I was at the Waffle House the other day with Father Thomas McKenzie (you may know him from the One Minute Review). Thomas had recently read The Wizard of Oz--something I've never actually done. I've seen the movie more times than I care to remember; that's the only Wizard of Oz I've ever known, so I should say up-front that my opinions aren't as well-informed as they might be. But even poorly informed opinions can be dearly held. Thomas thinks very highly of The Wizard of Oz. Its characters, he says, have been damaged and diminished by the stories the world has told about them. The reader sees how false those stories are long before the characters do. We see the Cowardly Lion act out of bravery again and again. The Scarecrow believes himself to be stupid, but his wisdom and ingenuity pull the travelers through one scrape after another.
The Wizard tells the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man the truth about themselves, and in so doing he sets them free from the falsehoods that had enslaved them.
Thomas made a pretty convincing case for his reading of the book. But I've always taken a different position. I've always read The Wizard of Oz as a story that opposes the gospel. I've always seen its as being about the need to realize that we have within us everything we need to save ourselves. We need a little help from our friends, for sure, but we don't need Transcendence. The Wizard of Oz, as it turned out, wasn't any more qualified than anyone else to transform the lives of these people who so desperately needed transformation. It did the travelers some good to believe that there was a powerful Wizard who could hemp them. It kept them going down the road. But what really helped them was realizing that they didn't need to rely on any Wizard--indeed, couldn't rely on the Wizard, who was working an angle of his own.
What has so troubled me about The Wizard of Oz is the fact that it offers such a well-articulated and appealing substitute for the gospel. The gospel says we don't have it in us to rescue ourselves, that that God himself became our Rescuer. He didn't show us the way to deliver ourselves; he delivered us. And our faith isn't in faith, but in the God who is faithful.
If I didn't believe the gospel, I would think The Wizard of Oz was the best book ever. (Flying monkeys!)The story serves up self-determination as the gospel, and it's really quite inspiring. That, really, is my problem with it.
Lest I give the impression that I consider myself more spiritual or discerning than Father Thomas, I should point out the fact that our difference of opinion isn't a difference in our view of the gospel. It really comes down to the fact that Thomas doesn't see the Wizard as a stand-in for God, and I always have. If anything, Thomas says, the Wizard is a stand-in for the Government or the Treasury, or something. Then he goes into some business about the Gold Standard and the Yellow Brick Road, which I've heard before, but never made the effort to understand.
So, dear reader, what do you think about The Wizard of Oz? I have much faith in your ability to sort this thing out.