Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Could Aslan Symbolize Mohammed and the Buddha? A Response to Liam Neeson and the Christian Community

posted by Mark D. Roberts

As I explained in yesterday’s post, Liam Neeson, the actor who provides the voice for Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia films, has recently expressed his opinion that: “Aslan symbolizes a
Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and
all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries” (Catholic News Agency). Today I want to offer a response to Liam Neeson, and also to the Christian community as we react to what he said.

lion-roaring-5.jpg

First, however, I want to thank those of you who have added comments. I received several here and many more on Facebook. As expected, we have a wide range of opinion. And, for the most part, we have all communicated in a mutually respectful way. Thanks.

So, how do I respond to Neeson’s comment? I must admit that my first, unreflective, and quite visceral reaction is negative. I have loved the figure of Aslan for more than three decades, and have loved him both as a character in a story and as a figure of Christ. So, when Neeson says something about Aslan that I don’t agree with, my tendency is to feel upset. It touches a nerve.

I think my reaction is common among many lovers of Aslan, most of whom are Christians. Aslan becomes for us almost a sacred figure. He gets wrapped up in our devotion to Christ. Thus, our reaction when somebody says something uncomfortable about Aslan is much stronger than if someone were to say something similar about Gandalf or Dumbledore. If we’re aware of our strong emotions, then we will be better able to manage them as we seek to respond to comments like that of  Liam Neeson.

On of my commenters, Jennie, draws attention to a key part of Neeson’s quotation . . . for me. Remember, he said, “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all that great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.” Neeson did not suggest that the C.S. Lewis intended Aslan to represent a generic religious leader. Rather, the actor admitted his own personal reaction to the character.

Neeson’s is a common response to art. Even if an artist intends a certain meaning in his or her work, individuals respond differently to art, seeing different meanings that reflect their own subjective experiences. As long as an observer is willing to say, “This is what it means to me,” rather than, “This is what it means, period,” then we ought not to overreact. If, for example, I were to say that Aslan reminds me of my beloved grandfather, I doubt anyone would be distressed. If I were to say, however, that Aslan really represents my grandfather, or that Lewis intended such a connection, then you might well be put off. 

I suppose that part of what is distressing about Neeson’s comment is that it seems so ignorant of Lewis’ intentions with respect to the character of Aslan.  As the National Catholic Reporter notes, “Lewis himself characterized Aslan as an invented imaginary answer to the
question ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world
like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that
world as He actually has done in ours?’” One might have expected Neeson to acknowledge this.

Honestly, though, I find Neeson’s comment to be so patently trite, so obviously PC, that I’m not upset by it. Rather, I’m almost bored. But I would love to ask him questions like: So what is it about Aslan that reminds you of Mohammed? What similarities do you see between Aslan and the Buddha? I would be surprised if Neeson’s answers would show any awareness of actual connections between the fictional lion and the other religious figures. It would also be interesting to ask Neeson if he sees connections between Aslan and Christ.

Many Christians have responded with to Neeson with predictable ire. In so doing, they have lost the chance to speak informatively to those who do not share their religious convictions. If we really want people to understand why Aslan is actually quite a bit like Christ, we would be well served to speak graciously and respectfully, listening well to those with whom we differ. I so often find myself wanting to say to my fellow Christians: Relax. Mellow out. We’ll talk when you’ve calmed down a bit. 

Moreover, I don’t think we need to panic and rush to a defense of Aslan. If non-Christian folk are drawn to this character, even if their understanding of him differs from what Lewis intended, I think this can be great. Aslan is big and strong enough to defend himself. And he is compelling enough in his actual similarities to Christ that one who is drawn to Aslan might very well be drawn through him to the one upon which the lion is based. But if we Christians want people see Jesus through Aslan, then we ought to follow Jesus’ own advice and walk the second mile with Liam Neeson and others who say things about Aslan that we don’t agree with.  



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Comments read comments(11)
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Andy

posted December 9, 2010 at 8:14 am


I think we shouldn’t forget the possibility that the quote is simply marketing. If it is seen as strictly a Christian movie, the potential audience is smaller.



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Brian Moss

posted December 9, 2010 at 10:57 am


Thanks, Mark. I think you are right on with your reflection here. We shouldn’t be surprised at this new appropriation of Narnia in today’s world. And this kind of “Aslan is in the eye of the beholder” mentality IS boring and I would want to ask Liam the same questions regarding relevance.



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jestrfyl

posted December 9, 2010 at 11:36 am


People of faith – any faith – are so protective of those whom them venerate that they do not appreciate the universality of the lessons taught or of their teacher. I believe Aslan is powerful and wise and caring. These are the virtues all people look for in their leaders.
Also we get rather thin skinned when someone invokes the name of a person we have been taught to hate or at least distrust. Reading through the Quran you will discover that Mohammed continued much of the same wisdom found in the First Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles. Sure there are cutting remarks about Christians and Jews, but in that time they were likely well deserved (does that apply today as well?). Our own scriptures have little good to say about anyone outside the Faith. Perhaps this learned distrust is more reflective of our own weakness in faith and knowledge. It is something we must unlearn and cast off as we mature in our hope and love for all of God’s children.
Neeson was not far off in his observation. I expect lewis may not have agreed at first either – being the specificially Chriostian appologist that he was. But he was also smart enough to see the foundational wisdom to Neeson’s remark.



