Saturday, 26 April 2008

Gospel Reading 4 of the Twelve Gospels of Good Friday

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was morning. And they, then, did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled but eat the Passover. Pilate, then, came out to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They answered and said to him, ‘If this man were not an evildoer we would not hand him over to you.’ Pilate, then, said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him under your own law.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘It is not permitted to us to condemn anyone to death,’ so that Jesus’ word would be fulfilled, which he had said, indicating by what death he would die. So Pilate again entered into the Praetorium, and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Of your own accord do you say this or have others said it concerning me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and High Priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My Kingdom is not from this world. If my Kingdom were from this world, my servants would struggle so that I not be handed over to the Jews. Now, then, my Kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate then said to him, ‘Therefore you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say so, that I am a King. For this have I been born and for this have I come into the world, to bear witness in the truth. Everyone who is from the truth hears my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ And, saying this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in him. There is, then, a custom among you that I release someone to you during the Passover. Do you therefore wish me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They, then, all shouted, saying, ‘Not this one, but Barabbas.’ Barabbas, then, was a bandit.

At that time Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. And the soldiers, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on his head and put a purple robe on him. And they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’ And they gave him slaps to the face. Pilate then went out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I lead him out to you so that you know that I find no guilt in him.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe and Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When, then, the High Priests and the servants saw him they shouted, saying, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews said to him, ‘We have a law and by our law he must die for he has made himself Son of God.’ When Pilate, then, heard this statement he was rather frightened. And he again entered into the Praetorium and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ Jesus, then, did not give him an answer. Pilate, then, said to him, ‘Do you not talk to me? Do you not know that I have the authority to crucify you and the authority to release you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over me unless it were given to you from on High. For this reason he who handed me over to you has the greater sin.’ At that, Pilate sought to release him. The Jews, however, shouted, ‘If you release this man you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king commits sedition against Caesar.’ Pilate, then, having heard this statement, led Jesus outside and sat on the tribunal, at the place called Lithostraton, in Hebrew, then, Gabbatha. It was the Friday before the Passover, around the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They then shouted, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The High Priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

(John 18, 28 – 19, 16)

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Two Odd Comments

We have received two disparate comments that we do not wish to publish as comments where they were directed. However, we think that our readers might find the comments interesting in themselves.

The first comment was directed to our post ‘Neophyte Monk (Modified)’:

Orthodox Church has much apology to make in Western World: protocommunist massacres by Palamite Zealotes under Hesychast hyperventilatory hallucinations, Cantacuzene taxation driving farmers to embrace Turks, Komyakoviac Obshchina giving birth to soviet communism as reactionary casuistry opposing Napoleon's defeudalization, Cosmus Aitalos being patron originator of modern genocide as seen by the massacre of Turks in Crete by Venizelos. And their hypnotic brainwashing incantations are designed to make their flocks into terrorists. Is all masochistic because reject Original Sin.

The curious thing about this comment, besides the historical knowledge of the commenter, is that it reads like a beat poem.

The next comment we haven’t posted on its destination post ‘Fantasy’ because in its original form it provided a link to a blog although we did not think that we were in the spam business. As for the content, we went to the site and it is a fundamentalist Christian site—perhaps a ‘Jews for Jesus’ type thing—that thinks that Dylan is a born-again Christian and always has been since his conversion in the early 70’s. We ourselves think that there is room for discussion on the matter. But here is the comment sans link:

When I'm gone don't wonder where I be.
Just say that I trusted in God and that Christ was in me.
Say He defeated the devil, He was God's chosen Son
And that there ain't no man righteous, no not one.

—Bob Dylan

So, two odd comments.

Update: Someone has sent us a heads-up on the first comment:

...FYI, that first comment has popped up on other Orthodox blogs, more or less verbatim. It almost never has much of anything to do with the actual substance of the post to which it's attached. I guess this person just feels the need to get a message out and does so apparently at random. It's appeared at least twice on my own blog, and though I've tried to respond, no follow-up comment ever comes back.

