Phillip Pullman’s religion: a militant and slightly mystical atheism
As far back as June, 2002, Christianity Today wrote:
Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials has won a lot of awards in the past few years (including the coveted Whitbread Prize). And its readership is growing. Booksellers have caught on a little late, and are promoting it vigorously now. It tells the story of a little girl who lives in an alternate-reality Oxford. Lyra is a compulsive liar, and her lies entangle her in the wicked doings of the grownups at the college. The grownups are persecuting children, stripping them of their imaginations, which they then use to power engines of war in an attack against God. But as the trilogy continues, our sympathies are changed, and we end up rooting for the God-killers.
While some Christians have gone ballistic with protests because they suspect a hidden occultic message in Harry Potter, there has been almost zero conversation about these books, which have an agenda that is anything but hidden. Pullman regularly admits, even boasts, that his series is a blatant, calculated attack on Christianity. He also declares that he wrote it to counteract the influence of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. (He claims Lewis’s fantasy series promotes racism and is degrading to women.) And, yes, Pullman’s alternative fantasy is written for children.
This week, Gene Edward Veith (World) cautions us about this new fantasy series. He writes, “Mr. Pullman’s real objection to Lewis’s children’s books is that they are ‘propaganda in the cause of the religion he believed in.’ That is, that they are Christian. It is true that Lewis intended his stories to teach children Christianity, although they surely are more than mere ‘propaganda.’ The irony is that Mr. Pullman’s children’s stories really are propaganda for his religion, namely, a militant and slightly mystical atheism.”
Why bring up this brewing controversy here at Film Forum? You’ve probably already guessed: the movie adaptations are already headed into production (the first is The Golden Compass). Soon, a weak and wimpy God will be overthrown at a theater near you. The hero and heroine will go to the Garden of Eden, and eating the apple will be their triumph. And all the while, kids will watch wide-eyed.
Having been drawn in and enthralled by the first volume, I was wounded by the way the story turned mean-spirited and malicious, confusing the church’s historical missteps with the love of Jesus Christ and condemning both. By the conclusion of the trilogy, characterization, subtlety, humor, and whimsy have all been left by the wayside so that Pullman can preach his own anti-gospel. That’s not art. In the end, Pullman is clearly guilty of the very accusations he hurls at Lewis—propagandizing and prejudice. Christians likely will not be the only ones to see this rather obvious point.
– Source: Jeffrey Overstreet, His Dark Materials, Film Forum at Christianity Today, June 20, 2002
On the other hand, one finds the occasional supportive note:
Philip Pullman’s fantasy novels, which have been branded anti-Christian propaganda by some critics, should form part of religious education in schools, the Archbishop of Canterbury has told Tony Blair.
The Whitbread prize-winning novelist’s trilogy His Dark Materials, which has been successfully adapted for the stage, has been denounced as atheism’s answer to C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia books.
But Dr Rowan Williams told a Downing Street seminar of theologians and academics hosted by Mr Blair that Pullman’s novels could help to address the “inadequacies” of some religious education courses which only taught pupils about religious festivals.
– Source: Williams backs Pullman, Telegraph, Mar. 10, 2004
As so often, Rowan Williams — who presides over the controversy-mired Anglican Communion — is in the minority.
His Dark Materials: not “pure fantasy” but “stark reality”
Pullman is not shy about his spiritual views. He announces: “I’m an atheist. There is no God here. There never was.” He is “all for the death of God” and attributes his writing success to “pigheaded self-belief, undamaged by the facts, that’s what you need.” While Pullman writes in the genre of C.S. Lewis, he despises Lewis intensely, not for lack of talent but for his Christian faith and biblical morality. Pullman once panned the Narnia books as “a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice,” and, when Disney produced “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” he said, “If the Disney corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they’ll just have to tell lies about it.”
Pullman claims his trilogy for children — composed of “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” — is not “pure fantasy.” Rather, he says the story is about “stark reality,” meaning he uses fantasy as a mechanism for teaching children something “real,” something about the way things are in “real life.” Thus the author of “The Golden Compass” and its companion volumes has already told the world they are specifically crafted to get children to accept what he thinks and believes they should think and believe about the real world, the real church and the God that Christians really do trust and worship.
– Source: Daniel R. Heimbach, The sweet deception of ‘Compass’, Baptist Press, Dec. 6, 2007
Pullman’s attack on biblical Christianity is direct and undeniable.
This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project. Philip Pullman has an agenda — an agenda about as subtle as an army tank. His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church. His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear. He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.
The great enemy of humanity in the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (together known as His Dark Materials ) is the Christian church, identified as the evil Magisterium. The Magisterium, representing church authority, is afraid of human freedom and seeks to repress human sexuality.
The Magisterium uses the biblical narrative of the Fall and the doctrine of original sin to repress humanity. It is both violent and vile and it will stop at nothing to protect its own interests and to preserve its power.
Pullman’s attack on biblical Christianity is direct and undeniable. He once questioned why his books attracted little controversy even as the Harry Potter books attracted so much. He told an Australian newspaper that what he is “saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”
– Source: The Golden Compass — A Briefing for Concerned Christians by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.