Monday, December 05, 2005

Polly Toynbee: moronic arse (part 5,687)

A quickie, because I've found a spare five minutes and keep forgetting how much of a fucking idiot Polly Toynbee is. Wait - CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are, like, a Christian allegory? REALLY? Well there's something that no one's ever spotted in the 50 years since the books first started appearing. A fucking revelation, Polly, you twat.

Does that stop them from being damn good stories (well, apart from A Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle, obviously)? Of course not.

For the record, I despise all forms of religion, and find most religious types self-satisfied bores. But none are as bad as Toynbee, with her blatant attempts to rile the buggers while - seemingly - advising all true Guardian-reading liberal lefties to avoid what's sure to be one of the films of the month out of an anti-Christian bigotry which would, were it directed against Muslims or Jews, be the subject of yet another 2,000-word rant from the deranged hag hack of Farringdon, labelling anyone who even momentarily THOUGHT such abject rubbish only one step away from shoving people into gas chambers.

And so we enter into the age-old, tedious sixth-former anti-religion bullshit:

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"

I would ago into a point-by-point demolition of the tired old "Tolkien and Lewis were racist and classist etc. etc." bollocks that poorly-read idiots who quickly trawl the internet for research always trot out as well (I've written a book on the fucking thing after all), but Toybee simply isn't worth the time or effort of anything more than violent insults.

Note to any Christians (Christian Voice, I'm looking at you) who have the misfortune of reading this particularly ill-thought-out, deliberately baiting piece of mindless, critically-deficient dross: ignore her and she'll go away. There's another article on Sure Start waiting for her just round the corner, and she'll have forgotten all about this by tea-time.

Note to the Guardian: if you want an actually intelligent, considered analysis of the relationship between the Narnia books, the new film, the Disney corporation, Christianity and the power the American religious right wield over Hollywood from someone who actually knows what the fuck they're talking about, my email's above.


Anonymous Malcolm said...

Whilst I for one cannot for the most part stand Polly Toynbee, I do believe the use of excessive profanities only plays into her hands. I have read her article, and if I were a devout Christian, I would undoubtedly find it offensive. However, most people who have strong religious convictions would also say that their faith is big enough to stand such criticism. Most of what Toynbee says is bilious tripe, but the use of the kind of language in your piece must only give her and her supporters quiet satisfaction, in that they can claim the moral high ground because of the apparent lack of serious criticism without recourse to profanity.

12/05/2005 02:38:00 pm  
Blogger Phil said...

Speaking as an ex-Christian and an ex-fan of the Narnia books, I think you're doing Peggy an injustice here. She's clearly quite aware of the meanings of Christ's self-sacrifice - 'did we ask him to?' is a rhetorical jab, not an actual, like, question.

The trouble is that she's making four different arguments at once. Lewis's politics, firstly, were pretty ghastly - he was openly anti-democratic & misogynistic, to a far higher degree than Tolkien. (If anything, it's unfair to Tolkien to bracket him with Lewis.) And there are elements of the Narnia books (secondly) which are utterly arbitrary and meaningless unless you read them as Christian allegory. Given how densely-textured the books are in general, this is a serious flaw, and it's at its most serious in TLTW&TW, where - as Peggy points out - it supplies a major plot device, the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Thirdly, significant parts of the Narnia vision aren't a million miles away from a nasty contemporary (per)version of Christianity, through whose many American adherents Disney is merrily marketing the film. Which stinks.

The thing is, all of these criticisms could be - and almost certainly have been - made by Christians. It's only Peggy's fourth argument - "redemptive sacrifice? that's just weird!" - which requires an atheist background. I tend to agree with her on this one - I don't have much time these days for Christianity (as distinct from the teachings of Jesus) - but clearly there's room for disagreement. It's just a shame she gets that argument so thoroughly enmeshed with the other three.

Having said all of that, the landscape of Narnia is vividly imprinted on my brain, and I think the film does a pretty good job of making it real - at least, I've been enraptured by the trailers, and how often do those two words go together? So I'd be planning to see the film even if I didn't have kids, and even it didn't feature the most beautiful woman in the world.

When does it open again?

12/05/2005 02:59:00 pm  
Blogger Jonn Elledge said...

The New Yorker recently ran a nice round-up of Lewis' life and work, which argued that the further he got from religion, the better he was. (And, inversely, The Last Battle was shite.)