Catechumen Trevor 3

Catechumen Trevor has responded to our last post. We will let him have the last word:

Thanks again. I appreciate your insight, and I particularly appreciate the ambiguity of this sort of thing. I should clarify that my questioning is mostly about what might have happened in past reading of such materials. Now, although I might find some entertainment in reading back over some of these works, I would have to say that about 80-90% of my reading is of explicitly Orthodox material. I also would not advise to an inquirer that they read any of these works we've discussed here to understand Orthodoxy. (Well, perhaps some of C. S. Lewis's books, if I knew they were already favorably disposed to his work--some of them can be a great springboard for Evangelicals to begin considering Orthodox doctrines that they may otherwise never encounter. But even there, the main point would be to provide a platform for further discussion, not any expectation that reading his books would actually give them the answers.)

I think it is enough to know that in my own experience these things may have helped somehow along the way. Looking back now through the lens of Orthodoxy, I can certainly see elements of what I liked in the books then that find their better answer in Orthodoxy. (Elements that I would not have guessed at the time had anything to do with Orthodoxy.) Of course, the reality is better than the fantasy in all respects, but at least the fantasy provided a hint of a taste.


Friday, 4 April 2008

Catechumen Trevor 2

Catechumen Trevor does not seem to sleep much—he has replied almost immediately to our response in the post ‘Catechumen Trevor’ to his comment on our post ‘Fantasy’. Here is his reply:

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I understand your remarks, though I think perhaps you have derived too much about Lawhead in particular from a couple of bits of evidence that you found online. I have not read his book about the New Age, but given the time when it was written, I have every expectation that it was a book written against the New Age, perhaps presented as a helpful, unbiased guide for someone interested in the movement, but written from a decidedly negative standpoint. (In exactly the same respect, though of course from a more Orthodox perspective, Fr. Seraphim Rose could be said to have written guides to the New Age--he talked about it, explained it, answered questions for the inquirer, but clearly did not advocate it.) I cannot say for sure, since I haven't read the book; but based on what I know of the content of his early fiction (much more overtly Evangelical, even allegorical) and the acceptance of his work among Evangelicals, I would be truly surprised if he promoted the New Age in this book.

Second, Lawhead deals with Atlantis in some of his books as a popular mythological theme. As far as I know, he does not take too seriously the notion that it really existed. Tolkien also includes Atlantis mythology in his literature. It is certainly possible that some readers take such things more seriously than they should. (I suppose I probably did when I was a young and avid fan.) And perhaps the author can be faulted for allowing this sort of thing by raising the issue in the first place. But I guess you'd have to read how he treats these things to know specifics.

I can certainly understand your misgivings on the assumption that Lawhead espouses some sort of New Age viewpoint. And certainly if things had gone otherwise in my own life, I could have moved in a different direction than I did. As I said earlier, I don't think these books ever would have brought me to Orthodoxy on their own. Perhaps I read too much into the experience by looking backward and expecting to see common threads. (I think this all came to mind at a point when someone had asked me to think about what might be my underlying reasons for wanting to become Orthodox.) But it does seem like there was a desire back then for something that I could not find in my "real" life--for a mystical and sacramental dimension that I now know should be part of Christian faith, even though my Evangelical religion had no place for it. On the assumption that Orthodoxy is the Truth, it seems that probably everyone has some hidden longing for this dimension. Some simply ignore it, telling themselves that it is foolishness; some find it in other places--fantasy, false religions, New Age, etc. As we know, from St. Paul to the apologists, this element of grasping for truth was present in the ancient paganism to which Christianity came in those early centuries. That doesn't make the other things right or wholly true, but it seems like sometimes it prepares the way at least.


It is true that we challenged Catechumen Trevor’s presentation of Lawhead’s beliefs in our last post and that he is largely defending his presentation here, but we think that Stephen Lawhead’s beliefs may be a bit of a red herring.

We looked again on the Internet and read a review of Pilgrim’s Guide to the New Age by an Evangelical Theology Professor at Master’s Seminary. The review was so tepid that our doubts about Lawhead were not laid to rest. The worthy professor thinks the book is written from a Christian perspective but he is much less enthusiastic about it than Catechumen Trevor’s remarks would suggest should be the case.

