Author C. S. Lewis once argued that Christianity works on us like every other myth, except it is a myth that really happened. Dwight Longenecker takes this idea a step further in his book, “The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty,” arguing that the Christian story is the greatest ever told because it gathers up what is true in the best fantasy stories and makes them real. Here I talk to the author, blogger, and priest about his big idea and why he believes the Christian faith is fundamentally romance.
RNS: When someone calls faith a fairy tale or fantasy, some Christians might have a negative reaction, as if this undermines the authenticity of their faith. Your thoughts?
DL: The problem is when people say faith is “merely” a fairy story, fantasy or myth. The word “merely” is a killer because nothing in life is as simple as that. “Merely” is a word that reduces rather than amplifies. I am always looking for the “more” not the “mere.” Instead of saying that faith is a fairy tale or fantasy, I like to say the stories of the Bible are as powerful as a fairy tale or fantasy. I then explain what myth and fairy tales really do–how they connect with the deepest parts of our hearts through the imagination and how the real life faith stories have that same power to inspire and transform.
RNS: Opponents of religion doubt Christianity because there are so many other ancient stories and myths that parallel those in the Bible. How do you respond? Is Christianity just one more myth?
DL: It is interesting to consider the similarities between the Bible stories and the ancient myths because the same themes, characters, and plot lines do echo through all the stories. This proves the universality of these deeply human religious stories. However, while we consider the similarities we also have to consider the dis-similarities. When we look more closely the pagan stories and the stories in the Bible are not deeply similar at all. The similarities are superficial.
The main difference is that the pagan myths do not pretend to be historical. But the authors of the Biblical stories always root them in recognizable place and time. While the places and times are not always verifiable according to our criteria of proof, the point is that the authors consider the stories to be about real people at a real time in a real place. The Biblical authors are insistent that these “mythical events” occurred not to mythical beings, but to ordinary people.
RNS: In naming the fairy tale quality of the gospel, Frederick Buechner says that “it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” Can you say something about how the Christian story continues to be realized?