"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a new film based on the Narnia children's books by English writer C.S. Lewis. According to an unnamed Disney executive in a recent issue of the New York Times, Narnia will provide the company with a "Christian niche," among the lucrative fantasy "franchises" such as "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings." Since 80 percent of Americans claim to be Christian, this would be pretty big niche.

However, it seems likely that the executive meant the evangelical Christian niche and thus was adopting the evangelical presumption that only those who believe in the literal word-for-word interpretation of the Bible can claim to be Christian. Thus a tedious and contemptuous article in the New Yorker equated the popularity of Lewis with his teaching of doctrines that appeal to evangelicals.

I confess that such ignorance gives me a headache. C.S. Lewis was not a Christian in the sense of the word that "evangelicals" insist upon. He was an Anglican who sometimes skirted, in his writings at any rate, dangerously close to the thin ice of Catholicism. Indeed, many in my generation of Catholics simply assumed he was one of us. But even as an Anglican he would certainly fall out of the realm of the "saved" when the Rapture blasts all of us who do not believe in word-for-word inerrancy into oblivion.

I hasten to add that not all evangelicals claim a monopoly on Christianity. Indeed, only half of those in the evangelical denominations believe in that kind of biblical literalism, and a smaller proportion believe that the rest of us will be vaporized on the day of the Rapture. Moreover, they are certainly within their rights to claim that those who disagree with them about the Bible are not "Christian" and that C.S. Lewis is a "Christian" writer. If his quasi-Catholic work helps them in their religious life, then more power to them.

I wish merely to make two observations. While I leave to professional movie critics like my colleague Roger Ebert (who is also destined as I am for vaporization) an evaluation of Narnia as film, I insist that the Narnia stories --charming nursery tales for young and old -- deserve a much broader audience than just biblical fundamentalists. Better or worse than "Harry Potter"? That question simply does not compute -- though they're both about the struggle between good and evil.

Secondly, it seems to me that the evangelicals slip dangerously close to Catholic idolatry when they embrace a wondrous allegory as a summary of the biblical story. Jesus is not and never was a lion like Aslan in the film. To interpret him as a lion is to go light years beyond literal, word-for-word inerrancy. The evangelical enthusiasm about the sufferings of Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" put them one step away, it seemed to me, from importing crucifixes and Stations of the Cross into their churches. I'm afraid that their enthusiasm for both films shows just how seductive the Catholic temptation is. We delight in pictures and stories and allegories and symbols and signs because they appeal to the whole human person and not just to the rigid, rational mind.

We are a church designed for the media age with its deluge of pictures and stories -- though we usually don't know what to do with the opportunity.

There are certainly risks in this Catholic imagination, superstition and idolatry among others -- though it does make the world a warmer and a more human place.

Gibson's imagination is certainly Catholic, though perhaps with a certain masochistic twist. In his retelling of the Gospel in allegorical form, C.S. Lewis goes back to the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, in a sense as if the Reformation never happened.

However, I think someone should warn the evangelicals that they are playing with, one should excuse the expression, fire. They are drifting into an imaginative world where the Whore of Babylon lives and dominates. They had better beware. They are sliding towards oblivion on the day of the Rapture.

On the other hand, many Catholics ashamed of their imaginative heritage may be drifting in the opposite direction.

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