Moreover, while we suppose that Mr Lawhead can write as much as he wants about Atlantis, we would think that Tolkien’s use of the Atlantis myth (Fair Havens?) would be much more measured than a mere recapitulation of the myth or a presentation of the myth designed to get people to believe in the objective existence of Atlantis. There is no doubt that Tolkien was a believing Roman Catholic and that his writing would have been mediated by a Roman Catholic theological formation. The Roman Catholic Church of even that epoch in which Tolkien wrote had a much more open attitude towards the uses of culture than what we ourselves understand about American Evangelicals of any epoch. Now, if it is crucial, and we do not think that it is, then Trevor could email us some low-resolution scans of sample pages both of Pilgrim’s Guide and of some of Lawhead’s fantasy writing, to orthodox dot monk dot blog atsign gmail dot com, for us to look at.

But the particular issue of the soundness of Lawhead’s writing is really a personal issue for Catechumen Trevor. As we pointed out, we are not in a position to address personal issues here, only theoretical issues. And the theoretical point we are making, Trevor, is that you have to be careful about ‘where the author is coming from’ when you get into such material. You have to discuss with your confessor just how strong you are, whether you are going to be adversely influenced by what you are reading, and whether a preoccupation with fantasy writing indicates that there is a problem in your personal life. This we don’t know, and the theoretical issue obtains for all of our readers whatever Lawhead really believes. That is why we think that Lawhead’s personal belief’s might be a bit of a red herring. If it’s not Lawhead then it’s someone else: is Harry Potter harmless?

Let us now look again at the the heart of Trevor’s response:

But it does seem like there was a desire back then for something that I could not find in my "real" life--for a mystical and sacramental dimension that I now know should be part of Christian faith, even though my Evangelical religion had no place for it. On the assumption that Orthodoxy is the Truth, it seems that probably everyone has some hidden longing for this dimension. Some simply ignore it, telling themselves that it is foolishness; some find it in other places--fantasy, false religions, New Age, etc. As we know, from St. Paul to the apologists, this element of grasping for truth was present in the ancient paganism to which Christianity came in those early centuries. That doesn't make the other things right or wholly true, but it seems like sometimes it prepares the way at least.

Again, we would have to know much more about Trevor than we do in order for us to assess the extent to which the non-sacramental aridity of his Protestant life found an outlet in the mystical and sacramental richness of the fantasy writing he was reading. Our point, theoretically, is that this is a double-edged sword. You can respond to something attractive in the fantasy work but, largely depending on the personal religious soundness of the author who is writing the fantasy, you can be either led to God or led astray. After all, New Age has all kinds of interesting, attractive things you can do. Moreover, and here is the heart of the matter, how do we know when the attractiveness of Dune (since we don’t know Lawhead’s work) arises from the subtle excitation of our passions and when it arises from a resonance with our authentic aspiration for God? This is not to say that all men don’t have a spark in them that seeks for God, and that in some men it is extinguished as best they can (complete extinction takes a lot of sin) while in others it is perverted into roads that satisfy the men’s passions, as Trevor himself points out.

St Paul in his defense (apology) to the pagan philosophers in Athens asserts that he is preaching the ‘unknown God’ commemorated in one of their pagan idols. The Orthodox Church has always esteemed learning. Here it might be useful to consider St Basil the Great’s take on the matter. In discussing the uses of pagan learning, he asserts that it is legitimate for a Christian to read such literature for personal edification, taking what is useful and discarding what is not. But, St Basil says, God forbid that the Christian should accept the idolatrous myths discussed in those works.

Hence, we would again repeat: it depends on the intentions of the author of the fantasy. In the case of Dune, the world created is (at least in the earlier works) quite attractive. But it is not a Christian world and does not even indirectly lead the reader to a Christian understanding of life. The order of the Bene Gesserit resonates with something deep in the soul; the saga of Paul Atreides resonates; but the road is not at all a Christian road in any way, shape or form. But a young or even old reader might find the world of Dune very attractive in comparison to the aridity of his real life.

Conversely, we are not sure how ‘orthodox’ a Roman Catholic Graham Greene was—and he certainly wasn’t Orthodox—, but his late works are deep portrayals of the human heart. This is not to say: stop reading Lawhead or Herbert and read Greene. It is to say that we have to assess the authors we read and make sure that we know what in us their works are resonating with.

Best wishes, Trevor—

Orthodox Monk

Catechumen Trevor

We have received the following comment on our post ‘Fantasy’ from someone who identifies himself as ‘Catechumen Trevor’. We do not know Trevor but we think that his comment is well worth discussing. Here it is in full, slightly edited (the original text of the comment can be found at the post):

Perhaps you could comment on this. I definitely get your point about fantasy. Personally, I still struggle with the temptation to imagine various scenarios and discussions when I'm bored. Practising more constant prayer is helping in this regard.

