December 12, 2005

C.S. Lewis… a manipulator?

Another entry on religion…

Was (again) listening to Radio 4 recently and heard a debate between a Christian and an atheist about C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. The atheist said he had really enjoyed 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' when he'd read it as a very young child but that he'd felt utterly manipulated by the author when he became older and realised the Christian message behind it.

We live in a free country, thought I! Every author we read writes from a certain point-of-view and puts forward his own opinions through the medium of text. Should we ban any writing that is any way persuasive? In that case the removal of advertisements should be at the top of the list for risk of influencing people!

Are people not capable of reading the opinions of others and assessing them, thus coming to their own conclusions? The atheist is not crediting human beings with much intelligence. He had, himself, read the story and yet still come to the conclusion that he did not believe in God. He was clearly not 'manipulated' sufficiently to change his mind.

Why do we apply different rules to Christianity than to any other religious, or other, idea? Noone would ever think to criticise a Hindu or Buddhist for writing something that enabled people to understand their religion better, or in a different way. Why are so many people desperate to purge the persuasive media of the Christian message?

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  1. Chris May

    First off, I agree largely with your position on this. I don't know of anyone who's been converted to christianity by reading CS Lewis, any more than I know of anyone who converted to satanism because of listening to Slayer :-)

    However, I could, if feeling argumentative, advance a couple of counter-points:

    – This isn't like advertising. Advertising says up front that it's an advert. Where this isn't the case (the subliminal adverts that were popular in the 80's and 90's for instance) it is widely viewed as being unfairly manipulative.

    – It's not the presenting of ideas that's being objected to, it's the fact that the ideas are being presented in a way that might be too sophisticated for the target audience (10-year-olds). I read TLTW&TW at about that age, and I didn't make the connection, I don't think many 10-year-olds do. That makes it subliminal, and that, for a lot of people, makes it a bad thing.

    – I don't buy the argument that this is an exclusively christian thing. It's just that there aren't any equivalents to TLTW&TW for other religions in the English-speaking literary canon (or at least, if there are they don't get discussed on the radio). Sounds a bit like persecution-complex to me ;-)

    – There was a moderate hoo-har from the Christian Right about Harry Potter and it's glorification of Witchcraft etc. not so long ago.

    12 Dec 2005, 19:38

  2. I'm not sure how the Christian message is supposed to manipulate anyone if they don't understand it. I barely even remember the books, so I couldn't have even told you if there was such a message or not; given this, how could it have influenced me?

    If I watch an advert and have no idea what they're trying to advertise (which happens rather a lot), I don't feel a compulsion to buy anything, and the advert fails, but it doesn't give me some subliminal compulsion to go out and buy the product. I don't see why a novel would work differently.

    Any child that notices the Christian message will be able to deal with it as they choose (although I suspect if they notice it they're probably already a Christian anyway). A child that doesn't notice it won't, I suspect, be influenced at all. What, do they expect these kids to later hear (more) about Christianity and go, "Wow, that sounds kind of like this cool book I read. I want that religion." I, for one, think not.

    12 Dec 2005, 20:24

  3. Chris May

    If I watch an advert and have no idea what they're trying to advertise (which happens rather a lot), I don't feel a compulsion to buy anything, and the advert fails.

    That's not really the idea of a subliminal message, though, is it? A subliminal advert (as opposed to one that you just don't get) is supposed to change your view of the world without you realising it. Cool smokers, popular skinny girls, all that kind of stuff. The whole point of a subliminal message is that you continue to be affected by it after you've forgotten the 'carrier' (i.e. in this case the book).

    12 Dec 2005, 22:03

  4. I just watched the new adaptation to the second book in the series.

    Not subtle really, even to a novice in the Christian teachings.

    The Athesist that started this particular discussion off was an arse. It seems he doesn't like the very idea of something religious. Scared of being tainted? Muppet.

    13 Dec 2005, 01:24

  5. You said the message was subliminal because the message was too sophisticated, and thus wouldn't be understood. To me that sounds more like an advert that I don't understand than one that I don't consciously percieve. As I don't remember anything specific about the book, can someone share what parts of it are supposedly advertising Christianity in the first place?

    (As a rather irrelevant aside, "subliminal advertising" in the sense of flashing up brief messages to get people to buy things isn't effective [1] [2]. More to the point, I would hardly call a media-saturating ideal like "skinny girls are sexy" to be subliminal so much as merely not explicitly stated.)

    13 Dec 2005, 01:59

  6. Subliminal messages, by definition, only work if the person reading/watching understands the message to some extent. Otherwise it is lost. I guess you may mean that it is manipulative in that a child will remember the story and then, later, understand the message it is trying to convey, but there has to be a delay if there is no immediate understanding.

    No, there aren't any equivalents to TLTW&TW in other religions, but what if there were? They wouldn't be criticised in the same way in this country because, as a result of political correctness, we are required to be completely respectful of these other religions. Despite the fact that I am not myself a Christian, it bothers me that we are so protective of every religion other than our own.

    And, as Colin says, if subliminal advertising doesn’t actually work, what’s everyone bothered about? I would personally like to think that the opinion of another person only influences my own if I properly consider it and consciously come to an alternative decision. And what’s the problem with children being educated in Christian teachings providing we credit them with enough intelligence to be able to make their own decisions based on that information? One of the worst things, in my opinion, is a decision made without properly considering all the options and information.

    14 Dec 2005, 12:14

  7. Justin McInroy

    To follow on from point 1… Interestingly the EU does not seem to think that hidden, non-up-front advertising is a bad thing. They are considering a new directive "Television without frontiers". This would allow product placement to be in all television shows except a few such as news, childrens and current affairs. Product placement is when big companies pay for their product to be in a film ordrama. The big star sipping Coca Cola, driving off in a BMW, smoking Marlboro cigarettes… But there is a twist – you will also be required to say that there is product placement in your program!! Hence defeating the object of the advertisment???!!!

    15 Dec 2005, 18:02

  8. Justin

    Here is the article if you are interested


    15 Dec 2005, 18:03

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