With impeccable timing, increasingly-eccentric Defence Minister Christopher Pyne this week leapt out of some bizarre theological closet to declare that his devotion to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull goes far beyond the normal political loyalty to one’s factional boss and more resembles the devout worshipping of a Messianic, Christ-like figure.
In other words, Malcolm Turnbull is akin to Jesus Christ. A touch of hyperbole (or ‘hyperbowl’ as Julia Gillard used to say)? Not at all.
‘Malcolm is Aslan to me’, proclaimed the Defence Minister, in a peculiar article in the Sydney Morning Herald published on the very day that a) his new boss, Scott Morrison, finally stepped up and started behaving and speaking like the conservative prime minister many have been longing to embrace and b) Mr Pyne’s and Mr Turnbull’s ludicrous French submarine contract – designed to give us lawnmower-engine subs sometime later this century – was back in the news; thereby providing, intentionally or otherwise, plenty of media distraction from both those events.
Mr Pyne’s plaintive cry that ‘Malcolm is Aslan to me,’ refers, of course, to the lion king made famous in C. S. Lewis’s seven books that comprise The Chronicles of Narnia, published in the 1950s and read by every self-respecting and upstanding schoolkid throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
For those not familiar with the delights and perils of the fictitious world of Narnia, Aslan is the Christ-like son of its God as well as the Creator of its Earth. Yet despite his omnipotence, Aslan is betrayed by a traitor close to him and is sacrificed to the White Witch who humiliates and then executes him. But then, thanks to the healing power of love and prayer, Aslan comes roaring (literally) back to life. If that ‘love-triumphing-over-death’ scenario sounds familiar, it’s because C. S. Lewis, a passionate Christian proselytiser, intended it to.
In ‘Thinking About Aslan and Jesus with C. S. Lewis’, author Louis Markos writes: ‘In Aslan, we experience all the mighty paradoxes of the incarnate Son: he is powerful yet gentle, filled with righteous anger yet rich with compassion; he inspires awe and even terror (for he is not a tame lion), yet he is as beautiful as he is good.’
Enviable qualities that, apparently, Mr Pyne sees in the former prime minister, as no doubt do Mr Turnbull’s ever-dwindling band of adoring disciples – from fashionista and former foreign minister Julie Bishop to treacherous crossbencher Julia Banks and uninspiring backbencher Craig Laundy.
(Interestingly, Aslan was so powerful he was able to successfully tackle Narnia’s decades-old problem of what we would now call ‘catastrophic climate change’ or even perhaps ‘global cooling’ simply by exhaling his hot leonine breath across the frozen Narnian wastelands!)
Markos goes on to suggest that ‘Aslan allows us to reintegrate – not just intellectually and theologically, but emotionally and viscerally as well – the two sides of the triune God [what he calls the ‘meek’ Jesus and the ‘angry’ Yahweh] who calls out to us on every page of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this duality between awe-inspiring charisma and snarling aggression are traits often referred to in anecdotes from the denizens of Double Bay about their former local federal member.
Mr Pyne best evokes his sense of sublime adoration of Mr Turnbull/Aslan when he confesses to ‘crying all the way home’ (pining for him, perhaps?) after Mr Turnbull was voted out of the leadership by his colleagues last August after calling a spill on himself when his ‘legacy’ policy of the National Energy Guarantee fell in an unworkable heap. (Intriguingly, Aslan voluntarily went to his own demise, too, handing himself over to the forces of evil without complaint, despite an inconsolable Lucy – yep, Lucy – bawling her eyes out and pleading with him not to go).
Expanding on Mr Turnbull/Aslan’s many admirable qualities, the Defence Minister goes on to excitedly describe him as ‘urbane, highly intellectual, successful, broad, visionary, clever, articulate, funny and charming’. Although, oddly for a Liberal prime minister, neither ‘great political judgment’ nor ‘strong convictions’ make it onto Mr Pyne’s list of key Turnbull attributes. (Another unsettling coincidence: Mr Pyne once bragged of being ‘in the winner’s circle’. Aslan, fans will no doubt recall, was butchered to death on a Stone Table surrounded by a gloating winner’s circle of hobgoblins – ‘horrible creatures from the darkest realms of the imagination’, according to C. S. Lewis.)
Tyler Kenney, in ‘C. S. Lewis on Loving Aslan More Than Jesus’, tells this story: (Substituting the word Christopher for Laurence is both entertaining and illuminating.) ‘A concerned mother once wrote to C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.
‘In his response, Lewis offered this relief: Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus… for the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus.’
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