I used to be able to deal with Toynbee until she managed to single handedly push me into a paranoid fantasy realm in which I was convinced that if I didn't vote Labour I'd be personally responsible for a Howard premiership of limitless police power, tax cuts for the rich, and no contact with Europe except when we needed somewhere to dump our immigrants. When said reality failed to materialize, I rather lost faith.

Atlantic Rift

12/05/2005 03:03:00 pm  
Blogger Jonn Elledge said...

On the other hands, the Narnia books do have some pretty unpleasant undertones about the risks of letting darkies have the vote, so on that score he was a pretty unpleasant kind of a bloke.

12/05/2005 03:05:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"

This is perverse. As an atheist of 40 years standing, I would say this was just about the least repugnant element of Xtianity.

The fact that the Old Testament is still treated seriously is repugnant. So is JC's injunction to walk all over our aging parents to join the movement. So are many of the ideas of bloody Paul.

This one is just the sort of thing that Gods do all the time. Deal.

12/05/2005 04:00:00 pm  
Blogger Peter said...

That Peggy Toynbee. Always talking nonsense.

12/05/2005 04:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Clearly the entirety of the "blogosphere" (ugh) hates Polly Toynbee, but does everyone have to be so personally unpleasant about her?

And all the viriol is dangerous close to good old prejudice. What, exactly, is wrong with her pointing out that TLTWATW is a religious allegory, since everyone else has been doing so ad nasuem recently? Or criticising it because of that? You might disagree, but it's not exactly a moronic thing to say.

12/05/2005 05:57:00 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Argh. Fuck's sake Polly. There are TONS of things to have a go at Xianity about, and CS Lewis 'muscular', mysogynistic, yadayada brand of it in particular, deserves pulling to pieces and pointing and laughing at. However, 'agape' - unconditional , self-sacrificing, limitless love is probably one of the more decent ideas of the whole show. Even though clunkily presented in TLTWATW, it has mythic and appropriate power in a good vs. evil epic. It's something of an unworthy target compared to the rich vein of anti-semitism, the ambivalence about sexually mature women, the sheer middle-class self-satisfied prissiness of the whole book. But then, he's a spanko white academic batchelor, and the book is very much of its time.

Sorry, all that was said much more succinctly by other people.


'if you want an actually intelligent, considered analysis of the relationship between the Narnia books, the new film, the Disney corporation, Christianity and the power the American religious right wield over Hollywood from someone who actually knows what the fuck they're talking about, my email's above'

Please can you let us have a taster? This is the sort of thing I love to read.

The problem with people kicking Xianity is that most of them are more fundementalist than the most fundementalist in their intellectually lazy shallow dismissery of it all. They don't feel they have to know anything of the subject before they jump in, and so arguments just turn into ' it's all shite! You believe in fairy tales!''No, you're going to hell!' 'No*sigh* lots of Christians run with evolution, you know...' blah.

And any intelligent person who has a faith ( and yes, there are lots of them) ends up thinking, well, why bother arguing with this idiot who knows bugger-all about it? And as you say, it plays into the hands of most Christians who can dismiss it as a cheap shot by an ill-informed hack.

If you are going to faith -bait, Polly ( and I love a good godly bust up, me, that was why I, an atheist , studied theology) why not at least demonstrate some knowledge of the subject? Or do a bit of background reading and research?

But no, it will never happen.

And that is why, Nosemonkey I pine for your article or post to be published.
Sorry if that sounds lick-arse. But I'm so fed up of reading the sort of tosh and hearing it passed off as informed opinion that Toynbee came out with today, and it would be great to read something intelligent. Intelligent and political, even better.


12/05/2005 06:01:00 pm  
Anonymous El Cid said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I was thinking similar things when I read her tiresome piece on the tube this morning.
So you were bullied by a catholic education when you were younger? So fucking what? Get over it love.
That's the heart of the matter -- poor little me. Think like a victim, preach like a victim.

12/05/2005 06:26:00 pm  
Blogger Phu said...

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls"

That's repugnant?

I must've missed something.

To be fair, she's not the only person banging on about religious content, is she?

I do think it was a bit of a pointless article, 'Narnia has Christian overtones' shock horror,
but the real problem I had with it was the idea that Christianity is such an evil, deplorable, vile thing, while other religions are not to be mocked, are they?

I'm not a Christian, by the way, although I was brought up a Catholic, and suffered the same unbearably horrific, ghastly torturous, despicably oppressive Catholic primary school existence that Toynbee feels so emotionally scarred by.

