Andrew Jones posted yesterday about the imminent release of the first film of the Philip Pullman trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’. (Why the hell has is been re-named? Durrr…. ) In the post he leans to siding with Matt Barber, who has written that Pullman’s anti-theist stance is a strong theme, and thus Christians should avoid the films.
The other weekend my dad asked me my response to the same question – he’d had a very strong email from an Australian campaigner saying Christians should be actively boycotting the movie and protesting about it.
I totally disagree.
The books are a ‘rich casket of treasures’ – for children and adults alike. And, while one reading might be a strongly atheistic view, I think that Pullman is more interested in critiquing the ‘power religion’ exemplified by historic Catholicism and institutional Anglicanism. The villains of the book – though this is apparently watered down in the film – are the members of the ‘Magisterium’, the paranoid and power-mad government of religion, who fight to close down free thought and cut off children’s souls to gain power for themselves.
And I have to agree with him. It’s clearly powerful stuff, but no more cutting than Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees as ‘white-washed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inside are full of shit.’ I heard Pullman in conversation with Rowan Williams, and was struck how both were egged on by ‘fundies’ on their own side… but both resisted their encouragements to slam the other. Indeed, Pullman admitted to being struck by the character of Christ, and said he was writing about him.
If we try to protect our faith from criticism like this, we seal it from the tricksters, and prevent it from being refined. If we truly believe it, we should allow our children to see the film, and trust that the truth will out. If we begin protests on things like this, don’t we risk end up jailing people who let kids name their teddies Jesus? I hope the God believe in is more robust than that.
As I quote in the book, the trilogy ends with the hero Lyra, having ‘killed God’ urging people to ‘work hard, all of us, to build the republic of heaven.’ I think this is a fabulous metaphor: heaven as republic takes the power away from the high-and-mighty pompous white men who try to keep the gates closely guarded for only their own pure few. And that’s something I can definitely cheer for.