But, looking back at my life before discovering Orthodoxy, I grew up in a very anti-traditional form of Evangelicalism. Of course, like anything, we had our traditions. But the liturgy was minimalist, there was no sacramental concept, and theology was mostly in the eye of the beholder. I eventually grew dissatisfied with this void and went searching for something with more depth. I didn't know exactly what I was looking for when I started, but eventually I found Orthodoxy and have been pursuing it ever since. (I also learned plenty about the right reasons and wrong reasons I had for looking in the first place.)

In hindsight, I've seen something interesting about my earlier life. I used to be an avid reader of fantasy books. I had some pretty strong convictions about Christianity (in a certain form, at least), so I never drifted into more secular/new age based literature. I stuck to authors like J. R. R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic) and C. S. Lewis (Anglican), both of whom lived and wrote in an era that was already dying or perhaps dead (they were both students of medieval literature), when the Christian world-view had not yet completely departed from the West.

I also enjoyed books by Stephen Lawhead, who is somewhat less well-known. He is, or at least was, an Evangelical, who took a distinct interest in ancient Celtic culture. In his books, he reconstructs Celtic Christianity in the image of his own Evangelical faith, but with a mystical edge to it that Evangelicalism normally lacks. His stories are populated with priests and monks and hermits and mystics. There is something at least marginally sacramental going on, and even relics make a positive appearance. But at the same time, there is a negative cast to the institutional Church of the period, whether Latin or Greek (some of his books deal with the Crusades, which is when the Greeks are encountered).

In reflecting on my affinity for this literature, I can see where it fed my own fantasies, but it also seems to have expressed some longings that were perhaps not altogether bad. Looking at Lawhead's writings now, I see a man who feels something lacking in his own Evangelical religion but maintains too much bias against the ‘institutional’ Church to allow that it was the true Church all along. At the same time, he can't admit that Evangelical Christianity was absent for so many centuries, so he reconstructs a form of it in places where he thinks he has sufficient historical latitude. (He portrays Coptic Christianity very much like he does Celtic Christianity--I suppose the idea is that no one knows enough about either one to say otherwise.) I had the same kind of bias against Roman Catholicism (and by extension, against Orthodoxy, though I knew almost nothing about it), but I seem to have had some similar longings for "something more" in my Evangelical faith. I can't say whether these books awakened this longing, or it was already there and the books merely resonated with it. I also can't point to any tangible way in which this longing led me in the end to Orthodoxy. Perhaps it only looks in hindsight like it was part of the journey.

Now, coming back to C. S. Lewis, it seems to me even now that among Evangelicals he articulated some of the most Orthodox ideas. For instance, the notion that we create hell for ourselves when we refuse to see God's grace. I have heard that C. S. Lewis was an avid reader of patristic writings, so perhaps that had an influence on his own thinking and writing. At the time, I wouldn't have known an Orthodox idea from any other, but it may be that reading Lewis planted some seeds that sprouted only years later.

So perhaps you could comment on whether there can be any useful function to fantasy literature. (I don't know anything about fantasy games, so I'll stay away from that issue.) Particularly, can it communicate truth or awaken a desire for something that is truly missing in a watered-down form of Christianity? I realize, of course, that even if these good things are possible, an unhealthy preoccupation with any form of entertainment is best avoided. As I say, that's something I've dealt with and am dealing with in my own life. But as I look back on how things worked together to lead me where I am now, I have to wonder.


Catechumen Trevor

There are a number of issues here. The first issue is that we are not in a position to give Trevor personal counsel or advice: to the extent that the questions he is raising pertain to him personally, he should discuss them with his priest, the one that is preparing him for baptism.

In this regard, the key issue that Trevor presents is this:

...[P]erhaps you could comment on whether there can be any useful function to fantasy literature. ... Particularly, can it communicate truth or awaken a desire for something that is truly missing in a watered-down form of Christianity?

This is a very difficult psychological issue because it has to do with the actual psychological evolution of Trevor in a particular time and place. Who Trevor is, what his family life is and was, even his age. But these are things we know nothing about. Hence, we really are not in a position to evaluate just what was going on in Trevor’s life when he was reading the fantasy literature and what spiritual effect it was having on him.