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jestrfyl

posted December 9, 2010 at 11:39 am


By the way, remember Neeson also played Qui gon Jinn (spelling?) partner to Star War’s Obi wan kenobi in episodes 1-3 – perhaps Aslan is a Jedi as well.



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Kozak

posted December 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm


@Andy – you are correct. That’s why it is sad coming from a self-professed Catholic.
@jestrfyl – have you actually read the Quran? 60% of it is condemnation of Christians and Jews, and not for some particular sin that you seem ready to confess. The Bible speaks ill of those outside the faith; the Quran tells Muslims to kill them, convert them, or make them pay the jizya. Enough relativism.
@Mark – it was indeed trite and PC. I’m not defending Aslan, I’m condemning a fellow Christian who willfully misreads a text written by a Christian about Christ. Your questions would be good, but will never be asked. And that’s the flaw in your reasoning: we never get access to those who talk like this. They are walled off from Christianity, and we from them. We cannot engage with them or discuss with them. So frustrated people yell where they can.



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jestrfyl

posted December 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm


Kozak
I have indeed read the Quran. Did you know that there is a third Nativity story there and the Jesus is given great and prominent significance – as is Mary.
How did you decide 60& of the Quran is a condemnation? Have you read it – or is it someone else’s opinion? Christians might learn quite a bit about their own faith by reading the Quran – as is true about the First Testament too. I decided that ignorance was no place to stand when discussing the book that many people turn to for guidance. I have used the Quran in Bible study and included the Nativity story in an Advent devotional book for our church. Don’t be afraid — there is much of value there.
Relativism is the gray area in which most of us live. Stark black and sterile white is a luxury most cannot afford. Stark and sterile are descriptive of the absence of life and of death itself. Purity is far less beneficial or useful than alloys – and allies. Hate in any culture or language or religion is debilitating. It is usually the product of a second or third generation of “believers” who do not trust or understand the very scriptures they support.



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Ray

posted December 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm


Jestrfyl, you said: “Relativism is the gray area in which most of us live. Stark black and sterile white is a luxury most cannot afford.”
I would enjoy hearing more about what you mean if you care to comment.
Thanks!



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Stan

posted December 9, 2010 at 8:15 pm


I feel like going fishing; Because there’s been a can of worms opened.
Liam, might be reminded of Buddha or Mohammed through Aslan, but Mohammed was a man. I feel for Liam [and will pray for a TRUE conviction towards God] if he see God as anything CLOSE to being human. Of course I can see certain of Aslan’s traits in Muhammed or Buddha, but I can see those traits in people sitting next to me in church also. Colossians 1:27 states that Christ is in us, therefore I see Aslan almost everywhere. And in truth, MY God is too BIG to be a lion anyway [symbolic as he is].



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Kozak

posted December 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm


Jestrfyl,
I have read that as a statistical analysis of all the suras. The 60% figure agrees with the horrible impression I got reading the Quran.
Christianity (and Islam) make incompatible claims of absolute Truth. By using the Quran in Bible study, of all things, (are you Episcopalian, or maybe UCC?) you simply deny the existence of absolute Truth. I am not afraid of the Quran, but as a Christian I reject it. It is, in fact, grossly ignorant of orthodox Christianity, portraying Ezra as one of the Trinity.
It is not “hate” to reject false scriptures born of one man’s fantasy/epilepsy.



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MikeR

posted December 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm


Wow…lots of language about love and hate and truth. Somehow i have to believe that when the scriptures use the word hate as God’s reaction to something it is very different from when we use it. God’s hate is suspect is part of his great love. What he “hates” is that in any of us that is unloving and robs us of life. But sometimes when i read Christians writing about absolute truth and hating lies and things that are incompatible with (at least a person’s) understanding of Christianity i dont quite see that same kind of hate. I see real hate and that it does seem to me is incompatible with the faith we profess.
BTW even Lewis considered the possibility that one could love and follow the true God even if he/she had wrong name attached. Think of the Last Battle and the poor Calormene soldier who had devoted his entire life to Tash but in the end discovered it was really Aslan…



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Reading is Fundamental

posted December 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm


Quran tells Muslims to kill them, convert them, or make them pay the jizya. Enough relativism.
The bible talks about God telling the Israelites to dash babies against rocks because their families/tribes didn’t subscribe to the same religious beliefs.
Cue apologist interpretation of the passage in light of “the rest of the bible” (as if it somehow negates that particular evil) in 3… 2… 1…



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