Friday, January 10, 2014

Magic And Christianity

I went to see Frozen with the kids. It is not a great move. We saw it for the same reason most families do. It was the only movie in the theaters that works for small children. Anyway, as you might expect, I am especially sensitive to religious themes in movies. This movie had a number of explicit religious references. There is a picture of St Joan of Arc that gets highlighted. There is a liturgy around the coronation of a queen that involves a priest. You don't see that often so I thought it was good.

It did make me think. What are we attracted to about this story? We are not attracted to the liturgy or the pictures. We are attracted to the magic. One main character has an amazing gift that she needs to learn to control so she can use it for good instead of for evil. To me, that is implicitly religious. We are all gifted by God with amazing powers we need to learn to control. Our propensity for righteous anger is an awesome gift if we control it. Same with our capacity for romantic love.

The trouble I have is the religion in the movies is never associated with the magic part. The religion we see is associated with the boring part of life. The stuff society wants you to do that really does not fulfill you. When a character finds their true self and discovers they are powerful and beautiful beyond what they ever imagined that tends to happen in an act of rebellion against religion among other things.

The magic always needs someone to explain how it works. So you have prophets. In this movie they were trolls. They are a trustworthy source of information about the supernatural. It is interesting that we just know there should be such a thing. We never find such a character even the least bit implausible in stories. Yet when you ask people to trust the church they rebel. We know such an authority should exist yet we struggle because trusting it implies obeying it.

This movie shortcuts the struggle to do good once you know what is good. That is common to. She realizes that love is the key to using her power for good and not for evil. Somehow realizing it was enough. She just said it and all the negative consequences of her actions were reversed. That is a bit too easy. We struggle to do good even once we know what is good. That is why we need priests. They give us the grace we need through the sacraments.

The point is that this long term, day after day struggle is part of the magic. That is to say it is how we live out the mystery and wonder of who we are. It is not actually magic in the true sense of the word. Magic is when we control the supernatural. Grace is when we allow the supernatural to control us. When we offer our gifts to God and allow Him to transform them into instruments of grace then we use them for good and not evil.

So the wonder and wildness that we love about the magic in these stories does belong to Christianity.  It is what makes sense of the boring parts of Christianity. The daily struggle to use our gifts in love and not selfishness. The reality that we need to be constantly asking God to help us. Somehow our imagination has lost touch with the high adventure of the Christian faith. Aslan is not a tame lion. Religion can be hard and repetitive but so can preparing for battle. The actual battle should be amazing especially when we win.

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