December 10, 2005

Cloud-ing the issues

Just when you think psycho-fundamentalism couldn't get any more irrelevant, you read something that proves you wrong once again.

The hat tip goes to Nephos for directing my attention to an article on Way of Life, the Web site of David Cloud, from whence he pontificates long and hard about virtually everyone whose belief and practice are not in lockstep with his particular independent, fundamentalist Baptist tradition.

In the article in question, "C. S. Lewis and Evangelicals Today," Cloud takes issue with the writings and theology of the great 20th-century apologist. I'll grant you that despite the reverence with which Lewis is treated, he is not above criticism and that his theology was weak in certain areas (for example, an unusual theory of the Atonement). So it would have been nice if Cloud had taken up an informed critique of Lewis' theology. Instead, however, he rides his usual hobby-horse of "separation," spending the most verbiage on the fact that Lewis the apologist wrote for an ecumenical audience: the "mere" Christian. But he also makes some downright bizarre assertions, such as this one, which seems to have no logical connection with anything else in the article, before or after:

In the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken [sic], a personal letter is reproduced on page 191 in which Lewis suggests to VanAuken that upon his next visit to England that the two of them “must have some good, long talks together and perhaps we shall both get high.” In light of this, it is interesting that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis’s fantasy children’s tale, a hero named Edmund meets a magical witch who conjures up for him a box of Turkish Delight, which Edmund devours and begs for more. Turkish Delight is a name for hashish.

First of all, without knowing the context of the letter from Lewis to Vanauken, it is hard to know precisely what he meant by "get high." The common use of the phrase, meaning to seek a drug-induced euphoria, had been in use since the 1930s, but admittedly it seems a bit incongruous coming from Lewis. (If the image of a stodgy old English professor lighting up a J and using hippie slang gives you a fit of the giggles, you aren't alone.) Victor Reppert, author of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea (InterVarsity, 2003), suggests alternative explanations on his blog. Knowing what little I do about Lewis' personal life, I would take a guess that if he had any "recreational chemicals" in mind, it was most likely alcohol. I have access to Vanauken's book, so I may investigate further.

Now it gets really weird. Fact #1:

Cloud, you dummy, Edmund was not a "hero."

Quite the opposite, in fact. Edmund is the Judas-figure in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the scene Cloud describes, Edmund was enticed by the White Witch into persuading his brother and sisters to come to Narnia with him. She knows (he does not) that if two kings and queens sit on the four thrones at the castle of Cair Paravel, her power over Narnia is destroyed. Later, Edmund does what she asks and betrays them to her. It is this act that necessitates the death of Aslan on the Stone Table in exchange for his own life.

Fact #2:

Cloud, you incredible nincompoop, "Turkish Delight" isn't hashish, it's candy.

Turkish Delight is a soft, boiled confection made primarily of sugar, corn starch and water, and flavoured with rosewater. It comes in little pinkish cubes dusted with sugar to keep the pieces from sticking together. Wikipedia has an article detailing the history of Turkish Delight along with a basic recipe. I have never made it, although I have tried it: here in Ottawa, Sugar Mountain carries bulk Turkish Delight. I like to buy a few squares on occasion. (They also carry Cadbury's and Fry's Turkish Delight bars, imported from England, for those who prefer their Turkish Delight coated with chocolate rather than corn starch.) It's pretty tasty, but it's also fairly soft and sticky, and an acquired taste if one is unused to eating rosewater-flavoured foods.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it is explicitly stated that the Turkish Delight is enchanted to make the eater crave more. It is the tool the Witch uses to entice Edmund into betraying his siblings. But for Cloud to issue a warning that the Narnia books promote drug use is just idiotic. I guess that his rhetoric just wouldn't have stirred the psycho-fundies to the right level of indignation if he had claimed Lewis was teaching kids to take candy from strangers.

But in any case, is it too much to ask that Cloud a) read what he presumes to criticize, and b) speak from a position of knowledge instead of ignorance?