No Wardrobe

Imagine C.S. Lewis’ story of the lion and the witch… but no wardrobe. Now we can imagine why abortion and same-sex marriage are in the headlines.

We’ve all noticed with Roe V. Wade overturned that some fear Obergefell v. Hodges is next. This fear is not groundless. Abortion and same-sex marriage are linked but in ways few Christians imagine. We can by imagining The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… but with no wardrobe. Or we can ask: where did Lewis even get the idea of a wardrobe?

It turns out Lewis likely got it from George MacDonald’s Phantastes (a book he said baptized his imagination[1]). In fact, many of his images came from MacDonald as Lewis wrote that “the quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”

So where does Lewis “quote” Phantastes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? In the opening pages. In Phantastes, Anodos is a young man, now the head of the household, rummaging through “the multitude of little drawers” in the old secretary desk containing the papers of his deceased father.[2] Lewis opens his story with children rummaging through the old professor’s house, coming upon a wardrobe. MacDonald’s desk is Lewis’ wardrobe.

But there’s more. Anodos doesn’t believe in magic. Nor do the children. Both however have discovered a portal into the real universe. For Anodos, it’s a “door of a little cupboard in the centre” of the desk. He finds the key, opens it and notices a number of small pigeon-holes shallower than the depth of the outer pigeon-holes. He concludes “there must be some accessible space behind.” He pries open a door—and there sits a fairy.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children discover the wardrobe is deeper than the outside walls. There must be some space behind the back wall. The children walk toward the rear, discovering a portal into the real universe of magic and fairies—Narnia.

This portal is critical for Enlightenment thinkers discarded it, cleaving a division between the body and the mind. The mind alone became the portal into the real world. MacDonald and Lewis recognized this is polar opposite of what old catechisms teach: the flesh is the hinge of salvation. Our flesh-and-blood body is the portal into the real, just like MacDonald’s physical desk and Lewis’ physical wardrobe are portals into the real world of enchantment.

This portal is also critical for it starts a progression. If the portal is bodily, then it’s biological. If it’s biological, it includes what are called the genital organs. [I recognize many of my evangelical friends get squeamish using this word. But if we never see this bodily progression, we never imagine why abortion and gender are in the headlines.]

Now… where were we? Oh yes, genital. It’s where we get the word gender, based on its Greek root, meaning “the manner in which one generates.” We see the same root in genesis, generous, genes, progeny, genealogy. Human beings generate life by different but complementary genital organs, male and female coming together biologically to generate new members of the species. This is why older church traditions see a progression in the purpose of marriage: portal, procreation, pleasure. It’s a bodily portal into the mystery of the gospel, often resulting in procreation (Gen.1:26-28) while giving pleasure (Song of Songs).

But since there’s a progression, a regression becomes possible. We see one with Enlightenment thinkers discarding the first step: the bodily portal. The portal to reality became the immaterial mind, mere thought understood in disembodied abstractions called worldviews, theories, and concepts. But try imagining Lewis’ tale without a bodily portal—no wardrobe. The children wouldn’t know the Lion and the Witch are factually real.

This regression continued with the Reformation which came alongside the Enlightenment. Protestant Reformers, especially evangelicals, “felt the central act of medieval Christian worship, the Mass, with its doctrine of the transubstantiated Eucharist, had at its heart a form of magic.”[3] The Reformers removed the magical mystery, reducing the Eucharist from being the actual body and blood of Jesus to simply being a picture, a remembrance.

This regression went mainstream with positivism in the 1800s. The physical sciences became the province of what’s factually real, the physical world. Faith became the province of what was deprecatingly called the metaphysical world, what’s unreal. People of faith are free to picture or imagine it, but no one should assume we can know anything about the unreal.

Yikes. For many years I taught marriage has three purposes: picture, procreation, pleasure. I didn’t see male-female biology as the portal. The problem with a picture is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one finds beautiful another does not. Pictures are malleable. Biology is not. It’s undeniable, at least until recently (more on this in a future commentary).

Lewis would have attributed my ignorance to “The Great Divide” between “the old western man” and the “new” that he described in a lecture in 1954. Christians on the far side of the divide saw our material body as the portal. Christians on this side see our mind. Doubt it? Listen to how often we quote Romans 12:2 (renew your mind) but ignore Romans 12:1 (present your body). Or consider how few of us practice the (bodily) spiritual disciplines.

Nor do most American Christians see how the portal relates to same-sex couples. Simple. Same-sex couple cannot elevate what they do with their genitals to the level of what husbands and wives (male-female) can do with theirs. Same-sex couples cannot come together to generate new members of the species. Together, their bodies are not a portal.

Next week we’ll see how this regression led to the loss of the second purpose of marriage, procreation. We’ll discover how Christians who are pro-heterosexual marriage and pro-life have unwittingly contributed to arguments for same-sex marriage and abortion.

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald: An Anthology (HarperCollins edition, 1973), XXXVIII.

[2] George MacDonald, Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (Freeriver project), 4.

[3] Robert W. Scribner, “The Reformation, Popular Magic, and the ‘Disenchantment of the World,’” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 23, No. 3, Religion and History, pp. 474-490, published by MIT Press.

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