12/06/2005 10:37:00 am  
Anonymous David said...

I thought the article was pretty good, and the statement,
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls.
entirely justifiable.

If we accept Lewis's sacrificial model as set out in Narnia, we have to accept that:
1) death-by-torture is an acceptable form of punishment/atonement
2) the death-by-torture of someone other than the one who committed the crime is morally acceptable
3) the voluntary death-by-torture of the author of the law which deemed death-by-torture to be the only thing that would satisfy him (and who was indeed satisfied by his own death-by-torture) is a reasonable concept.

Nice one, Polly.

12/06/2005 11:23:00 am  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls.

Bollocks. That is the least repugnant part of it. The idea that one can be prepared to sacrifice oneself so that others, even those unknown to you, even those who might be 'undeserving', can have a better life - I can't think of a more noble, or more politically and ethically sound act than that.

How about: "Of all the elements of Polly Toynbee, the most repugnant is that she takes it upon herself to inflict agony on us to save herself from unemployment"?

Oscar (ex-Christian, never got beyond Narnia Book 3, whichever one that was)

12/06/2005 01:30:00 pm  
Anonymous David said...

OW writes:
The idea that one can be prepared to sacrifice oneself so that others, even those unknown to you, even those who might be 'undeserving', can have a better life - I can't think of a more noble, or more politically and ethically sound act than that.

Except that, to accept the Christian version of the story, the one doing the 'sacrificing', being God, is the one responsible for creating the shit life in the first place, and also the one who dicates what the necessary punishment will be (ie death-by-torture) to correct the whole balls up. So the sacrifice isn't all that noble - more self-regarding and downright mental, in fact.

The concept of substitutionary atonement, as espoused by CS Lewis, is both repugnant and stupid.

12/06/2005 04:27:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

I'd suggest everyone reads this much longer take on Toynbee's idiotic article. I agree with the majority of it.


Malcolm - this post was dashed off in five minutes, hardly considered. I tend to swear when I do that... Meh - Toynbee's not really worth the effort of sustained criticism.

Phil - I'm not so sure her "did we ask him to?" was meant in the way you reckon. It certainly doesn't come across like that from the context, more like a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the - if no THE - central ideas of Christianity. The crucifiion is, after all, a lot more complex than just some guy willingly getting killed for someone else's crimes. (Aslan's decision to give himself up to his enemies in TLTW&TW, however, makes significantly less sense - when I was a kid I always reckoned he just did it to freak the Snow Queen out when he came back...)

John - I'm not convinced of the racist reading of either the Narnia books or Lord of the Rings. It's easy to make a case for both, but I'm pretty certain it wasn't intended with either. It'd take a long while to explain why though...

Katherine - the anti-Toynbee vitriol is largely thanks to her being precisely wrong on pretty much everything. In this case it wasn't her pointing out the religious aspect to the books that I find annoying, but her way of doing it. She has a knack for pissing me off. Which is why I rarely bother to read her these days... Not good for the blood pressure.

Rachel - might knock something up if I find a moment. Could be interesting. But it'd take far longer than I have time for at the moment, and wouldn't be the sort of thing I'd do here anyway. Possibly for The Sharpener - or maybe I actually will end up pitching it somewhere proper, like - with money and stuff... I need a bit more freelance at the moment anyway. For the time being, the link above has some good analysis.

David - I'm no Christian, but I think you've seriously misunderstood the significance of the crucifixion. God was not dictating that the necessary punishment for sin is death by torture, and was - by allowing himself to be killed - acknowledging culpability for the world's wrongs. It all stemmed from his decision to allow mankind free will, so he accepted responsibility and, in a rather grusome symbolic act, let mankind know that we'd all been forgiven. Pretty much, at any rate - if it was that simple, there wouldn't have been all those schisms over the years...

So basically, my problem with Toynbee's article was that it not only simplifies the Narnia books, but also Christianity, all to fit a preconceived bigoted argument. The thing that really got my goat, though, was her evident utter lack of understanding of the way Hollywood works - again, some of her misconceptions/ignorance is highlighted over at Coffee and PC in the link above.

Toynbee - barking. I shall attempt never to read any of her tripe again. I mean it this time.

12/06/2005 11:54:00 pm  
Anonymous David said...

Don't worry, I know you're not a Christian. I understand Christianity pretty well. That's why I'm not one either.