That in an American middle class household with a Protestant orientation there might be an emotional or even spiritual desert seems plausible to us. That a child would escape into fantasy is expected by all child psychologists. That an adolescent would escape into fantasy literature—if that is what was going on—would suggest that something is missing.

Would the fantasy literature awaken a desire for the truly spiritual? Well that would seem to depend on the fantasy literature that the adolescent was reading. For we think that the adolescent might be directed in ways that he might later come to regret depending on the intentions of the author.

These things having been said, let us look at some general issues. First of all, we have read Lord of the Rings and one or two books by C. S. Lewis. We liked Lord of the Rings, although we didn’t think that it was terribly profound or had all sorts of hidden messages. It was enjoyable. We didn’t think that Gandalf’s ‘resurrection’ was all that successful literarily. This probably has to do with the fact that in the Christian Resurrection it is the Word of God made flesh who is resurrected, not a simple creature. A narrative of the resurrection of a creature necessarily lacks the cosmic significance of the Resurrection of the Word of God made flesh, with the result that such a creaturely resurrection might fall flat. But our reservations about Tolkien’s handling of the theme of Gandalf’s resurrection are not something that we would want to insist on. Moreover, it is clear that since Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, he would not in his work mock or question the Resurrection of Christ.

In the case of C S Lewis, we did read a couple of his books in College because a Jewish friend was reading them (he remained a secular Jew) but we did not find Lewis’ works attractive. This is a matter of personal taste. We understand that Lewis was a serious Christian and that his works were in the nature of allegory. We understand that learned people write learned articles about Lewis’ corpus. That doesn’t bother us but we don’t run out to read those articles, or Lewis’ other works.

We had never heard of Stephen R. Lawhead before reading Trevor’s comment and we looked around the Internet a little to see what we could see. The best way to put it is that he and his wife, Alice Sleikau Lawhead, have together penned a book called Pilgrim’s Guide to the New Age. We had to do a little looking to figure out if the ‘New Age’ in the title is the New Age. It is. This leads us to a question to Trevor: did you not realize that Mr. Lawhead was an exponent of New Age and no longer Evangelical? Why is it that you presented him in your comment as writing fantasy works from a slightly modified Evangelical point of view?

On the fan-forum that Mr Lawhead runs, we noted that someone was posting about the relationship between England and Atlantis. You don’t find learned discussions of Atlantis in geography courses at Wheaton College or even in Evangelical theology courses there. You find them in occult and New-Age circles.

It should be said that we have never read any of Lawhead’s work, or that of his wife, so the only things we are basing ourselves on is what Trevor wrote and a brief journey through Lawhead links produced by Google. We might have it wrong.

If we suppose that Lawhead is promoting a New-Age point of view in his fantasy works—and this would be consistent with his opposition to the institutional Church—then we have a good example of the sort of thing that we were warning against in the post ‘Fantasy’. An adolescent who is taken by the fantasy world created by Lawhead could very easily be affected by the poison of New Age that might be embedded in Lawhead’s writing. He could then go to the fan-forum and learn all sorts of things against institutional Christianity and in favour of New-Age or even occult interpretations of Christianity. This might have a serious and direct effect on his spiritual evolution, and in non-Christian directions.

We spoke in the post of someone measuring Christianity as encountered in his real life against a criterion established perhaps unconsciously in something like ‘World of Warcraft’, and here we have a very similar sort of thing in book form as supplemented by the Internet. Indeed, we wonder whether the narrative embedded in ‘World of Warcraft’ might not also be New-Age. We don’t know. But it seems clear that someone who was unhappy with his personal reality might very well ‘escape’ into the world of Lawhead and thereby be led to New Age. This does not seem to be an overdrawn connection or exaggerated fear.

Next, we have read in our earlier life a number of books in the Dune series, and a number of Frank Herbert’s other works. It is clear that Mr Herbert is creating an alternative reality. It is also clear that he deals explicitly with religious themes but not from any point of view that could be considered Christian. He deals with messianic figures in what could only be considered a non-Christian way. In general, he deals with religious themes in a way that would suggest to us that he is trying to create a personal alternative to the Roman Catholicism that he encountered as a child, as is often the case with Roman Catholic authors who have an intense religious influence in their childhood but who do not feel at ease with their religion once they enter adulthood. Were we adversely influenced spiritually by reading the Dune series? We think that our confessor would have told us that we were escaping from reality.

