"But what is it?" Calvin demanded. "We know that it's evil, but what is it?"The other day Jemimah was reading aloud to me from Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. This is what the book said:
"Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt!" Mrs. Which's voice rang out. "Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!"
"But what's going to happen?" Meg's voice trembled. "Oh, please, Mrs. Which, tell us what's going to happen!"
"Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!"
Something in Mrs. Which's voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.
"And we're not alone, you know, children," came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. "All through the universe it's being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it's a grand and exciting battle. I know it's hard for you to understand about size, how there's very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won't seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it's a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it's done so well."
"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.
"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.
Mrs. Who's spectacles shown out at them triumphantly. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"
"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."
"Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?"
"And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out, "and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!"
Now Calvin's voice rang with confidence. "And Schweitzer and Ghandi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!"
"Now you, Meg," Mrs. Whatsit ordered.
"Oh, Euclid, I suppose." Meg was in such an agony of impatience that her voice grated irritably. "And Copernicus. But what about Father? Please, what about Father?"
"Wee aarre ggoingg tto your ffatherr," Mrs. Which said.
"But where is he?" Meg went over to Mrs. Which and stamped as though she were as young as Charles Wallace.
Mrs. Whatsit answered in a voice that was low but quite firm. "On a planet that has given in. So you must prepare to be very strong."
- A Wrinkle in Time, chapter 5 "The Tesseract"
He would have said "Thank God!" if his jaws had been free. A moment or two later his limbs were at liberty, and his captors, each gripping him by an arm, were hurrying him with all speed through the forest.Only when Jemimah reached this point she quickly substituted "Thank Goodness!" for the words in the first line. "It's swearing," Mummy, she remarked simply, when questioned, "I just don't like it."
A few days later we reached 'that passage' in A Wrinkle in Time. The one that's quoted above. After a split second's panicked thought I decided to read it as written. I read to the end of the quote above and then paused to talk to my family. Well? What do you think? I asked. I went on to explain that this book, A Wrinkle in Time is the 22nd most frequently challenged book of 1990–2000, and that the most common objection was to the words I had just read.
Me:- Well? What do you think?
Jemimah:- I don't like it. It's taking God's name in vain.
Mr PD:- Christ is the conqueror of darkness; it's including him with other men that I have a problem with...
And so I am now going to rescind the comments I made in last week's post, and say that I am worried about A Wrinkle in Time after all. Is it okay for me to change my mind?
Now don't forget, it is probably 35 years since I last read Wrinkle, so I guess I'd forgotten a bit. Maybe my opinions on such things have changed a bit since then as well, although obviously Jemimah at 10 can see quite clearly already.
The fact is, that since I've been reading this book I've felt quite uncomfortable a number of times. not because of the story, which I still think is fabulous, but because of the inclusion of things of my faith, like direct quotes from Scripture, used in a way that just don't mesh with my beliefs. A Wrinkle in Time is a SF story. It is not, nor can it be, true, and adding Christianity to a story that includes Jesus merely as one of a number of men who have been fighting to defeat evil is rather an anathema to me.
Back to Jemimah's comments on Twain. Do you feel as she does when reading aloud the words of characters who use God name? Obviously if the character is blaspheming you probably do, but what if the author has the character saying words with feeling and belief, as the King is saying in the Twain quote above? What then? I'm afraid I think like Jemimah that it is speaking the name of God without thought and awe and reverence, and that to me is taking his name in vain.
Familiarity breeds contempt,' says the proverb, and contempt of God, his word and commandments, is a very dangerous state of mind indeed. A frivolous, superficial approach to God is dangerous, and once we start treating God's name with less than the respect it deserves, then we are treating it with contempt and we are taking it in vain. Sometimes we do this when we know the words of a Psalm or hymn particularly well, humming the tune and singing snatches of the words as we go about our day's work. Are we really praising God when we do this? Really?
Clearly, then, it is not only in reading literature that we are in danger of throwing around God's name frivolously. We all know people who punctuate their every sentence with 'Praise the Lord!' It has become a redundant phrase like so many profanities are, used when you can't think of anything else to say. 'I'll pray for you,' is another, when you say it all the time without having any intention to pray in reality.
As Christians, the way we use God's name reflects what we believe about him. It is not to be used to make a story more 'real'. It's just not. Like Jemimah puts it so succinctly, it's swearing, Mummy.
Malachi tells us to 'stand in awe of his name. Mal 2:5 I don't think A Wrinkle in Time does that. And so, now I'm going to advise you to be careful of this book.
I am not worried that this book promulgates New Age ideas. The book is a work of fiction, and children are quite aware of that. They know that the adventures in it are imaginary. I do not believe that children will be influenced unduly by the Happy Medium's crystal balls, nor by the possibility, be it ever so slight, that the three women are witches. I do not believe that the book is a Handbook to the Occult.
However, after having read it, I do believe it is dangerous, because it uses his name, but it does not acknowledge our God with awe and trembling. It does not keep him holy. And Jesus is not just one of the many man warriors against evil.
In her book, Walking on Water:Reflections on Faith and Art, L’Engle responds to the criticism of this passage by saying, “To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all. I don’t mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammad all being more or less equal to Jesus - not at all! But neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen!” She may be right, but to me this book fails to make this distinction. It fails to differentiate between Jesus and those others clearly enough. And to me that means that she dishonours his name.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.