A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L?Engle’s Wrinkled Theology

One of my biggest regrets is I did not read more “classic novels” when I was growing up. I was well into my adulthood before I read such books as Of Mice and Men and Watership Down. My first reading of A Wrinkle in Time was in 2009 when I was spearheading Hollywood Jesus’ LOST Library. The television show, LOST (remember the plane that crashed on an island and the enigmatic happenings there?), often alluded to novels and other literature, and there was an interest in those books on the internet because of this.

Madeleine L’Engle’s “theology” ? especially her purported “universalism” ? is just as controversial today as it was in 1962 when the book was first published. As I wrote in my review, “Love Covers All Wrinkles,”

A Wrinkle in Time?was so controversial when it was completed in 1960 that it was rejected by over twenty publishers before it was published in 1962. Her belief in?Christian Universalism?resulted in her works being banned from certain Christian bookstores and schools. However,?A Wrinkle in Time?became Madeleine L?Engle?s most recognized and awarded work, and is the first of a series in her?Time Quintet. I do not agree with her Universalism, but found the book profitable nonetheless.

It is easy to be critical. Disney’s new adaptation of the book is currently being lambasted by the press, garnering a “rotten” rating by critics on RottenTomatoes.com, and only a 37% audience rating. I have not seen the movie yet, so I cannot comment on how good it is. But I have a hint, from what I have read on the internet, I would be more approving than a former colleague who concluded,? “…the message?it hammers you with is not only disheartening, but could truly prove to be quite confusing to younger viewers.”

It must be remembered that the movie, as well as the book, are meant for “younger” audiences. So, I am not too disappointed that on a second reading nine years later I find Wrinkle a bit shallow.? I was also surprised what a quick read it is. But these can be positive things which recommend the book for an audience of a certain age. The theme of love conquering the darkness may not be presented with much nuance or sophistication, but sometimes the obvious is what children (and often adults) need.

What I do find profound is L’Engle’s presentation of what Evil is. She could have shown a society torn by war. That, indeed, can result from Evil. She could have portrayed a world perverted by greed and vice. But she chose to show a world which is profoundly compliant ? everyone doing exactly what they are “supposed to do” ? to an extreme. It is the perfect?Camazotz?a word I take to be a play on King Arthur’s Camelot. A world where all strife and differences are being eliminated. How could that be so bad?

Meg, the young protagonist, has an epiphany after she, in order to resist IT, recites the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, including the words, “all men are created equal.”

As she cried out the words she felt a mind moving in on her own, felt IT seizing, squeezing her brain. Then she realized that Charles Wallace was speaking, or being spoken through by IT. ?But that?s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.? For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. ?No!? she cried triumphantly. ?Like and equal are not the same thing at all!? [L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet Book 1) (pp. 153-154). Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR). Kindle Edition.]

God created us equal, but He didn’t create us all alike. He relishes diversity. Just look at his creation around you! The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Don?t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. [Romans 12: 2 J.B. Phillips New Testament]

The method of governments, and often religion, is to put outward pressure on us to get us to conform. To all be the same ? to all be alike. God wants to change our hearts from the inside, recognizing the diverse way He has made us, conquering the darkness ? not by intimidation and fear, but through love. Let that wrinkle your theology a bit. (Please. Let it.)

The main complaint by conservative Christians through the years, however, has been the assertion L’Engle’s work promotes relativism. Because Jesus and Buddha are mentioned in the same passage as those who fought “the darkness,” many critics have gotten bent out of shape. It reminds me somewhat of the controversy over Ben Barnes’ statements during an interview in 2010. Barnes (who portrayed Prince Caspian in the second and third Narnia movies) was misrepresented by?Britain?s MailOnline as saying Aslan “is also based on other religious leaders [besides Jesus Christ] such as Mohammed and Buddha.” What he actually said in that interview has been recorded elsewhere, including a report I did for HJ’s Narnia News:

Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises?for me?Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That?s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids ? that?s what he means?for me. [Emphasis added. …]

Barnes knew where C.S. Lewis got the idea for Aslan. He was merely stating his own personal reflections. We Christians, especially those of us who write on such websites as Screenfish.net, often appropriate Christian ideas from films which the writers and producers did not intend. I obviously don’t have a problem with that, and I’m just as willing to let those of other faiths do the same with materials that have a Christian bent.