But I have to say your understanding of the crucifixion is quite heretical - indeed blasphemous - to the kind of evangelical CS Lewis-lionising Christian we are talking about. God admits culpability? Certainly not the supreme and perfect creator god of the substitutionary atonement crowd! How can the perfect being make a mistake?

They believe in the crucifixion model I criticise above, with all its moral and logical problems. How do they solve those problems? Well, franky, they don't think about them. Ask one, I dare you. It will eventually boil down to the god-works-in-mysterious-ways assertion.

In other words, it may look morally repugnant and stupid to you - but who are you to question god?

12/07/2005 05:13:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Answer: on eof those being granted free will by god so that I could question the nature of god.

Or I'm his nemesis. Whatever.

Oh, and David, I disagree with this.

3) the voluntary death-by-torture of the author of the law which deemed death-by-torture to be the only thing that would satisfy him (and who was indeed satisfied by his own death-by-torture) is a reasonable concept.

I had always got the impression that Aslan was not the author of the law. Aslan always seemed to have little power outwith the world of Narnia when, as we all know, that is where the White Witch, alias Queen Jadis of Charn, came from. But it was the Old Magic that governed the protagonists as they travelled the worlds.

I had always seen the Old Magic as binding upon both Jadis and Aslan, and therefore more powerful than both. There is always a power that existed before the current power. This is a common law in many fantasy worlds; they do not all represent God.

Even were Aslan the author of the law, the whole point of these magics is that the law cannot be broken once made. If you break the law, even if you made that law, you pervert the act. Even the Greek gods of myth were subject to laws.

And one of the strongest magics througout fantasy - and, indeed, mythical - tradition is that of a life laid down in sacrifice. This is very far from being a purely Christian idea. You see it throughout Celtic religions, amongst other things; the consept of a sacrifice for renewal was around long, long before Jesus was ever heard of. Only someone as ignorant as Polly "what a fuckwit"* Toynbee would ever ascribe it purely to Christianity.

I might be unique, but - even though my parents were vaguely CoE - I never really connected Christianity with the Narnia books (but then, I haven't read them in years). His sci-fi trilogy, Perelandra in particular, certainly does read like a series of religious essays; however, they could equally be handled as an ethical argument too.

When it comes down to practicalities, religion is nothing more than an ethical stance, anyway. Everyone has something that they believe in that informs their ethics; whether you call it God or self, does it matter?

There is nothing bad about Christianity as preached in the New Testament: as a blueprint for living, it is pretty libertarian. It is only how people choose to interpret it that is often misguided.

I think that I shall return to the Narnia books. I especially have a hankering to read The Silver Chair again (can anyone tell me what the Christian significance is in that, please?


*This may be playing into the hands of her supporters, but it still feels good saying it.

12/08/2005 01:16:00 pm  
Anonymous David said...

DK, I think the best answer to the "who are you to question god?" question is: I am not questioning god. I am questioning you, and the concept of god which you have chosen to adopt.

You're right about Aslan not making the rules - that was the Emperor Across the Sea. That's a bit where the analogy falls down, because in Christianity Jesus is God.

12/08/2005 05:20:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Not sure how relevant this is to the Aslan/Jesus/God argument, but in The Magician's Nephew it is Aslan who creates Narnia and all the various creatures in it. Likewise, his father / the Emperor across the water is never seen, but when they all (bar Susan, the disloyal slag) end up in Aslan's kingdom at the end of The Last Battle (how joyful they are to have been killed in a train crash), it is Aslan who greets them. Aslan may well be the Emperor/God as well as the son.

Quite where the monkey and the donkey come into it, or those giants, or the talking horse and the rest, I have no idea. Don't remember any of those in the Bible...

12/08/2005 05:29:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

I've thrown my own little piece onto the general bonfire of Polly's vanity. I would use Trackback, but Haloscan sucks almost as much as Polly.


12/08/2005 08:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Bertie said...

Uhhr, David that's a very odd description of substitutional atonement theory, and certainly doesn't do justice to Lewis. Central to the theory is the ancient idea of Mans' fall, the subsequent period of free will, with its consequent sinning, and God freely giving of himself (both fully divine and fully human) in order to take on himself the sins of mankind and give humanity the ability to enter heaven once more. To that extent, nosemonkey is right and absolutely not heretical. The crucifixion is, in this sense, a playing out of the narrative of the prodigal (and, of course, was effectively meant to enact that narrative through the return of Israel from exile). The sacrifice of the crucifixion is the greatest of acts and forgiveness.

