Archbishop and atheist…

The Telegraph has a good leader column (registration may be required) on Rowan Williams’ remarks on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (see my earlier post, below), in particular his statement that, “I only hope that teachers are equipped to tease out what in Pullman’s world is and is not reflective of Christian teaching as Christians understand it.”

The Telegraph rightly describes this as “an all-too-pious hope” and continues:

The teaching of Christianity is so diluted that many – perhaps most – children attach little or no meaning to notions such as the Incarnation, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. A theologian of Dr Williams’s calibre may well analyse Pullman’s “thought experiment” and relish debate with such an adversary. Children, however, need to be taught facts before they can engage in disputations.

They can hardly avoid Pullman’s bestseller, but they might learn more from his masters, Milton and Blake. Better yet, they need to read the Bible and acquire a grasp of Christian doctrine. They would then be able to see Pullman for what he is: a gnostic genius whose fantasies tell them nothing about Christ or his Church.

Leaving to one side the question of what things have come to when it takes a newspaper editor to say all this more clearly than an Archbishop, that pretty much sums up my own feelings on the subject (on which I have posted before).

Pullman’s books are the UK’s answer to the Da Vinci Code, with the important exception that they are exceptionally well-written, imaginative and gripping (save for the preachy and didactic final 100-or-so pages), rather than being trashy potboilers. But for many people they seem to fulfil a similar function to the Da Vinci Code: enabling people who are basically ignorant of Christianity (but who, like our toddler refusing even to try a new foodstuff, just know they don’t like it) to feel they’re getting “the real deal” about the true nature and purpose of “the Church” and “religion” generally*. Even if that “real deal” leaves Christians grinding their teeth in frustration. Though at least Pullman had the decency to put his make-believe Church into a parallel universe.

*See, for example, the remarks made by the chairman of the panel that awarded The Amber Spyglass the Whitbread Prize, Jon Snow: “We are more taken, it has to be said, with Pullman’s view of God than [C.S.] Lewis’s.”

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