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A Note from Our Editor: Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince

Effective evangelism and apologetics requires our following the Pauline principle of “becoming all things to all people, that by all means some might be saved”—“a Jew to the Jew and a Greek to the Greeks.” To the great surprise of not a few evangelicals, this entails wide reading, and not just of overtly Christian literature. True, we applaud John Wesley for being “a man of one Book,” the Scriptures; but (1) he was, as a matter of fact, an Oxford graduate and did not limit his reading to the Bible, and (2) in our (much more secular) era we are not going to capture the attention and interest of the unbeliever if we can only quote and discuss the Book of Deuteronomy. I have tried to make this point in my work, Myth, Allegory and Gospel—particularly in the introductory essay—and I have provided a concrete illustration of the value of such an approach in my apologetic handling of Sherlock Holmes: The Transcendent Holmes (www.ciltpp.com).

A recent theatrical experience has offered still another example. Currently at the Casino de Paris, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince is being presented as a musical. Though in French (obviously), it is universally moving, not least because the children’s book on which it is based has been translated into so many languages. (For the production’s website, go to www.lepetitprince.com; the music is available for purchase as a CD.)

Saint-Exupéry was both an aviator and a writer. His adult works draw on his flying experience (Night Flight, etc.) and he died in a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944. His most famous literary work is surely Le Petit Prince, written and charmingly illustrated by the author in New York in l942. Like Alice in Wonderland, the book operates on two levels, speaking to an audience both of children and of adults. Saint-Exupéry did not consciously write as a Christian believer, but there are touching Christian references in the book, such as his recollection, toward the end of the work, of “the lights of the Christmas tree and the music of the Midnight Mass.” But, like so many sensitive writers who touch the heart of the human condition, he offers a theological bridge to the unbelieving world whether or not he was conscious of doing so. After all, we are told that prophets of the Old Testament were not necessarily aware of the deeper meaning of what they were writing . . .

Le Petit Prince has a very simple plot: an aviator crash lands in a desert and whilst endeavouring to repair his aircraft he is met by a child—the Little Prince—who comes from another world. The Little Prince has visited six planets and now has arrived on earth. His interest is in taking care of his roses, and he sees this as his personal responsibility (the ecological theme fits our time even more than it did when the book was originally written). In the Little Prince’s contact with the aviator, the latter is brought to a degree of self-understanding which he did not possess before.[1]

The worlds visited by the Little Prince represent the most telling temptations present on ours. Here are a few of them: The world of the absolute and universal ruler. This dictator asserts that even the stars obey him, since he “will not tolerate disobedience.” The reason, however, that his orders are always obeyed is simply that he never orders anything unreasonable: he only orders the sun to go down when evening is coming on! He is willing to make the Little Prince his minister of justice—but he has no subjects. On leaving that planet, the Prince reflects (as he will on leaving all the others): “Adults are surely a strange lot—really bizarre!”

The world of the man of vanity: All that this inhabitant wants is to be known, honoured, and applauded (without any basis for it). The world of the drinker: He drinks to forget—and why? “To forget that I am ashamed of my drinking.” The world of the businessman: He “possesses” the stars (the absolute ruler only “rules” over them!); the businessman counts them with incredible precision and they make him “rich”—indeed, he would buy more of them if he could find them. The world of the geographer: He is the epitome of abstract bookishness: like certain scholars and professional philosophers of our world, he refuses to investigate anything personally and establishes absurd standards of proof for those who actually do the investigating: “If, for example, it is a question of the discovery of a great mountain, the discover must provide us with large rocks from it.” And he refuses to take note of flowers, such as the Little Prince’s roses, in the gigantic tomes he writes, since they are merely “ephemeral” and he only bothers with “eternal things.” One is reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s comment, in his perceptive study of Robert Browning (over against the neo-Hegelian philosophical tradition), that the flower is not a trivial symbol of the universe; rather the universe might better be described as a symbol of the flower.

The Geographer

The aviator—representing the “ephemeral” human race—is brought to a far deeper appreciation of the human condition by his contact with the Little Prince who comes from elsewhere. “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” “A little child shall lead them . . . “ Le Petit Prince is a transcendent figure who reveals what the aviator did not see because of his limited perspective and human frailty. In this respect, Saint-Exupéry recognised the fundamental truth espoused by Plato, Rousseau, and Wittgenstein that ultimate truths can only derive from a realm beyond ours. Without a revelation, we engage in our absurdities and never realise that they are such. How badly we need the perspective of Someone from Elsewhere! As Saint-Exupéry touchingly puts it in his epilogue: “If a golden-haired, laughing child comes to you, you will know that it is he. Then be kind: don’t let me continue in my misery. Write me that instant to let me know that he has come back.” The Little Prince, to be sure, is a Christ-figure; and we can only respond by praying—and assisting our broken society to see the need to pray—“Even so come, Lord Jesus.”

* * *

Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, one of the most distinguished contemporary German evangelical theologians, graces this issue of the Global Journal with his essay, “National Socialism As Religion,” showing by way of numerous primary-source documents translated for the first time into English how atheistic Nazism endeavoured to substitute a secular religion for historic Christian faith. The lesson is clear: every nation has its theology—explicit or implicit—and the pagan varieties are appalling dangerous for human rights and civilised existence. This point was, interestingly, admitted by atheist Patrick West in a recent article titled, “Religion Does Not Cause Wars. People Do,” appearing in the London Times (10 April 2004). Writes West: “Let us not forget that the anti-Christian creed of French revolutionaries resulted in unprecedented carnage in the 19th century. More horrifically, two aggressively atheist ideologies of the 20th century were responsible for the deaths of some 80 million people.”

The present issue of the Global Journal also features an essay by Prof. Dr Robert Culver, Dr Montgomery’s colleague in years past at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr Culver’s paper deals with perhaps the most central of all Christian doctrines, the Atonement, and studies that doctrine in the history of the church prior to St Anselm of Canterbury, who gave us a systematic treatment of the substitutionary understanding of Christ’s death in his classic, Cur Deus Homo.

If that were not enough, Toby Travis of Faith Studies International (www.faithstudies.org) analyses vexed aspects of occultism and satanism in an essay appropriately entitled, “Whom Shall We Fear?” Lastly, Analee Dunn, doctoral candidate in religious studies, treats in depth “Gambling and the 10th Commandment”—a topic of great current importance in light of the world-wide increase in casinos and the expansion of the gambling industry in general.

-- John Warwick Montgomery

ENDNOTES

[1] French readers will want to consult Paul Meunier, La philosophie du Petit Prince, ou le retour à l’essentiel (Outremont, Québec, Canada: Editions Carte Blanche, 2003).

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