Pullman Having His Cake and Eating It

The problem with Philip Pullman – well, one of them at any rate – is that he wants to have his cake and eat it. Pullman is the author of a series of children’s books which purport to expose what he sees the myths that make up our Christian faith. The first of these has now been filmed at an estimated cost of €120 million. “The Golden Compass” is probably showing at a cinema near you just now. Pullman wants to be an atheist who thinks that “God” is dead and who thinks that religion has brought nothing but suffering for the human race. However he now has a would-be blockbuster film for children to promote and the promise of a rich harvest of book sales on the back of it. If he doesn’t backtrack from his more militant stance and some of his stated intentions – “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief”, he was quoted as saying in the Washington Post in 2001 – his Hollywood producers and his bank balance may suffer. Undoubtedly there are people out there who either think like him on the question of God and religion and there are probably more who don’t care one way or the other. They won’t mind bringing their children to what they see as a well-made film which is a bit of exciting fun and full of marvellous special effects. However, the market place has a lot more to offer if it is carefully manipulated and this marketplace has a large segment of families to whom the meaning and intention of Pullman are important: the nascent faith of their children is not something that they are going to be happy to put at risk for a bit of fun. The cohorts of Pullman’s legion are pulling up behind him in his defence. Shane Hegarty in the Irish Times took up the issue of Pullman’s critics. Mockery was the tactic used as he lined up the easy targets of those who talk about banning Pullman. He quoted Pullman’s own view of his critics – “oh it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world”. My goodness. That’s strong. What would he like to do with them? Lock them up, or worse? And this is the man who thinks C.S. Lewis “was dangerous”. Of course, the notion that anyone might suggest that what he writes is dangerous is laughable. It’s that cake again. The trouble with this camp is that they are not really interested in a debate which might help us arrive at the truth. Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Good) , Pullman, et al, do their utmost to stifle debate by setting up easy targets, those they can label as “fundamentalists”. Dawkins and Hitchens take the extreme manifestations of belief and use them as evidence to condemn those who have already stipulated these manifestations as aberrations and heresies. Nicole Kidman, one of the stars of the film has even had to row in with a fluffy sort of defence. “I was raised a Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence” – whatever that means? “I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.”  Poor  Nicole. She shouldn’t say things like that or we might think that “thinking” is not one of her strong points – or that she has not even bothered to read the script properly. In the film, as Mrs. Coulter, Ms. Kidman is the evil emissary of “the Magisterium.” Does she not know that the “magisterium” is the term which Catholics use to identify the teaching authority of the Church? In the end of the day we can’t allow this to be just a battle between those who believe in a world beyond this world and those who believe that this world is all there is – because science can’t take them any further. That makes it too easy for the non-believer since it gives him so many straw men to demolish. It has to be engaged on the level of the truth and the teaching of Christ and the Church he founded.  Apparently Pullman’s next book is going to address the question of whether “people can be helped by something that is palpably not true, is this better than denying the thing that is not true and not being helped.” While this doesn’t sound much like a bestseller it is clear that he has not the slightest interest in honestly asking whether or not something is true. He has already made up his mind and just wants to destroy the “nitwits” who think otherwise than himself.  

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