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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Atheist Philip Pullman Derides "Wardrobe" Movie

As almost everyone in the English-speaking world knows by now, C.S. Lewis's classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is being adapted into a feature film, due out this December. Naturally, one is concerned that Disney not mess it up. Why would anyone think that? Because of how they almost always mess up fairy tales and folklore with their sappy and often soul-less renditions. Turning Pocahontas from a devoted Christian into a tree-hugging new ager is a key example. However, the initial reports from those who've seen major bits of the film are that the Christian doctrine contained in the story has not been removed, watered-down or ruined by the Disney Imagineers.

While most Christians who are familiar with the book are delighted (if mildly skeptical) that it is being launched on the silver screen, not everyone is pleased. Writer Philip Pullman claims that C.S. Lewis's fanatasy classic lacks any evidence of - get this - love. I suppose giving one's life for the salvation of all doesn't count as love. Jesus said, "There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Let me see here. Pullman or Jesus? Jesus or Pullman? Which one is right about this whole definition of love thing?

Philip Pullman is an outspoken atheist whose own fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, portrays the Christian Church as evil and God as a demented fraud. It seems that he is like many contemporary folk who equate love with being nice. And since Aslan is not always nice, he is not loving enough for Pullman. The books says that Aslan is not a tame lion. And I would say that God is not a tame God. He is dangerous. He is merciful, but He is also severe.

I love the Narnia books precisely because they portray Christ as spiritually muscular. He is very compassionate, but never weak. And He will do anything it takes to save us, even if that means he has to hurt us (or kill us) to do it.

What Pullman wants is not the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Jesus of authentic Christianity, but a vegan hippie Jesus who is in touch with his inner puppy. A live-and-let-live Jesus. A Timothy Leary Jesus. A flower power Jesus who exfoliates with his loofah in between group hugs.

Pullman is not alone in this. Many folks today are turned off by the blood, sweat and tears of Biblical Christianity (not that you actually find much of this anymore). What they really seek is nice-ianity. And when true religion does not match their poppy-induced caricature, they say the church is wrong.


UPDATE: I've written a new article discussing the controversy over "The Golden Compass" movie. Go here. It will take you to a link where you can download my article.

Hat tip to Jottings and Such

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16 comments:

The Cubicle Reverend said...

All I want is to do nothing but enjoy the movie. All this trying to force out the faith that lies beneath the surface is making me quite sick. As a poet I think art is devotional, whether overt or not, and you cannot force something to necessarily be a message. It goes well beyond that. If the artist is worth his salt (thank you cistine chapel) then the love and devotion to the faith will be aparent no matter how subtle. Stop trying to market it, shut up and just sit back and enjoy.

Carl said...

As far as Pullman's "review" goes,
it seems to me that it's just an
affirmation of I Corinthians 1:18!

Orycteropus Afer said...

Now that I've gotten around to inventing and awarding it, here's your Aardie, Scott.

weorwe said...

I also found Pullman's take on Lewis surprising. I did however enjoy His Dark Materials -- not without criticism. I wrote about the trilogy here.

Stupid Anonymous said...

"What Pullman wants is not the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Jesus of authentic Christianity, but a vegan hippie Jesus who is in touch with his inner puppy."

Sounds like pure speculation to me.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

To the respondent who calls himself "Stupid Anonymous." First, I generally do not feel obligated to anonymous people. Any anonymous mail I receive goes into the bin w/o being read. Please sign your posts.

But, you say, "pure speculation." Have you read Pullman's opinions about Jesus? It is not speculation when he says that Jesus is all about loving your neighbor. That's not the main message of Jesus. Anyone who reads the canonical gospels and thinks that loving your neighbor is the main thing about Jesus is re-inventing Him to fit some different ideal, which I can only compare to pacifist hippies.

They say Jesus wouldn't judge. Jesus loves everyone. Jesus was compassionate. Jesus was nice.

Jesus does love everyone, but He Himself says that He will send most people to hell. That doesn't sound nice to me.

st thomas said...

As for "re-inventing" Jesus, I'm not sure how that would apply in Pullman's case. He is an atheist, and therefore presumably believes either that Jesus did not exist, or else that he existed in some form other than the one the gospels present him in. From that perspective, "re-inventing" Jesus would be know big deal -- just as one could re-invent Hamlet, or Merlin, or Zarathustra, all to his heart's content.

I agree with you that the Jesus of the Gospel's message was not about love. Rather, it was about drumming up support for a new religious movement -- a radical reshaping of the Jewish law in preparation for an apocalypse that was expected just around the corner.

Personally, I much prefer Pullman's novels to the Narnia books. And that gets down to the message, more than anything. Lewis attempted to revive all the old medieval values he admired -- faith, knightly courage, and humility. Frankly, I think those are all lousy values. That's why I prefer Pullman -- who emphasizes individualism, science, and rebellion against oppression instead.

