Skip links

Baptizing the culture with the stories we tell

Of late, an increasing number of authors and filmmakers have this in common: their stories derive from worldviews that hold little understanding or appreciation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that the Church has brought to human history. It’s no wonder, then, that their stories are both normalizing and propagating dark, malleable, and self-centered understandings of the human person and, ultimately, of the nature of civilization itself.

For people of faith, especially Christians, this requires a response. Indeed, our calling to go forth and baptize all nations must include nothing less than the reclamation of culture—and one way to do that is through the baptism of the written word, the silver screen, and the smaller screens held in the hands of most everyone walking the planet today.

A better beginning

Several thousand years ago in and around the Babylonian empire, the status quo was informed by a story called the Enuma Elish—a creation myth consisting of a pantheon at war, parricide, and a created order (or, rather, disorder) fashioned from this pre-existing structure of evil. Humanity’s creation came after a series of gruesome battles, when the victorious gods formed us from the blood of their opponents. Our purpose? To serve the gods as a race of slaves.

Opposing this hideous worldview, the inspired authors of Genesis offered something different. They told of a God of love who created all that is, the seen and the unseen, and did so with an innate goodness and order. At the apex of their story, God formed humanity, not out of the blood of warring deities, but as the culmination of something wonderful.

It’s fortunate (and probably not surprising) that much of the Enuma Elish was lost for millennia. Genesis, on the other hand, endured. And wherever Judaism and Christianity went, so did that story, with its deeply optimistic and truthful worldview—a worldview that today is increasingly under siege.

Retelling and revising

Not long ago, readers and movie-goers generally understood the difference between reality and allegory—between the complexities of life in our fallen world and depictions of life as it should, could, or will be. Largely informed by Christianity and Judaism, those audiences accepted that within both allegory and reality, certain actions were either objectively good or objectively evil—and they considered as normative the ultimate victory of the good.

Take the iconic book and then film The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz. Both L. Frank Baum and MGM catered to readers and movie-goers expecting entertainment rooted in a worldview where evil may win a battle or two, but never the war. Young and old cheered on Dorothy and her companions because they understood that the Wicked Witch was a representation of evil’s activity in the world—and so must be defeated.

Then came Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Both the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire and the Broadway musical offer a revisionist history of Baum’s source material. In Wicked’s version of Oz, we’re presented with a backstory for the Wicked Witch—the story of a young, idealistic, green-skinned girl named Elphaba, of her mistreatment, especially by the villainous wizard, and her eventual reputation as a witch who is wicked.

With this shift in canon, readers and audiences are encouraged to sympathize with the suffering protagonist. This is all well and good and filled with possibilities, but for those who have rejected Christianity’s Cross, or who had never been properly catechized to begin with, Elphaba’s story can offer no meaningful lessons—other than that evil can only beget meaningless suffering.

In a way, Wicked reanimates the worldview of Enuma Elish. In a post-Christian world, the story finds sympathy among readers and theater-goers who consider Elphaba’s story, not Dorothy’s, to be a more accurate metaphor of reality—one in which the preexistence of evil not only propagates more evil, but justifies it.

Read more at Catholic World Report

Share with Friends: