Mr. Rodgers and C.S. Lewis as Contemporary Christian Influences

I ran across an interesting book about Mr. Rodgers, “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rodgers” at my local store. It brought back to my remembrance how so many different contemporary figures are viewed or perceived as Christians by either those who subscribe to Christ’s teachings or those on the outside who are trying to categorize or compartmentalize individuals who preach conscientiousness and good morals. This book stood out at me because it used the implication of Fred Rodgers’ faith as a selling point. In this day of post-modern ideals of conscientiousness and positivity could Fred Rodgers be someone whose life was truly transformed by their belief in god, or was he just another individual who hid their true self behind the ideals of religion and spirituality?

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, is an article written by Wendy Murray Zoba, in which she uses the fact that he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church as “an evangelist to work with children and families through the mass media.” and that Rodgers studied theology with Dr. William S. Orr to support the argument for Rodgers’ use of television as an evangelical medium. She then goes to suggest that while his parents wanted him to be a minister he found a way to use television to tell others about his beliefs through childrens programming.

Anyone who grew up in the church can philosophize about the idea that, while their parents went on to pursue the ministry through traditional means, their life is a testament to how Christ is doing something new in these last days of the Church, and their lives show how you can serve god outside of those four walls. Take Denzel Washington whose father was a minister. This is what he had to say in an interview to Anne-Marie O’Neill, senior editor of People Magazine, in a show aired on CNN, “I was taking a semester off from school involuntarily. And I was sitting in my mother’s beauty shop, so I was looking in the mirror here and I could see this woman looking at me. She said that she was having a prophecy, which I probably didn’t even know what that meant at that time. But she just said to me that, you know, I was going to preach to millions of people, that I was going to travel the world and I’m going to have something very important to say to millions of people. Well, at the time, I was flunking out of college, so I was more interested in like, do you think I’ll be in — back at the school in the fall semester? Do you see anything there?” They move onto other topics but come back to the subject, much later, “For some reason, I kept the piece of paper. I still have it. And I always felt since that, you know, I do have a purpose and so I try to apply that to what I do, to stay humble. And you know, for years, I thought, well, am I supposed to go like become a preacher now in church. And life isn’t over. Maybe I will. I don’t know.” Think of all of the individuals in today’s society that are famous whose parents worked in the ministry; It is easy to see how the charisma and confidence that comes from having that conviction and belief in god carries over to those that surround you, and your own immediate family. In spite of the positive roles that Denzel plays on the big screen it isn’t his faith that you think of when his name comes to mind, in contrast, there are some key differences between Rodgers’ work and that of other self-proclaimed ministers who work in the secular environment, as opposed to working for CBN, TBN or some other entity. For one Rodgers did finish his theological training, something I doubt he would have done had the calling to preach the word, one way or another was not heavily upon his heart. Also, Rodgers took advantage of every opportunity to help others along the way, something that many Christians who are self-proclaimed fail to do, in spite of the fact that they want to be perceived as such.

Zoba concludes the article by weaving together ideas about a (television) programmer’s responsibilities to their audience with illustrations of how he found the perfect medium for which to pursue his calling in television, yet when she attempts to support her premise by printing Rodgers’ response to her asking him if the “Neighborhood” was indeed a metaphor for heaven she is ahead of herself as he did not answer the question directly, “‘We deal with a lot of gritty stuff on the Neighborhood -death, divorce, the need for childcare, separation,’ he says. ‘The Neighborhood is not a Pollyannish state. When I think about heaven, it is a state in which we are so greatly loved that there is no fear and doubt and disillusionment and anxiety. It is where people really do look at you with those eyes of Jesus.’ ” This example illuminates the difficulties in illustrating the synthesis between Christ’s preaching and good values, because while Rodgers stated that he was dealing with issues that impacted children by digressing to the mindset of a child he was not specifically suggesting that the Neighborhood was man’s incarnation of heaven here on earth, therefore the differences of opinion between those doing god’s work and those enamoured by the idea of someone doing it in a creative way.

In contrast to Fred Rodgers work in the media, C. S. Lewis was involved with literature that would have been of interest to any writer. While “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Silver Chair” dealt heavily in allegories that many believe help reinforce Christian values through examples of the trails that individuals go through on the road to salvation; “Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature”, and the autobiographical “Surprised by Joy” were rather serious “op-ed” and analytical works, as well as “The Screwtape Letters” (1942, rev. ed. 1961), which Yahoo Education describes as “an ironic treatment of the theme of salvation”. Lewis was able to deal with the darker side of those moral and ethical issues that face Christians in a different and unique way.

To summarize the careers of both Lewis and Rodgers, both actually lived the life and “put their money where there mouth is”, as far as Christianity was concerned. We may romanticize them as power ful figures and speakers on behalf the faith that did not succumb to the pleasures of this world; perceived in the same manner as Martin Luther King. The fear of not knowing who you are with respect of who you serve prevents you from sharing with others, the enthusiasm and conviction you once had in your god to begin with. It’s easy to look at the consequences of speaking on behalf of your beliefs because there are so many powerful figures in this society who have fallen, but without ever attempting to have done so in the first place, what do you really have? A life of being pushed around is not really one at all, if anything Lewis and Rodgers show us that we can find a way for our interests and calling to co-exist, but it is all dependent on exactly how we perceive that to tie into what god wants for us. Today the C. S. Lewis Foundation carries on the objectives of “enabling a genuine renaissance of Christian scholarship and artistic expression within the mainstream of the contemporary university”. This was once the objective of those involved in higher education here in the United States, particularly at Ivy League schools in New England, one which may well have been carried to America in it’s inception by those who not only wanted to practice their religion here, but felt that the society should be designed around those principles. That individuals today are still inspired by the efforts of the Church, Lewis, Rodgers and many other ambassadors of the faith is a testament to just how powerful Christianity continues to be in many lives today.

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