After discussing the “Emeth passage” from the last book of the Narnia series, I concluded Lewis was not a universalist, but that he would not deprecate an honest seeker who disagreed with him. “I don?t think that Lewis would be shattered because Neeson sees Mohammed and Buddha in Aslan. If Neeson finds other spiritual leaders besides Christ in Aslan, then perhaps it is because he sees something of Christ in them and someday will find what he is truly seeking.” (See my December 2010 article here.)

Barnes may well believe in relativism, but our hope should ever be the truth proclaimed, by however flawed the messenger, would be sifted by the Holy Spirit, eventually leading him to Him who is the Truth. But what about L’Engle? What did she mean by including Buddha and others in a list beginning with Jesus? Let’s try to understand by looking at the passage where this is found.

?And we?re not alone, you know, children,? came Mrs Whatsit, the comforter. ?All through the universe it?s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it?s a grand and exciting battle. I know it?s hard for you to understand about size, how there?s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won?t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it?s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it?s done so well.? ?Who have our fighters been?? Calvin asked. ?Oh, you must know them, dear,? Mrs Whatsit said. Mrs Who?s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, ?And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.? ?Jesus!? Charles Wallace said. ?Why of course, Jesus!? ?Of course!? Mrs Whatsit said. ?Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They?ve been lights for us to see by.?
?Leonardo da Vinci?? Calvin suggested tentatively. ?And Michelangelo?? ?And Shakespeare,? Charles Wallace called out, ?and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!? Now Calvin?s voice rang with confidence. ?And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!? ?Now you, Meg,? Mrs Whatsit ordered. ?Oh, Euclid, I suppose. …And Copernicus.” [L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet Book 1) (pp. 84-85). Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR). Kindle Edition.]

It is often said, “All truth is God’s truth.” This is not a relativistic statement that anything claiming to be the truth is just as valid as any other claim. It is the belief that whenever anything is found to be true, it is true because God has made it to be true. This has ever been affirmed throughout Christianity as early as Augustine, who said, “…let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master?? [On Christian Doctrine, II.18] It is evident from the passage above this is one point the author was trying to make. Light is not only shed by religious leaders, but through science. God has used the enlightenment of science to bring us out of many dark places. Until very recently in modern history, scientific advancement was generally, with few exceptions, promoted by the Church.

With the exception of?Gandhi and Buddha, the entire list of people mentioned as fighting the darkness are either scientists,* Christian ministers, or artists. Certainly the arts have moved many with a vision of beauty and the glory of God. And Gandhi and Buddha’s ideas certainly have brought a measure of enlightenment to their followers. No one mentioned ? with the exception of Jesus ? was perfect. But neither were Meg and Calvin and Charles. Yet they were enlisted in the fight.

And so are we.

Perhaps it is high time we learned to fight the darkness with love instead of fighting those we do not think are worthy of joining the fight.

Now John answered and said, ?Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.??But Jesus said to him,??Do not forbid?him,?for he who is not against us?is on our side.?
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,?and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.?But they did not receive Him, because His face was?set?for the journey to Jerusalem.?And when His disciples James and John saw?this,?they said, ?Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did???But He turned and rebuked them,?and said,??You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.?
For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men?s lives but to save?them.? [Luke 9:49-55 NKJV]

*If A Wrinkle in Time were being written today, I am sure the list would include Stephen Hawking, who died yesterday. Whatever else you may think of him, he indeed added light to our understanding of the universe. You may be interested in a piece I wrote in 2009 about his A Brief History of Time. You can read it here.

2 thoughts on “A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L?Engle’s Wrinkled Theology

  1. “Camazotz” literally means “death bat”; it’s the name of a Mayan bat god associated with night, death, and sacrifice. I think she probably picked it because it sounds evil and cool.

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