Saturday, September 29, 2007

The dogma is the drama

Dorothy L. Sayers became famous as a writer of mysteries and her Peter Wimsey books have never been out of print since they were first published in the 1920s and '30s. She was also one of those "Oxford Christians" who became especially well-known in the United States right after World War II. Not an Inkling [she was the wrong gender], she was nevertheless a close friend of many in the group and, like C.S. Lewis, she used her knowledge and ability in defense of the faith.

In 2005 Christianity Today interviewed Barbara Reynolds about Sayers. Sayers wrote a cycle of radio plays, The Man Born to Be King about the life of Christ, and before they were broadcast they were already controversial. Her response was characteristic of both her personality and her distinctly unsentimental approach to Christianity:
.... Before the play had even been produced, the press began reporting that Sayers had put "slang" in the mouths of the characters in a particular scene. There was an immediate response: Concerned Christians—never having heard the play itself—began a letter-writing campaign designed to pressure the BBC into toning down their writer's language. Some even went so far as to charge Sayers with blasphemy.

Sayers responded to this criticism in a letter to Dr. James Welch, the BBC's director of religious broadcasting, who had requested that she create the plays in the first place: "Nobody cares … nowadays that Christ was 'scourged, railed upon, buffeted, mocked and crucified,' because all those words have grown hypnotic with ecclesiastical use. But it does give people a slight shock to be shown that God was flogged, spat upon, called dirty names, slugged on the jaw, insulted with vulgar jokes, and spiked up on the gallows like an owl on a barn-door."

In her letter to Dr. Welch, Sayers confessed to being "frankly appalled at the idea of getting through the Trial and Crucifixion scenes with all the 'bad people' having to be bottled down to expressions which could not possibly offend anybody." The Roman soldiers, she insisted, "must behave like common soldiers hanging a common criminal, or where is the point of the Story?" I think this really exemplifies her deep conviction that we must be true to life both in our own artistic work and in our understanding of the Incarnation.
The interview is a good introduction to Sayers and can be found here.

Dorothy Sayers: "The Dogma Is the Drama" | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

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