Let us consider the case of E R Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. When we read the book many years ago we were amused by Eddison’s hifalutin style—a friend we showed it to scorned both it and us on account of the Eddison’s fakery of style, although evidently Eddison was an expert on Jacobian literature—but we really did wonder just what Eddison believed personally. That he might be an occultist after the manner of Yeats did not seem far-fetched to us, although the biographies on the Internet either ignore the issue or skate around it.

Let us consider the case of Bob Dylan. Certainly a talented man with a chequered history. He converted to a Pentecostal form of Christianity before returning, it seems, to Judaism. We say ‘it seems’ because the man delights in ambiguity. Is listening to Bob Dylan dangerous spiritually? Good question. This question can be extended to the whole of the ‘rock music’ scene, especially when it is connected to drug use. We do not need to emphasize the dangers. Drugs are obviously a classic way of coming into contact with the demons. Moreover, there are various bands which are consciously occult or anti-Christian or whatever.

Would it be better to read W B Yeats than listen to Bob Dylan? Yeats was an out-and-out occultist.

Finally, we think that Graham Greene, especially in his late work, is a world-class author. Was he a Roman Catholic writer? We really don’t understand the nature of Greene’s relation to the Roman Catholic Church, not having studied his life, but we think that in his late works he has penetrated deeply into the human heart. His portraits in The Human Factor are psychologically profound and stylistically deft. It also seems that Greene might have maintained a life-long relationship with MI6, the British espionage service. This might raise moral issues among some of his readers.

What can we conclude from all this?

Much depends on the intentions of the author. Is he a devout Roman Catholic as Tolkien was? Chances are his work will show a Roman Catholic orientation. Is he a devout Anglican as C. S. Lewis was? Chances are his work will show an Anglican orientation. Is he New-Age as Lawhead evidently is? Chances are his work will show a New-Age orientation. Result? Obviously, from a Christian point of view, the first two authors are somewhat less dangerous than the third—we say ‘somewhat’ since the Orthodox do not agree theologically with the Roman Catholics and Anglicans on all points.

Next, to an extent all art is fantasy. We are not Savanarola nor are we Puritan. Trevor’s catechist can easily discuss with him the norms of the Orthodox Church concerning the uses of art and entertainment.

It is certainly true that the norms are somewhat different for a monk or nun than for a lay person. No one would take the position, we think, that all entertainment—all escape from reality for a limited period of time—is for the lay person in the Orthodox Church intrinsically wrong. The Church does discourage recourse to entertainment during the fasts of the Church.

There is something more to consider here. Let us take the case of Tolstoy. Tolstoy was a great artist, as Picasso was. Neither was a sound Orthodox Christian. Picasso was a communist. Tolstoy was excommunicated. Does that mean that we cannot look at Picasso’s paintings or sculptures? That we cannot read Tolstoy? We do not think that that is a mature Orthodox doctrine.

We read somewhere that the late Fr Alexander Schmemann used to re-read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina once a year. Now one might say that that was not a very devout thing to do. Fr Alexander should have been reading or writing Orthodox theology, not secular literature. But the fact is that Anna Karenina is one of the greatest novels ever written. Fr Alexander was on vacation. He needed some relaxation. One imagines that he was at an age when there was no danger of his losing his faith.

We do not think, however, that because Anna Karenina was ‘high culture’ it was better than Lord of the Rings, which isn’t. In other words, we would be uneasy with a criterion of ‘good Orthodox entertainment’ that depended on a notion of ‘high culture’. We do not think that ‘high culture’ is more spiritual than ‘low culture’.

That is not to say that ‘anything goes’. Much depends on the intrinsic moral and spiritual depth of the author. Here we would place Greene, even if his formal relation to the Roman Catholic Church was quite troubled.

The problem, Trevor, is not that we might be unhappy with our present life and escape into entertainment for a greater or lesser period of time, although this clearly can be a dangerous road to take psychologically. The problem is that we might give ourselves over to the fantasy world. Here, if the author is not Christian in any real way, this could lead us away from Christ, even and especially if the author’s work resonates in some way with our ‘hidden aspirations’ that are not being fulfilled in the aridity of our everyday life. This would seem to be the danger with Lawhead’s work.