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—