If you're blaming God for creating 'free will', that's another matter, but it leads to a rather difficult path where one suggests we'd all be better off if we were automatons. And lewis wrote, God "gave [humans] free will. He gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love…"

It's worth noting that in 'Mere Christianity' Lewis makes clear he doesn't accept a crudely substitutional atonement theory (indeed, he criticised his friend Charles Williams for adopting such a viewpoint). It's probably closer to the truth to say that Lewis held to an 'exemplar' theory of the crucifixion--that it was great example of taking suffering for the benefit of others.

And I promised myself after posting on xianity that I wouldn't do so again. Humph.

12/09/2005 05:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's not worth getting that upset about.

12/12/2005 05:49:00 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

(Mostly) Britain
(Mostly) Europe)
Regional Expertise
New Blogroll Additions

Archives by Date

02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 | 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 | 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 | 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 | 05/23/2004 - 05/30/2004 | 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 | 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 | 09/12/2004 - 09/19/2004 | 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 | 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 | 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 | 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 | 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 | 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 | 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 | 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 | 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 | 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 | 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 | 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 | 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 | 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 | 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 | 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 | 01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005 | 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 | 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 | 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 | 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 | 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 | 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 | 02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005 | 03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005 | 03/13/2005 - 03/20/2005 | 03/20/2005 - 03/27/2005 | 03/27/2005 - 04/03/2005 | 04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005 | 04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005 | 04/17/2005 - 04/24/2005 | 04/24/2005 - 05/01/2005 | 05/01/2005 - 05/08/2005 | 05/08/2005 - 05/15/2005 | 05/15/2005 - 05/22/2005 | 05/22/2005 - 05/29/2005 | 05/29/2005 - 06/05/2005 | 06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005 | 06/12/2005 - 06/19/2005 | 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005 | 06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005 | 07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005 | 07/10/2005 - 07/17/2005 | 07/17/2005 - 07/24/2005 | 07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005 | 07/31/2005 - 08/07/2005 | 08/07/2005 - 08/14/2005 | 08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005 | 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005 | 08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005 | 09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005 | 09/11/2005 - 09/18/2005 | 09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005 | 09/25/2005 - 10/02/2005 | 10/02/2005 - 10/09/2005 | 10/09/2005 - 10/16/2005 | 10/16/2005 - 10/23/2005 | 10/30/2005 - 11/06/2005 | 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005 | 11/13/2005 - 11/20/2005 | 11/20/2005 - 11/27/2005 | 11/27/2005 - 12/04/2005 | 12/04/2005 - 12/11/2005 | 12/11/2005 - 12/18/2005 | 12/18/2005 - 12/25/2005 | 12/25/2005 - 01/01/2006 | 01/01/2006 - 01/08/2006 | 01/08/2006 - 01/15/2006 | 01/15/2006 - 01/22/2006 | 01/22/2006 - 01/29/2006 | 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006 | 02/05/2006 - 02/12/2006 | 02/12/2006 - 02/19/2006 | 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006 | 02/26/2006 - 03/05/2006 | 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006 | 03/12/2006 - 03/19/2006 | 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006 | 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006 | 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006 | 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006 | 04/16/2006 - 04/23/2006 | 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006 | 04/30/2006 - 05/07/2006 | 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006 | 05/14/2006 - 05/21/2006 | 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006 | 05/28/2006 - 06/04/2006 | 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006 | 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006 | 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006 | 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006 | 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006 | 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006 | 07/16/2006 - 07/23/2006 | 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006 | 07/30/2006 - 08/06/2006 | 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006 | 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006 | 08/20/2006 - 08/27/2006 | 08/27/2006 - 09/03/2006 | 09/03/2006 - 09/10/2006 | 09/10/2006 - 09/17/2006 | 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006 | 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006 | 10/08/2006 - 10/15/2006 | 10/15/2006 - 10/22/2006 | 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006 | 10/29/2006 - 11/05/2006 | 11/05/2006 - 11/12/2006 | 11/12/2006 - 11/19/2006 | 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006 | 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006 |

Blog Pimping

«#Blogging Brits?»
Is my Blog HOT or NOT?
Eatonweb portal
Who Links To Me
Technorati profile

Rate Me on!
the best pretty good okay pretty bad the worst help?

Politics Blog Top Sites

Top of the British Blogs
blog search directory
Advertise on blogs