When I first saw Disney’s 2010 film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I was nervous that the most overtly Christian moment in the entire book series—Aslan’s revelation to Edmund and Lucy that “In your world I have another name; you must learn to know me by it”—would be cut from the film.
Thankfully, the scene appears in the movie just as C.S. Lewis wrote it. But not all adaptations of beloved Christian children’s books escape the butchery of Hollywood secularism.
After reading a string of scathing reviews (and never having been a huge fan of the book in the first place), I chose not to see Ava DuVernay’s new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I was, however, deeply disturbed to learn that every reference to Christianity in the original novel had been purged from the screenplay.
I was disturbed, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. Not with Oprah Winfrey, the Pope of American Gnosticism and High Priestess of all who consider themselves spiritual-but-not-religious, playing a lead role.
Screenwriter Jennifer Lee, who also wrote Frozen, explained her decision to de-Christianize the film in an interview with Uproxx: “One of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle’s [book]…had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it…her lens through it was Christianity, and everyone has a different lens.”
In other words, the specific texts and doctrines of Christianity are superfluous. The value of Christianity, and of all other religions, lies solely in their ability to provide us with a vocabulary for expressing vague spiritual platitudes. When she wrote A Wrinkle in Time in 1962, L’Engle may have needed to quote Scripture to talk about these higher truths. But in 2018, Lee would have us believe, we’ve evolved beyond the narrow particularity that led our barbarian ancestors to argue and even fight over which creed was true when in fact they were all just different examples of fallible human beings fumbling toward the same ideas.
L’Engle herself, a liberal Episcopalian and a believer in universal salvation, gives some credence to this argument when she includes figures like Buddha alongside Jesus Christ and St. Francis of Assisi in her list of “Light Bearers.” In the Catholic Church, this is called the Heresy of Indifferentism, and it’s become all too common. The result of treating Christianity as merely a way of talking about other things rather than as a thing in itself is the inevitable conflation of Christianity with secular ideologies.
In academia, scholars Ken Jackson and Arthur Marotti identified this exact problem when they pointed out a tendency in the study of early modern English literature to attempt to “decode religious language and ideas as mystifications of economic, political, and social conditions and relationships, usually assuming that religion itself is a form of [Marxist] ‘false consciousness.’” To such scholars, it seemed inconceivable that someone could talk about religion without actually talking about something else, something more real.
When we consider religion as nothing more than an imperfect but useful way of expressing higher humanistic or political truths, we quickly find that it has been prostituted. Thus last year did the choir at the First Baptist Church of Dallas perform a hymn entitled “Make America Great Again.” And this disturbing phenomenon is by no means exclusive to the political right.
At an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service in Georgetown University’s Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart, I listened to a Baptist minister condemn Republican politicians who spoke out against the expansion of the welfare state with ashes on their foreheads. Then I joined in Prayers of the Church in which we begged forgiveness for destroying the environment and harboring bigotry toward people of other races and sexualities. Finally we were all urged to sign a petition calling for the passage of the DREAM Act. As I left the chapel, I found myself wondering why we bothered with the trappings of Christianity at all. It was obvious that our only goal was to echo the platform of the Democratic Party.
Doubtless, Christians must be willing to engage in politics, and there is much to be admired in taking “gold from the Egyptians” by gleaning wisdom from non-Christian sources. The problem comes when we fashion that gold into an idol that replaces God.
Although it may at times be necessary to, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, “examine our own religious notions [and] purify them in the heat of our unbelieving neighbor’s anguish,” as a general rule, we should be worried when we find we have more in common with secular advocates of our favorite pet causes than with our own co-religionists.
If your religion lines up perfectly with your politics, perhaps you should ask yourself what you’re really worshipping. I am far from uncritical of Pope Francis, but I’m always glad to see liberal news outlets alternating between praising him for his views on climate change and immigration and lambasting him for his condemnation of transgenderism. Our faith must be larger than our political beliefs; it must challenge them. True faith will not be content to serve any other ideology. The moment it does, as Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time aptly demonstrates, it becomes obsolete.
Grayson Quay is a freelance writer and M.A. student at Georgetown University.