero (such as Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel) is sufficient without the dogma. But when the central dogma of Western civilization has receded from the consciousness of men, the dogma must be more explicit. C. S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, gives us the new-old apologetics for the 21st century. He makes explicit what writers such as Kenneth Grahame, Walter Scott, and Joseph Le Fanu were saying implicitly.
There will be many who will quarrel over the artistic merits of a work of literature that makes such an explicit case for the Christian Faith. But such individuals do not understand that all art is religious. There is no such thing as a work of art without a religious vision. The vision is the work of art. What makes a work of art didactic in the pejorative sense is the nature of the religious vision conveyed. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, is not offensive because she writes about God; her novel is offensive because her god is a pantheistic, Buddha-type of God.
Many Catholics are particularly hostile to fairy tale apologetics. The reason Tolkien thought Narnia childish and vulgar was because he was raised in the “old” Catholic school (which was of course really a very modern school), which taught that art and religion were in separate categories, the one in the natural order, and the other in the supernatural order. But that is a false division. God does not just exist on the Mt. Sinai of the theologians, nor should apologetics be left to the professionals.
C. S. Lewis’s regress was a regress to fairy tale Christianity. After discovering the limitations of the more traditional apologetics, which he did quite well, he wrote the great work of Christian apologetics in Narnia. He broke through the Thomistic separation of the natural and the supernatural and told us a really true fairy tale of how we can learn to love God in this world and live happily ever after with Him in the next. He kept it simple for the peasants like myself, without compromising the dogma.
There is nothing written in stone that says apologetics must be dull, mathematical, unmetaphorical, unimaginative, and unintelligible. The use of parables and stories in one’s apologetics should not disqualify a work from the ranks of “serious” apologetics. In fact, it is my contention that a really effective apologia for the Faith should incorporate the heroic fairy tale traditions of Europe and the Gospels. And because our current anti-civilization does not consciously recognize the central dogma of our old civilization, the new apologetics will make it clear for whom the cross on the knight’s breastplate stands. It stands for the Christ, who was and is the source of the blood faith of the non-illuminated European people. +
(1) There are two types of faith that I can honestly say entered my blood. The first was the fairy tale Christianity of my childhood and my adulthood, and the second was nihilism, which is more an absence of faith, of my late teens and early twenties. All other modes of thought and feeling I understand as an outside observer.
Rationalist Christianity does not move me in the slightest. Nor do the various nature religions. And neo-paganism? If man is merely a biological specimen as the neo-pagans maintain, then why should I care whether white or black vegetable matter predominates over the other? A person’s skin color matters only if his racial identity is part of his soul, which is a thing divine and which belongs to God. “Nearer My Genes to Me” is not a very inspiring hymn.