In a 2001 interview with the Washington Post, Philip Pullman, author of “The Golden Compass,” is quoted as saying, “I want to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”
But in more recent interviews Pullman has denied having an atheistic agenda or any kind of agenda at all. But methinks he doth protest too much.
Pullman spoke last month with Boston University Assistant Professor of Religion Donna Freitas, herself the author of a book that examines the spiritual and religious themes in Pullman’s work titled “Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman’s Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials” (Jossey-Bass, 2007). A Pullman sympathizer, Freitas asked Pullman about the perception that he has an agenda to sell atheism to kids, to which Philip Pullman responded:
My agenda is not to convert anyone to any particular point of view. My agenda is to make them feel, see, enjoy, delight in, be beguiled and amused by the story I tell, which is about two ordinary children in extraordinary circumstances. That’s my agenda. I’m telling a story. I’m a storyteller.
However, in that same interview he said something that gives a window into his agenda.
I think that the qualities that the book celebrates are those such as kindness and love and courage and courtesy, too, and intellectual curiosity, all these good things. And that the qualities that the book attacks are cold-heartedness, tyranny, closed-mindedness, cruelty, the things that we all agree are bad things.
What Mr. Pullman leaves out in this description of his books is the fact that the bad qualities he attacks are always assigned to characters related to Christianity, and the good qualities he celebrates are always assigned to those who wish to destroy the church. This plot device certainly reveals his agenda.
Pullman attempts to undermine the basis of Christian belief by redefining the key principles of the Christian faith in four broad areas:
1. Pullman preaches a postmodern view of truth, denying its absolute nature. He clearly denies that Truth is contained in or revealed by any sacred text, especially the Bible. Truth in Pullman’s world is relative to the circumstances in which you find yourself. His main character and heroine, Lyra, rarely tells the truth. Quite the contrary, Lyra accomplishes most all of her noble ends through deceitfulness. Pullman celebrates the lie over truth, placing the lie in a positive light throughout his trilogy.
2. Pullman creates a false god and presents him as the true God, going so far as to call this god by the names God gives Himself in the Bible. One of Pullman’s characters, the Angel Balthamos in “The Amber Spyglass” (book three of “His Dark Materials” trilogy) says of God: “The Authority, God, the Creator, Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty; those were all names He gave Himself. He was never the Creator. He was an angel like ourselves. The First Angel, true; the most powerful. But He was formed as Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.”
The God of the Bible, however, is presented to us as the Ancient of Days, without beginning or end, the source of all created things, condescending to His creation in the person of His Son in order to redeem it from the curse of sin by His substitutionary suffering and death.
3. Pullman presents the nature of man as ultimately pure and holy, celebrating the fall of man into sin as the beginning of man’s ultimate freedom from the tyranny of the “Authority” (namely, God). Throughout Pullman’s trilogy he celebrates what he calls “intellectual curiosity.” Those familiar with the Genesis account of the fall of man into sin recognize this “intellectual curiosity” as precisely what precipitated the fall in the first place.
Dr. Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College and a widely respected expert on C. S. Lewis, sees in Pullman’s work an extension of a Rousseauian world view. Dr. Jacobs points out that Pullman celebrates what Keat’s called “the holiness of the hearts affections,” a view of human nature as uncorrupted and incorruptible.
This view of human nature is in stark contrast to the one depicted in the word of God where we are told that the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” (Jeremiah 17:9) and “the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5) and that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adultery, murder, theft” (Matthew 15:19).
4. Pullman imagines the church, which he identifies in his books as “The Magisterium,” to be a despotic organization bent on suppressing and controlling the natural impulses of man.
As Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware point out in their analyses of Pullman’s work (“Shedding Light on His Dark Materials,” Regal, 2007), the true church is not an organization at all. It’s an organism, a body made up of redeemed humanity. The true church isn’t concerned with wielding political power or thought control. Bruner and Ware observe, “The church does not need to dominate or destroy its enemies. Rather than a gang of oppressors, it is a community of the oppressed: the scum of the earth, the ‘off scouring of all things’ (1 Corinthians 4:13), a collection of the ‘destitute, afflicted, tormented’ (Hebrews 11:37) who have found refuge in Jesus, the one and only Rock of their salvation.”
To succeed in undermining the basis of Christian belief Pullman would first have to recognize what that basis is. Pullman attacks a creed, a theological system and a church. But the foundation of Christian belief is none of these. It’s a person, Jesus Christ, whom the Apostle Peter describes as the “chief cornerstone.” This same cornerstone is “a stone of stumbling” to those who refuse to believe (1 Peter 2:6-8).
Pullman has stumbled over the Chief Cornerstone in an attempt to undermine the foundation of the Christian faith, not realizing that all that could be done to undermine the basis of Christian belief was done when the princes of this world crucified Jesus. God, however, solidified Jesus as the impenetrable foundation of Christian belief when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at his own right hand in glory, thus vindicating Him in the presence of His enemies (cf. Colossians 2:13-15). The Christian faith does not stand in the wisdom of man but in the power of God who raised Christ from the dead. Pullman hasn’t touched that—and he can’t touch that.