Wednesday, January 02, 2008

His Dark Materials

Well I have finished reading the trilogy His Dark Materials. I have also read several transcripts of interviews and one e-mail interview with Philip Pullman and have included links to some so that you can read them, too. In my last post (about The Golden Compass), one reader commented about Pullman saying in a television interview that he writes books with the sole purpose of destroying God in the minds of children. I've not seen this and it is not the attitude that is portrayed in the interviews that I have read. If that reader heard it first hand, I'll accept it as a true testimony and would expect to hear from him again (perhaps with a link to the source). If it was something in an forwarded e-mail (I received several of those myself), then it is just hearsay and I dismiss it as such.

As for the book(s):

It is really hard not to read the entire trilogy. It really reads like one book, not three. Each of the first two books could have the line "to be continued" at the end and only the first book (Golden Compass) could stand alone but with an unresolved ending. The Subtle Knife or The Amber Spyglass would be very difficult to understand without have read the other books in sequence.

The trilogy is a work of literature worthy of being read. Personally, I am not typically drawn to this type of reading but was drawn into the story as a well written story tends to do to its readers. Over all, the story shares a wide variety of beliefs about the afterlife. It does share the author's values on what he believes are good (love, kindness, courage, self-sacrifice, etc.) and evil (tyranny, greed, corruption, lying, etc.) characteristics of mankind.

Contrary to what I was told to expect, the author doesn't "kill" God in the third book. The Authority dies. If you want to accept that the Authority of the trilogy is God, then God dies. However, the Authority in the book does not meet with the definition of my God. I have to understand that this is a work of fiction and the author has the right to define his characters as he chooses. In his story, there are many different worlds that are all connected through "Dust."
Dust comes to a life when a child reaches puberty or perhaps the author's way of saying they reach an age of accountability. The characters in the story have souls in the worlds of the living and are separated from their souls in the world of the dead. There are many worlds among the living, only one world of the dead.

The book has angels, witches, ghosts, specters, daemons, talking bears and creatures from other worlds and times. Although the story certainly reflects the authors beliefs, I don't think that it in any way is designed to cause anyone to stop believing in God any more than Alice in Wonderland would cause us to believe in giant rabbits.

It is understandable that the "Church" would take exception to his portrayal of the "Church" in his books. On one hand, I think that it is more a portrayal of the Catholic Church than of Christianity in general. On the other hand, I think that we all need to be aware of how we may be perceived by those that have different beliefs than ours. The call for boycotts and bans on this book/movie as well as others is exactly what is portrayed in the story...having the "Church" think for the individuals and allowing the "Church" to decide for each individual what is right and wrong and how we should behave. When religion becomes political and controlling of its followers, it becomes dangerous as well.

We should each make our decisions based on what we believe to be the right thing to do according to the values that we live by. For Christians, that should be based on the teachings of Jesus. Many are more than willing to allow others (that they feel they can trust or think they know better) make decisions for them. Personally, I enjoy the power of deciding for myself. I hope that you do, too. (A caution here--in the Book of Judges, the Israelites spent several centuries in and out of the will of God because each man did what was right in his own eyes.)

I find it interesting that the books were written quite some time ago(last one in 2000) and yet the controversy is only beginning now...perhaps because of the movie. It would seem that the Harry Potter books took all of the spotlight and controversy and Pullman slipped quietly under the righteous radar.

If you're interested in any of the interviews, you can do Google search like I did. Here are links to a few of the interviews that I read:

An e-mail interview with a writer from BC Christian News
MSNBC Questions and Answers
Humanist Network News (HNN) Interview
Video clips from Beliefnet

In the end, I don't think that Philip Pullman is an evil man. In fact, he is most likely a good man by any social standard. I do resent that it seems he feels that believers are less intelligent than non-believers. (Although I know that many believers feel the same way about non-believers.) Perhaps it's just a matter of having examined the same evidence and coming up with different conclusions.

I think that as Christians we would serve God better if we would stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and pointing fingers at what is wrong with others beliefs and start pointing them to the Cross and to Jesus. Islam is growing in America. Mormonism is growing in America. Buddhism is growing in America. New Age beliefs are growing in America. We can sit on our self-righteous butts and point our fingers at them and talk bad about them, or we can share the love of Jesus. Sometimes we sound like a bunch of political candidates engaged in mudslinging campaigns. It's as if there isn't enough good to say about our own beliefs so we have to trash everybody else's.

I don't think that my God needs me to defend Him. He is God. And unlike the Authority of the Pullman trilogy, God will survive eternally...with or without my help. My job then is to glorify God, to live according to His commands and to teach others what He has commanded. He does not need me to help Him judge others or condemn others. He only asks that I help teach others.

If fantasy is your thing, then go enjoy the movie. If you would rather read the book, feel free to do so. If your afraid of Pullman getting your money, check it out from the library. I don't think that you'll come away doubting what you've always believed in because of what you've read or seen. Whatever your beliefs might be, I would hope that they are strong enough to withstand a bit of debate or at least some thought provoking discussion.

Well it's time to get back to my regular reading.

John

6 comments:

Rich said...

Bravo, John! One of your comments really sparked my interest:


The call for boycotts and bans on this book/movie as well as others is exactly what is portrayed in the story...having the "Church" think for the individuals and allowing the "Church" to decide for each individual what is right and wrong and how we should behave.


VERY good point... methinks that we all would do well to think on these things.


See ya tomorrow,
Rich

zero_zero_one said...

A thoughtful and well put post on His Dark Materials.

Personally I enjoyed the trilogy but thought that somewhere in the third book Pullman was letting his own beliefs and opinions swamp the story in a way.

Patrick H said...

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html

That is the link to the 2003 article where Pullman states "my books are about killing God."