Stupid Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "please sign your posts". "Stupid Anonymous" is the way I have been signing my posts for the purposes of responding to "God or Not" blogs. Do you mean that you want me to create a blogger account, because I could do that if you want.

Anyway, I may have worded my first response badly. What I really wanted was to see your sources for attributing such opinions to Pullman.

On another note, your comment that "And He will do anything it takes to save us, even if that means he has to hurt us (or kill us) to do it." seems to stand in direct contradiction to your belief that "Jesus does love everyone, but He Himself says that He will send most people to hell." Of course these are standard Christian viewpoints, but doesn't it seem odd to you that Jesus will supposedly do anything to save us "sinners" EXCEPT that he won't forego throwing us into hell under certain circumstances? It seems to me that if he really wants to save us from hell/sin he should use his omnipotence to remove the threat of hell instead of participating in the torture of the damned.

Stupid Anonymous said...

Also:
"Philip Pullman is an outspoken atheist whose own fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, portrays the Christian Church as evil..."

Some of what Pullman says about the church is true, though. Like the Catholic church's castation of young boys, for instance.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Anonymous,

I guess it's just a pet peeve of mine when I get anonymous mail. Doesn't happen often, but I believe that a person should put his name to his writing. However, I don't want to press this. Do what you prefer.

Why do I say what I do about Pullman? First, read the link I posted. Then do a google and read other things Pullman has said.

But let's just take an example from the link in this post.

Pullman states: "The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."

I, on the other hand, find that the Narnia books are soaked with Christian love. One of us is being dishonest, misreading the texts, or we just disagree about the nature of love.

My argument is that Jesus Himself says that the greatest love one can have is to die for someone (John 15:13). Thus Jesus demonstrated his love by dying for sinners (Romans 5:8).

This is the central doctrine of Christianity. It is the single most important event in history and everything else is shaped and defined by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Lewis understood that and conveys it, I think quite effectively, with his stories.

In "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW)," Aslan represents Jesus and Aslan does, indeed, die as a substitute to free Edmund from bondage to the White Witch. Aslan then, according to the New Testament, demonstrates the greatest love one can possibly have.

Pullman, amazingly, asserts that there is "not a trace" of Christian love portrayed in LWW.

On the one hand, maybe Pullman is ignorant of the basic plot of the book he is criticizing, but I doubt that.
The other explanation is that he misunderstands it or that he simply disagrees and has an altogether different idea about the love which Christ taught.

I am assuming that Pullman can assert that there is no trace of Christian love in LWW (an assertion that appears to me to be preposterous) because his idea of what Christian love ought to be is quite different from what Christian love actually is.

So yes, I speculated that Pullman's notion of love is like that of many contemporaries. Nice-ness. Pacifism. Etc.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Anonymous,

You continue in your post to discuss Christian doctrine. You quote me and may think that I have contradicted myself.

May I briefly explain what I mean? I am not trying to sound condescending, honestly. Forgive me if I do.

There are two words that can be used to describe the essential nature of God:

Love and Justice

He is both. Because God is, in his very nature, just and holy, He cannot tolerate sin. The Scriptures, Old and New, describe God as an all-consuming fire. The image is of a furnace. You put ore in the furnace and the dross is burned off.

Our fallen nature is corrupt with sin. If you or I were to come into the unmitigated presence of God, we would be destroyed, undone. Because God is perfect purity and we are impure.

Hell is a necessary result of God's holiness and intolerance of all sin.

At the same time, God is love. He truly loves His creation. He loves all human beings. But we are corrupted, due to the exercise of our own free will. And God, by his holy nature, cannot tolerate sinners in His presence. Yet he loves us.

It's a conundrum. Except for the incarnation. The second person of the Holy Trinity becomes a human being. He is sinless, but takes upon Himself the guilt of the world. God pours out His just wrath against our sin upon Himself, you could say.

But a person is never granted salvation against his will. A man may reject or refuse the gift of pardon offered through Jesus' sacrifice.

So I hope I have not muddied things. I am finite. My understanding is limited. God is an infinite being. I do not claim to be able to perfectly rationalize all that has been revealed.

God does do everything necessary for the salvation of all. He has done all that can be done. But one thing He cannot do is contradict his very nature. He cannot overlook a person's sin. But if that person is in Jesus Christ through faith, then God's wrath toward him is satisfied. Those outside of Christ, whom Jesus said would be many, are outside the grace and forgiveness which saves us.

Am I making sense?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Anonymous,

And finally, you correctly point out that there have been evil deeds committed by Christians, even clergy. I do not defend misbehavior of any kind, not even my own.

