“When you look at organized religion of whatever sort – whether it’s Christianity in all its variants, or whether it’s Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism – wherever you see organized religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It’s almost a universal law.” –Philip Pullman
I just finished reading the Philip Pullman trilogy called ‘His Dark Materials’. It included the books The Golden Compass (titled Nothern Lights originally in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. You may remember all the uproar a couple of years ago when The Golden Compass came out as a movie. I’d heard of the books but never read them so the movie sparked my interest. I did enjoy reading the books, somewhat from having my curiosity satisfied at exploring these controversial pieces of literature and partly from finding that Pullman is a good author.
Here’s the review that I wrote of the trilogy for my Facebook Visual Bookshelf:
A series worth reading if only to see what the hoopla is about. The characters are creative and clever but the message whispered behind the words is just a repackaging of pantheistic and anti-theistic sentiments. Mr. Pullman is obviously living in response to past hurts inflicted by Christians or the church, which many can empathize with and understand so I don’t fault him for that. But it left the book with the feeling of being reactive instead of proactive in any way and therefore weakened his underlying intentions of disparaging theism from an intellectual standpoint.
Instead, to me, the series served as a sad but appropriate and needed reminder that many of we Christians have been much less than accurate representatives of the loving, redeeming God that we claim to follow.
I know a lot of Christians were worried about the talk of killing God in the book but this was the very reason I wanted to read it. I wanted to hear what Pullman had to say with my own ears. And I came away with the feeling that he truly was out to stick it to Christianity in general and to Catholicism specifically. Through his characters, Pullman speaks against monasticism, church hierarchy, discipleship and discipline. Let me pause here and say that those things (and the church at large) do need railed against many times. We, as followers of Jesus, have often failed historically to show the mercy, grace and love of God. We’ve many times failed to act graciously and we have forced our will on others. I have to own up to those facts and move on to live with grace and love.
With those thoughts in my mind, I want to discuss just one point. You can read the books and write your own review if you want to discuss things more fully! Haha!
That one thing is this: that Pullman sets up an overarching juxtaposition of the Kingdom of Heaven versus the Republic of Heaven. He paints the church as a Kingdom ruled by force with an iron hand and little room for tolerance, love and grace. Hmmm… I think he may have us there. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Christians who think that ‘church’ is a bad thing and that we should speak hatefully of all churches. But we do need to face the fact that a generic glance at the history of Christianity makes the church look very forceful. Add to this the fact that individual Christians can be found everywhere that treat non-believers with contempt and its no surprise that Pullman has such a low view of Christianity.
So Pullman espouses the Republic of Heaven, where people must choose love and kindness and goodness. This point of the Republic of Heaven is really brought home at the end of the third book, the end of the trilogy. But the ironic thing to me is that Pullman’s description of creating Heaven where ever we are (and not just waiting patiently for Heaven in the future) is exactly what I think God asks of us; to be involved in social justice, feeding the hungry, loving the hurt and lifting the fallen. I think Jesus says that the Kingdom of God has begun and will continue into eternity. And that means that we’re to act as citizens of Heaven here and now and not just later.
How have we historically done so poorly that someone is able to make such valid points against Christianity with the very themes and ideas that should have been ruling our lives, attitudes, words and behaviors in the first place?
It makes me sad and determined. And I’m hopeful that all this means I have no where to go but up with many people who despise Christianity. God never asked us to force people to choose or obey Him, in the same way that He never forced any of us to choose Him. And God didn’t write me off all those years that I didn’t choose Him; He was patient. Why would I ever write anyone off and out-of-friendship with me just because they’ve chosen not to believe? And if they’ve chosen not to believe in God, then its unfair to expect them to behave according to what I believe. Here again, why would this then grant me the right to speak or act unkindly or unlovingly toward them or about them?
I’m not saying that I don’t believe strongly and unswervingly in theism, in Jesus as God’s son and Jehovah God. I believe all of those things naturally, transcendentally and theologically. And I believe I’m supposed to help reveal those things to other people in a way that begs them to believe in God also. But its not through force. Never through force; not the force of my opinion, judgements, disdain or self-righteousness. Its through choice; my choice of patience and love and hopefully their choice to ask me more about what makes me so gracious in my lifting the fallen and healing the hurt. And when they ask, I’ll say Jesus.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a Kingdom with God as King. But it’s a Kingdom where the subjects of the King have been asked to invite people in, not force people in and not to hate those who choose not to come in.
I started reading this trilogy to see why people were so mad at Philip Pullman and I ended up feeling a very urgent need to apologize to Mr. Pullman.