Just a few quick observations about the Golden Compass hubbub (or, as the cognoscenti have it, TGC):
- There are some who hope that that Philip Pullman is doing everyone a favor by setting up a "straw man" argument with his deicide narrative. The idea is that the author is not really harming "true" Christianity, but only the parts of it that went haywire. This great white hope even has a name: the "straw God" theory -- that is, kill off the little, instititutional Catholic/traditional/non-egalitarian god so that the real mysterious and cool post-modern god can take its place. Get rid of the OT god in other words, or that messy creator/demiurge character that destroyed all those nice canaanite cities just minding their own business and that wrote all those medieval rules against sin and persecuted La Boheme. Separate that god from the nice NT god. Make your own canon. Get rid of the Epistle of James. Kill off the "Yahweh" character, but say nothing about Jesus (the Archbishop of Canterbury, by the way, seems to be okay with this rather extra-Nicene position). I think this "straw god" argument has been waged before: it sounds a tad familiar. In any case, Pullman is affirmed for attacking not the "values" of Christianity, but its "institutions," and he does this by turning the narrative of salvation history "upside down" (as was done so auspiciously in the second century) where the villains become the heroes and vice versa. Are you Protestants really sure you want to sidle up to this Gnostic, simply because he is taking on the historic "institutional" church?
- Speaking of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams recommends that Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy ought to be used for religious education in schools. Dr. Williams endorses Pullman's books as a healthy attack on "dogmatism." Is not Archbishop Rowan dogmatic in his episcopal task? Does he not tell people what to believe, to the point where they are believing rightly or wrongly? Or maybe he doesn't do this, and so he is at least consistent in his cheering on the anti-dogmatism of the Dark Materials world.
- However, the Archbishop is endorsing only the resistance against Christian dogma. The secularism of Rousseau is an even sterner dogma that reigns supreme in Pullman's quasi-Miltonic kaka-cosmology, and one mustn't say a discouraging word about this at all. All resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated. Lambeth has joined the Borg.
- One more thing about the Archbishop of Canterbury. Toward the end of his debate with Pullman in 2004, Dr. Williams utilizes a reference to us Orthodox to help him win common cause with Pullman against those "deplorable fundamentalists." Those deplored ones show up everywhere as everyone's punching bag. It's getting old. But more to the point -- yes we Orthodox are mystical: but why do we get drug into this liberal vs. fundamentalist debate, as if we'd fit on either side? Is there some lamentable dichotomy established somewhere, that opposes "mystical" and "dogmatic"? I think there is, and it is wrong, because the Orthodox Church is both mystical and empirical, dogmatic and personal, moralistic and sacramental. If Pullman couldn't stand the Roman Church, he couldn't survive Orthodoxy: his embrace of anti-Ignatian gnosticism is proof of that.
- Some evangelicals -- who really want to be accepted by the literati -- do intellectual contortioning worthy of La Cirque du Soleil by claiming to find the good amongst the bad, the happy in the sad: Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, while
finding his anti-Christian position troubling, "also uncover spiritual
themes within the books, which, like shafts of light, break through an
otherwise gloomy universe—despite Pullman’s best efforts to keep them
out. In the end, the authors argue that Pullman offers an unwitting
tribute to the God he intended to discredit." Hey guys, I can find shafts of light in Nietzsche and even in Mao: but it would take more than what I see to suggest an "unwitting tribute" by them to the God they, too, intended to discredit. That's wishful thinking. Sometimes we need to be courageous enough to stand up and say, "Maybe Pullman wrote well and spelled his words correctly and printed decent grammar. Maybe he told an exciting story. But what he sells really stinks inside, so we'll give the whole package, as pretty as it is, a wide berth."
- Finally, I read in several places that reading Pullman, or watching his movie, is okay just as long as the kids have someone to discuss it with. Why is this suggestion so universal? Why do we put so much trust in the power of discussion? The very depth of art, and its magnetic appeal to the consciousness, and art's ability to penetrate through the attention and to descend deeper into the heart should indicate that a slipshod discussion with mom or dad or the priest or the Sunday School teacher or the ACRY/GOYA/OCF/YL/YFC/YWAM advisor is going to have a greatly diminished impact. Would I take my daughters to see "Midnight Cowboy" or "Last Tango in Paris," just as long as I discuss it with them? No? Because the immorality is that extreme? What's worse -- a nauseating spectacle of fornication, where the human soul corrodes into stupid bestiality? Or, a pretty fairy tale, with all kinds of carnival toys, that ends up not with a Castle of Happily Ever After, but with the death of a character named "Yahweh"? Sure, guys, I'll discuss the movie. We'll discuss and discuss, but we'll give the movie a miss. Call me close-minded. I have found that permeability of an open mind is not such a good thing.