The church is filled with sinners. In fact, I have stated in my pulpit that if you do not consider yourself a sinner, you really should leave now because there is nothing I have to offer a perfect person. Jesus Himself said that the healthy do not need a physician, only the sick. People who are righteous of themselves do not need what Christ offers through the Church. Unrighteous sinners are precisely the ones who ought to be in the Church. So I not surprised when Christians do evil things. I don't approve, but neither am I surprised. I have no trouble with Pullman identifying a sin and criticizing it. I do have trouble with his misinterpreting the Christian message (intentionally or unintentionally) and calling good evil.

You'll notice that one of the other commenters above said, incredibly, that he does not consider courage or humility to be virtuous. Well, I do consider those to be virtues. But I think the commenter probably reflects the mindset of Pullman. We just have quite different ideas about what is good and what is evil.

Stupid Anon. said...

Okay, I see where you got your idea of Pullman's beliefs. I must have missed that link the first time around, sorry. I have to wonder, though, if this is Pullman's fault or if he is just believing the misrepresentations of Christians who do believe that Christianity is all about "nice-love". From what I've heard Pullman's problems with the Narnia series go beyond the lack of "niceness".

"May I briefly explain what I mean? I am not trying to sound condescending, honestly. Forgive me if I do."

Its fine as long as you aren't mistaking my disagreement with Christianity for ignorance of it (I can't really tell).

As for Christian doctrine:

Your post makes some sense to me, but here are the places where I have problems:

"If you or I were to come into the unmitigated presence of God, we would be destroyed, undone. Because God is perfect purity and we are impure."

I'm not sure how you made the leap from being in the presense of purity to being destroyed. If you put a mud-caked shirt beside (in the presense of) a perfectly clean shirt is the mud caked shirt destroyed?

Can God not effortlessly (that is, without requiring a symbolic action like the death of his son/avatar-like incarnation) clean the dirt ("sin") off of us so that we can enter his presence?

Furthermore, were Moses and John, among others, not in the presense of God?

"Hell is a necessary result of God's holiness and intolerance of all sin."

For what reason is torture suddenly the only alternative to being in God's presence after death? Obviously it is possible for human life to exist neither in God's presense or in hell as we exist here on Earth right now. If God can't have us it seems silly to go the exact opposite of what he supposedly wants and hand us over to his enemy Satan.

"But a person is never granted salvation against his will. A man may reject or refuse the gift of pardon offered through Jesus' sacrifice."

Who rejects salvation, and who rejects Jesus The only non-christians I know or am aquainted with reject the idea of salvation or the existence of Jesus, not salvation/Jesus themselves.

"But one thing He cannot do is contradict his very nature."

Whoah whoah whoah, omnipotent being+inability to do something it wants to do=contradiction, does it not? Or are you one of the Christians who rejects the idea of God's omnipotence?

"And finally, you correctly point out that there have been evil deeds committed by Christians, even clergy. I do not defend misbehavior of any kind, not even my own...So I not surprised when Christians do evil things. I don't approve, but neither am I surprised. I have no trouble with Pullman identifying a sin and criticizing it. I do have trouble with his misinterpreting the Christian message (intentionally or unintentionally) and calling good evil."

Okay. My point was just that you must admit that some of Pullman's criticisms of the church as a historical institution are warranted, and especially understandable as his books take place in an alternate universe apart from ours.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Stupid Anon.,

Here are some all too brief responses to the issues you raise. I cannot right now address every single thing you bring up. Will be happy to continue tomorrow.

You wrote:
"I'm not sure how you made the leap from being in the presense of purity to being destroyed. If you put a mud-caked shirt beside (in the presense of) a perfectly clean shirt is the mud caked shirt destroyed?"

Yes, but if you put your mud-caked shirt into a raging furnace what would happen? We're mixing metaphors. God is described as a consuming fire. On the basis of that statement and other statements in scripture, the traditional understanding of this is that only that which is pure or good can stand in His presence - without some mediation. All evil - in His unshielded presence - will be obliterated by His glory and majesty. Again, the scriptures use the imagery of putting ore into a furnace. The dross burns off leaving only pure gold. But if a person is so completely dross, there will only be destruction. But, please understand, this is a metaphor for a spiritual reality. And one can never press metaphors too far.


You wrote:
"Can God not effortlessly (that is, without requiring a symbolic action like the death of his son/avatar-like incarnation) clean the dirt ("sin") off of us so that we can enter his presence?"

