Sunday, December 11, 2005

Power Of The Numinous

A few weeks ago, as the release of the Narnia movie was transitioning from grave and gathering to imminent threat, Ross Douthat wrote a longish criticism of a piece by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker on how C.S. Lewis would have been a greater storyteller had he not saturated his mythos with Christian allegory.

Douthat's response is twofold:

1) The mythopoeic power of the Romantic numinous points towards a Truth beyond the "the necessarily straitened and punitive morality of organized worship" (Gopnik's phrase). This was the intuition that J.R.R. Tolkien used to convert Lewis to Christianity, and I guess there's a certain something to it, but whatever it is, it does not warrant Douthat's second and conclusive step...

2) There's something illegitimate about the intellectual "who wants to fantasize about the faun in the forest without accepting the reality of the God on the cross"---i.e., once you concede point 1, you're more or less bound to accept the reality of the God on the cross. This is hardly an original claim, as Douthat knows. But what I suspect Douthat doesn't quite grasp is that it's a shell game for precisely the same reason that Pascal's wager is a shell game: the choices are not unbelief or Christianity.

Even if you were willing to grant that fantasizing about the faun in the forest is either effective vocus flatus or else points towards transcendent truth---why this dichotomy is false I'll leave for another time---why on earth would the Truth towards which the faun points necessarily be the Christian myth? Why wouldn't it be, say, Ahura Mazda and the Asuras and the Daivas; or the gods and devas and heros of the Vedas; or the Buddha; or the Tao; or Allah speaking to Mohammed; or Job speaking to God in the whirlwind, and God's concession that Job, who has accused God of acting with caprice and malice, has spoken what is right of God; or general relativity, four-dimensionalism, unified field theory, and the Big Bang? To support the move from Truth behind the faun to God on the Cross, Douthat adduces one datum; here it is in its credulity-straining fullness:
[T]he power of the "Romantic numinous" proved less satisfying, less hopeful, and less powerful - to most people, at least - than a specific belief in what may or may not have transpired during that "controversial incident in Jewish religious history."
In other words, we hold a poll to see which myth people find most satisfying, hopeful, and powerful, and by gum, the results of that poll are guar-an-teed to hook up with the Truth. Or perhaps that's not the way it's supposed to work; if Christianity is True, isn't it True no matter how many believers there are? So maybe there is some kind of more rigorous comparison we can do of the various competitors to decide which is most satisfying hopeful, powerful. But what is it that the foundational myths of Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism---just for starters---have in common that the foundational myths of Christianity do not? Answer: the former were not immediately transcribed into a demotic bastardization of a literary language specifically in order to begin the work of proselytization. Christianity has no capacity to distinguish the Word from Its distribution. To find the Christian story more compelling than that of the older religions whose mythoi it ransacked is to confess a sheer lack of imagination, an inability to register the Romantic power of the numinous.

Ross is welcome to kiss Hank's ass, says I.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger The ACTUAL God said...

Full of nut graphs - great post.


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