John Mark Reynolds- Contributor
Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey
Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy,
at Biola University. His
personal website can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.com and
his blog can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.info.
The Power of Myth in Modern Culture
[John Mark Reynolds] 3/18/04
of the King wins best picture. The
Passion of the Christ leads the box office three weeks
in a row. What is the significance of these two cultural events?
For a generation now, Christians have been arguing that we need
to return to the arts. The late Francis Schaeffer spent hundreds
of pages advocating on behalf of a robust Christian understanding
of the arts. C.S. Lewis demonstrated that traditional Christianity
could be sold to secular society.
with Tolkien’s arguments about the power of story
telling, a generation of Christians has come of age, believing
in the importance and power of story. Phillip E. Johnson of U.C.
Berkeley, in recent works such as Reason in the Balance and
the The Right Questions has advanced many similar
arguments from his position as the chief opponent of Darwin and
secularism in this generation.
is beginning to bear fruit. Though neither the producer of Return
of the King nor The Passion of the Christ were
evangelical, they faced an evangelical market ready for their
movies. Nearly gone are the days when Bible colleges
put warning tags in copies of Lord of the Rings books
because they used the word “magic.” Many evangelical
young people think nothing of going to important films, even
with R-rating. They understand that violence and sexuality can
be gratuitous or they can be necessary to story telling. They
have been trained to see the difference between the nudity of
the statue David and a worthless exploitation flick like European
Christians are no longer in the grip of a reflexive hatred
of the arts.
If Gibson’s movie proves nothing else,
it proves that traditional Christians will go to an intellectually
challenging film that supports their world view. Gibson did not
pander to evangelical sensibilities -- note the R rating of the
film -- but evangelicals came anyway. He made a sub-titled film,
usually the kiss of death to box office, but Christians flocked
to the theater nevertheless.
film makers need to realize that their films are rejected by
evangelical community not because of “shock” at
their "cutting edge" quality, but because sophisticated
evangelical film goers actually recognize that their films are
bad. Films using the “f-word” only to demonstrate
that Christians can make such films will be rightly rejected
by thoughtful Christians.
not films as much as therapy for the film maker as he tries
to be “edgy” for the sake of being edgy.
Gibson’s film proves that even strong violence will be
tolerated in the interest of telling a compelling story. Conservatives
need to stop whimpering about having the right to make movies
and go out and make movies. If they are good, then they will
often find an audience.
Why? Conservative Christians have taken their Lewis and Johnson
straight. They understand a key fact: control of the cultural
myth is control of the culture. Good arguments matter. Analytic
philosophers have their place, but the group that sets their
ideas to the right music or within the context of a good myth
will win. The French Revolution centered in horrid ideas, but
managed to have stirring music and a good story. It lingers in
the human mind, despite its objective failures, for this reason.
And as the greatest story ever told, the Bible will never be
totally defeated by secularism.
have always understood the importance of story telling. They
hand the power of the Genesis myth with its purposeful
Creator. The late Isaac Asimov noted that science fiction was
one of the few genuinely secular art forms. It tells a story
that captivated the hearts of a generation of people that have
gone into science. In it, naturalistic science will deliver humanity
from the darkness of ignorance and bring on an era of sexual,
economic, and human freedom. Classic Star Trek and
golden age science fiction which promoted this myth to a generation
of young thinkers does much to explain the unblinking secularism
of much of the scientific elite. The rise of an alternative genre,
fantasy and the modern fairy tale is a great blow their hopes.
So it should
come as a great encouragement to discover that Tolkien is the
myth maker of our age. His great conservative
Christian epic is, in one sense, truer than the daily paper.
Who can tolerate the French appeasement in the War on Terror
who has read of the brave defense of the West by the Last Alliance
of Elves and Men? Liberals rightly fear and loath Tolkien, because
he is opposed to their world view. They cannot fight him, because
the power of his story worms around their feeble arguments. In
complaining, they sound as impotent and old fashioned as conservative
parents worried about Elvis and his “devil music.”
What this all means is that the tide has turned, as it was sure
to do. The Biblical story never faded and is now motivating a
new generation of Christian artists. After Gibson and Peter Jackson
will come hundreds of readers of Tolkien, Lewis, and Johnson
ready to keep telling variations of the true myth, the greatest
story ever told.
2004 John Mark Reynolds