Interview with Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman is the author of His Dark Materials, a series of children’s books. He is often characterized as the anti-C.S. Lewis. The series is unusual for children’s books in that there doesn’t seem to any “good” characters and it seems to abound in grey rather than black-and-white.

The Third Way (“The modern world through Christian eyes”) has this wonderful interview with Mr. Pullman.

I’ve not read his books, so I can’t comment on them in particular, but I would like to comment on his concept of the “Republic of Heaven” that he talks about in the interview. Specifically,

But when it no longer became possible to believe, a lot of people felt despair. What was the meaning of life? It seems that our nature is so formed that we need a feeling of connectedness with the universe. If there is no longer a king, or a kingdom of heaven, it will have to be a republic in which we are free citizens. We ourselves as citizens have to build the republic of heaven.

The phrase that gets me is “when it no longer became possible to believe”. Now, obviously, it is still possible to believe, but perhaps not in the same way that we believed before. To borrow a line, this belief has to “put away childish things” like a comprehensible God. Pullman’s god is comprehensible. Pullman says “I’m all for the death of god.” and

This is what I am against. Not Christianity, but every religion and fundamental organisation where there is one truth and they will kill you if you don’t believe it.

So it is a relief to me that even though Pullman has his “tiniest pinprick of light” — the realm where he knows what he knows — he isn’t going to kill me because the Light I believe in doesn’t mesh with his.

The really amazing thing to me is that he believes in his “method of belief”. That is, he wanted Christianity to be rational, its adherents to be wholly good and right. And he turned away when he found that so many of them were not right and had not acted in anything like a Christian manner towards their neighbors. The crusades, the witch-hunts, any sort of vileness done in the name of Christianity — this is what turned him away.

But he still believes in rational morality. He still believes in the rightness of things. Not “because God says so”, but because they are part of the “wisdom of the ages.” But it must be a tolerant wisdom. One that doesn’t kill off people because they don’t agree (he condemns Stalin and Mao for the same reason he condemns the Inquisition).

There is nothing wrong with tolerant wisdom. I would argue that wisdom is always tolerant of people who disagree with it. But, at the same time, it is foolish to condemn God to death because his followers haven’t managed to do as He taught. God is not the one at fault.

And, it is foolish to condemn God to death because you don’t see room for Him within your “pinprick of light”. This is why I have trouble with the phrase “when it no longer became possible to believe”. Because if you admit that you only have the tiniest pinprick of light, then that leaves room for a lot more Light than you can comprehend. It also leaves room for Light that makes your own seem dark, dusty and grey.

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