No. You see, the dirt image as a metaphor breaks down here. It's not that we literally have dirt on our souls that can just be wiped off. That is just an image. Think of it this way. The "dirt" is my guilt before God having broken his laws. A just and righteous God could not simply ignore a guilty party. Would you believe that justice would be served if a human judge were to simply overlook the crimes of a guilty person? My understanding of justice is that a crime must be paid for. That is the biblical model all throughout, Old and New. Justice requires that sins must be paid for. In a couple of places in the bible, it states that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. It also states that the penalty for sin is death. So my sins do not need to be literally cleansed, but to be paid for. I believe that the substitutionary death of Jesus is the basis for my pardon before God as my judge.


You wrote:
"For what reason is torture suddenly the only alternative to being in God's presence after death? Obviously it is possible for human life to exist neither in God's presense or in hell as we exist here on Earth right now. If God can't have us it seems silly to go the exact opposite of what he supposedly wants and hand us over to his enemy Satan."

God hates sin. And those who cling to their sin are objects of his hatred/wrath. This is the clear biblical teaching. Over and over. They who sin (and do not repent), are enemies of God. It is the will of God to eternally punish his enemies. No one in the Bible talks about hell and damnation more than Jesus Christ. Parenthetically, this is another reason why I don't think Pullman understands Jesus and yet he criticizes C.S. Lewis for not displaying Christian love. Lewis did just fine, but not by Pullman's definitions. Because I am an enemy of God, I need a reconciler. And that is the role played by the Son of God. He reconciles us to the Father by satisfying the Father's justice.


You wrote:
"Whoah whoah whoah, omnipotent being+inability to do something it wants to do=contradiction, does it not? Or are you one of the Christians who rejects the idea of God's omnipotence?"

I believe in God's omnipotence. I am in every way a traditional believer. But you make a common mistake in your definition of omnipotence. God is omnipotent. But one must make a distinction between a physical impossibility and a logical impossibility. Nothing is physically impossible for God. But God cannot do something logically impossible. For instance, can God be both finite and infinite? No, of course not. That's a logical impossibility. Can God be both dead and alive at the same time? No. It's called the law of mutual contradiction. In the same way, God cannot be something that he is not. And he cannot "not be" something that he is. So I said that he cannot contradict his very nature. That is logically impossible. Think about it.

Anyone who asserts that omnipotence means that God can do that which is logically impossible does not understand the doctrine of God's omnipotence. And this is very different from the openness theologians or process theologians you alluded to.

st thomas said...

Dear Pastor Stiegemeyer,

You claim that God is incapable of doing anything logically impossible, and I quite agree. However, the existence of logical principles and mathematical theorems and moral truths that cannot be superceded by any physical or superphysical force tends to obviate the need for God, in my opinion. You say that God is a being pure holiness, but how can we say that unless there is some pre-existing standard of holiness that we can measure God up to?

The reason that I cannot believe in the Christian God is that its described nature is so contrary to fundamental moral principles, which I think are attainable by a process of rational inquiry. The various attempts to justify God's cruelty are a stain upon ethical philosophy.

This is why I read Pullman's fantasy with such enthusiasm. He portrays the Christian god in his true colors: a vast but finite monster slowly decaying under the weight of his own iniquity.

The values of "courage" and "humility" that I deplore are not those words in their everyday sense. I deplore Chaucer's "full devout corage," the emotion of the knight, his heart on fire for God, who goes out to slay the infidel with pleasure and good cheer. This is warrior virtue I despise, and which Lewis upholds so nauseatingly. The "humility" I hold in contempt is not the intellectual humility of self-doubt or the self-abnegating humility of the altruist, but rather the pusillanimous surrender of the Christian penitent before the imaginary celestial tyrant he thinks he serves.

Genuine courage and humility, in the healthy human sense of the latter-day pagan, are the allies of the free soul and the enemies of the oriental despotism of the Abrahamic faiths,

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Thomas,

You wrote:
"You say that God is a being pure holiness, but how can we say that unless there is some pre-existing standard of holiness that we can measure God up to?"

God Himself is the pre-existing standard of holiness you have in mind. He is the ground of all being. "He is before all things and in him all things hold together" (St. Paul).

His actions are the definition of good and right. How do I know what good is? I don't come up with my own idea of goodness and then compare God to that. I look at God as He has been revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is the foundation for my understanding of goodness.

You speak of fundamental moral principles. But I wonder where you find such principles. Logic? Really? Explain how you derive the virtue of compassion for the weak from pure logic.

Let's try an example. A child is born with Down's Syndrome. One ethicist (Peter Singer?) would say the parent should euthanize the child but would have 2 or 3 years to make up their minds. I can see his logic. A child that can never become a productive member of society and will only drain resources and will die young anyway should be killed. No. As a Christian, I believe in caring for the weak and the sick, not killing them to preserve resources or to have an easier life myself.

I cannot see how logic alone as the basis for morality could avoid utilitarianism.

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