Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Faith of Neverland 

Andrea and I watched "Finding Neverland" the other night. I thought it was an excellent movie; very touching, very poignant. Johnny Depp was excellent as always, though the role seemed tailor-made for him; the weird, slightly asexual boyish character. Depp plays James Barrie, the playwright who writes "Peter Pan", and traces the encounter he has with a widow with four boys and the connection he forms to this family which provides the inspiration for his play. Barrie is married, but unhappily, and the widow (Kate Winslet) has a mother who doesn't approve of her relationship with Barrie, as it is barring her from seeking out a suitable husband. So there are many barriers to their relationship. People even think the relationship between Barrie and the widow's four boys is unnatural.

The movie connected the ethos of Peter Pan with Barrie's own personal life. He is a great believer in make-believe, and his attitude is that if you believe, you can overcome the obstacles that are in your way in life. As time goes on, it becomes clear that his faith does not truly remove any obstacles, and is not intended to. But it allows him to maintain his playful spirit even in the midst of tragedy.

Belief and faith are essentially the same thing, and this movie is therefore a movie about faith. Faith being one of the core concepts in Christianity, one might think that this movie therefore shares in some manner in the Christian ethos, but one would be very wrong.

The concept of faith in the Christian religion is of faith in something specific; the promises of God. If I believe in what God has told me, despite there being no carnal evidence for the truth of it, that is an act which lays hold of God's promises and makes them my own. Faith is the sole instrument of our salvation, the one thing that we do to make God's promise of salvation our own. It is therefore faith which is directed at reality and at accepting that reality, the reality that God is who He says He is and will do what He says we will do. Nothing untrue is made true by our faith.

Compare this with the faith of Neverland. This faith is a faith which is directed at refusal to acknowledge reality. It refuses to accept that a child must grow up; refuses to accept that societal norms and conventions must be taken into account; refuses to accept that a dead loved one is truly gone. Peter Pan's (and Barrie's) faith is therefore the opposite of true faith, based fundamentally as it is in a lie that we can make reality what we want to be. True faith is accepting reality for what it is, even if it is not apparent to us.

Think about Neverland itself- the name indicates a place which doesn't exist, but which nevertheless has the power to transform our lives, by the act of believing in it. It is a mishmash of chaos, with pirates, Indians, fairies and anything else you want to put in it. It is the opposite of reality.

Neverland faith has been absolutely destructive to Christianity wherever that view of faith is accepted. And it is accepted widely. Someone who could make the statement that doctrine is unimportant and that we just need to have faith has accepted Neverland faith. For you say we are to have faith, but what are we to have faith in? How can I believe if I don't know what God has said? But a great deal of the church has accepted the idea that faith is just an act of will, of transcending the world and reaching out to the eternal. This is essentially the faith of Schleiermacher, who did not believe that what you believed was terribly important, just that you believed in something. Some might even still assert that faith in Jesus is crucial, but still deny the need for accurate doctrine about Jesus. Jesus' name is then some kind of totem, some word of power which grants spiritual blessings just by its invocation. And any who would assert that all religions lead to the same thing likewise have the faith of Neverland.

But if it is merely the act of believing which will bring us these spiritual benefits, then the "what" of the faith is not terribly important. It is simply the act of having faith in one's own dreams. And this is rebellion, it is the faith of vanity, the refusal to accept what is true and the insistence on making one's own truth.

We can't escape the hard realities of life by clicking our heels together and wishing them away. We can only hide for so long from these realities. There are no such thing as fairies, and clapping our hands won't make them appear. There is however a God, and we won't make Him go away by saying we don't believe in Him. The reality of the universe must be dealt with, must be accepted. We will have to deal with that reality sooner or later. Faith in God's promises means dealing with it now, submitting to it and accepting God's promise of salvation. That promise is granted on His terms, not ours, and is likewise accepted on His terms. Believing lies doesn't make them true, no matter how many times we clap our hands. Make-believe is fine for children, but the mature spiritual adult knows that only belief in the truth will save him.

I don't know about you but I have 3 little fairies flitting through my house almost on a daily basis, with wings and everything. LOL, seriously though, this is nice. What if we are still learning the doctrine? I think some christians always start with a "neverland" kind of faith while they are growing, but the point would then be to keep learning the doctrine and maturing in it, right?
Certainly, we all start with a lot of false conceptions. But I don't think it's just a matter of growing in what we have; it's recognizing that our false beliefs must be rejected; further, that our rebellion must be rejected. This kind of faith that I'm talking about here is just rebellion against the truth, against reality. We can't grow and mature in that; it just has to be rejected and replaced with true faith, faith in God's promises revealed in Scripture.

Thanks for reading!
Good article, Matt. As our catechism puts it, faith includes both knowledge of the truth, and trust in the truth. We do not truly know if we do not trust. You cannot really believe [trust] something that you are not convinced is true. That is why a lie must masquerade as the truth for it to have any currency with us.
Amen, brother. The more Hollywood and other media outlets talk about "faith" the more I realize they have no idea what they are talking about.

I guess I misunderstood what type of childlike faith you are implying here. I think I mean like, you know how your kid sees God, a little different then what you are talking about in your post. Hey Andy, that is why I try really hard not to listen to the media\hollywood about faith. Anyway, I getcha' :)
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