A person who is strong in their faith can take something like these books/movies as a work of fiction and not be shaken by whatever blasphemy is rendered. A person who is strong in their faith can study these elements and use it to educate their fellow believers. Many can even use it's material to engage agnostics and atheists.

Remember that it is not just YOUR faith that is at stake, it is the faith of those that see you as well. Paul writes that "Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial" (1Cor 6:12) and he goes on to write "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1Cor 8:9) Perhaps I can go to Hooters and enjoy a basket of wings without being tempted to lust after the waitresses, but what about my son? (Okay, lets be honest, my son is not the reason I don't go to Hooters) Perhaps I can go to a buffet and not over eat, but what about the person I'm with that is trying to lose weight?

I'm not trying to come off as high and mighty or condemning of someone who reads the books or watches the movies. On the contrary, I admire people like John who can take these things and 1) have it not affect their beliefs and 2) use the the "world views" and heresies to engage non-believers.

John, I agree that we would serve God better by allowing the Light of Christ to shine through us than by pointing and scoffing at trivial things like the entertainment industry. As Christians we need to be showing the love of Christ.

I once had a Brother in Christ ask me if I believed that the rapture would come pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation or if I believed in the rapture at all. I said, "I'm still trying to figure out how to love my neighbor."

John said...

To Patrick:
Thanks for the link. Unlike your previous comment, this is not a television interview and I believe Pullman is commenting on the difference between his books and the Potter series and how he received no critism even though his books went much farther in offending the religious community. His stating that His books are about killing God is also quite different than your stating "he writes books with the sole purpose of destroying God in the minds of children."

In the series, God is not killed. God doesn't die. In his series THERE IS NO GOD. Any half-wit reading these books would recognize that they are so far removed from reality that they could not shape somebody's faith in any way. A person doesn't see Lord of the Rings and all of a sudden believe in Hobbits or watch The Clash of the Titans and believe that Medussa really lived and could turn a man to stone with a glance. It is, without question, a work of fiction!

For all of the hype, I think that many more were made curious by the controversy and decided to go see the movie than were persuaded not to go see it.

Too often I find that the Christian media is a part of promoting hate and divisiveness in our society and I'm embarrassed by it and fed up with it. They promote a brand of mindless following that would have outsiders believing that soon we'll all be drinking kool-aid or waiting for our mothership to whisk us off to another world.

We are quick to denounce radical Muslims for their killing of infidels and slow to remember the Crusades and the Inquisition when the Christians did the same. While we would condemn other beliefs for the taking of lives (physically), we are judging and condemning others and passing sentence on them (spiritually).

"Causing others to stumble?" How about turning them off to God by being arrogant, self-righteous buttheads? Why must we feel that the only way to reach others is by pointing out the evils in their lives? The only times that Jesus pointed to sin was when He was speaking to the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees. The rest of the time He talked of the Father's love, mercy and grace and of His desire and our need for a relationship with Him and how should live our lives.

I don't believe that "Christian" leadership is at all interested in a world that is going to hell. I think that they are more interested in grabbing political power and controlling the lives of its followers. They are too much like the "Church" of Pullman's trilogy.

Maybe you're right...there is probably a lot more truth to his works than I care to admit.

Random Magus said...

Belated Happy New Year. May the year be blessed!

Patrick H said...

Okay, so we'll agree to disagree on the Pullman books. No big deal. I still love you. I do have to disagree with you on a couple of points on your last comment.

"We are quick to denounce radical Muslims for their killing of infidels and slow to remember the Crusades and the Inquisition when the Christians did the same. While we would condemn other beliefs for the taking of lives (physically), we are judging and condemning others and passing sentence on them (spiritually)."

It wasn't right when the so-called Christians did it, but I wasn't around to denounce it. That doesn't mean that we should be silent when people are being beheaded in the name of Allah. Yeah, when Falwell said that 9/11 was God's judgment on a sinful nation he probably did more to drive people away from Christ than bring them to him. But I also have yet to hear any of my pastors say that someone is going to burn in hell for being homosexual or for having an abortion.

""Causing others to stumble?" How about turning them off to God by being arrogant, self-righteous buttheads? Why must we feel that the only way to reach others is by pointing out the evils in their lives?"

I'm not talking about pointing at sin in other's lives. I'm talking about avoiding it in my own so that someone doesn't see me do something and think that it's okay.

"The only times that Jesus pointed to sin was when He was speaking to the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees. The rest of the time He talked of the Father's love, mercy and grace and of His desire and our need for a relationship with Him and how should live our lives."

The Sermon on the Mount was full of instances where he was calling sin "sin" and he wasn't talking to pharisees; the woman at the well; the rich young ruler; he even called his best friend (Peter) satan! He exposed sin for what it was but he did so in "love, mercy, and grace and of His desire and our need for a relationship with Him and how should live our lives."

No, most Christians don't have the tact that Jesus did for exposing sin in such a way that would show people their need for him. Many are simply content with just exposing sin. Many Christians need to remove the plank from their own eyes first.

My previous statements were not intended to be judgmental of anyone who reads the books or watches the movies. Only to state why I am not partaking. I don't know if it's right or wrong for the church to make condemning statements about Rowling, Brown, or Pullman's books. It's not my call to make. You're right. The books are too trivial to get upset about. Homelessness, hunger, poverty, infirmity, those are things that we should be addressing as Christians.

I do know that it is possible to expose sin in such a way as to show the love of Christ and not drive them away. I know because Jesus did. The rich young ruler walked away after Jesus told him that he had to sell all of his posessions, but we don't know what happened to him after that. If he's like me, it may have taken a while to sink in before he came to repentance.

Sorry for the disjunct line of thought. I think my mind is working faster than I can type. At any rate, I think we're taking different roads to the same destination.