You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dust gets in your spell-checker

The previously-observed, already-high degree of Stephen King/ Phillip Pullman convergence [*] has grown even higher of late. King writes about "The Good Man" and "the Man Jesus", so... what does Pullman title his latest novel? The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I've not seen such shameless pilfering since Peter Jackson directed The Menacing Shadow of the Past (2001), Always Two Towers, There Are - No More, No Less (2002) and The Revenge of the King (2003), stealing from George Lucas the idea of having a respected Scandinavian actor speak the line "What does your heart tell you?" with a straight face. Having said that, ever since Doctor Who Season 2, Pullman has been much more sinned against than sinning in the pilfering department, so surely he's entitled to do likewise unto others and thus restore the cosmic balance.

Intriguingly, something about Pullman's Bultmannish new Anne-Rice-channels-Joseph-Smith pastiche seems to cloud the minds of the proof-readers:

'Like many atheists, the novelist Philip Pullman has emphatic and complicated religious beliefs. Pullman used His Dark Materials, his masterpiece trilogy, to deliver a savage beating to the Catholic Church (the thinly disguised "Magesterium" [sic] in the novels)...'
- David Plotz, "The Gospel According to Philip: Philip Pullman tries to repair the most sacred story ever written," Slate (2 May 2010).

... But unfortunately those dumb fundoes in Harry-Potter-burning flyover country won't appreciate Pullman's literary genius, because their too alliterate. Maybe Slate better install Firefox spell-checker in time for installment #627 of its "How Dumb Is Sarah Palin?!" series.

But let's not single out the Kinsley Report to pick on. Even The Australian itself has succumbed to Spectres munching on the brain cells, as the Millar told his tale:

'... Uncannily, in his new book Pullman seems to have been at work on the specific charges laid against the Vatican hierarchy. One wonders if Geoffrey Robinson [sic], the Australian human rights barrister preparing the case for Hitchens and Dawkins, will be able to put it any better than the speech Pullman scripted for "Good Man" Jesus, arguing against the establishment of a church in his name: "Any priest who wants to indulge his secret appetites, his greed, his lust, his cruelty, will find himself like a wolf in a field of lambs where the shepherd is bound and gagged and blinded... and his little victims will cry to heaven for pity, and their tears will wet his hands, and he'll wipe them on his robe and press them together piously and cast his eyes upwards".'
- Bruce Millar, "Double take," The Weekend Australian (1-2 May 2010), Review pp 4-5.

Great quote, by the way. It seems that Pullman - after so zealously thwacking the stuffing out of Inter-Testamental Judaism in His Dark Materials - has lately realised that this "Christianity" thingumajig offers a much more topical, and therefore more appealing, target for his neo-Voltairean pen. (We await with keen interest the Great Questioner's forthcoming The Charlatan and Impostor Muhammad Exposed and Refuted, due in late 2013 or early 2014, dependent on publishing schedules.) So Pullman is now zeroing in on one of Christianity's chief weaknesses, as previously noted by Nietzsche and Marx: that the Sermon on the Mount constitutes unilateral disarmament by the exploited, ordering them to turn the other cheek to their exploiters rather than resisting them. Vide GK Chesterton's Jake Halket, the radical trade union leader who confronts Father Brown in "The Ghost of Gideon Wise" (1926):
[Someone] had uttered some casual and conventional phrase about "Heaven forbid" something or other, and this was quite enough to set Jake off with a torrent of profanity. "'Heaven forbid'! and that's about all it bally well does do," he said. "Heaven never does anything but forbid this, that and the other; forbids us to strike, and forbids us to fight, and forbids us to shoot the damned usurers and blood-suckers where they sit. Why doesn't Heaven forbid them something for a bit? Why don't the damned priests and parsons stand up and tell the truth about those brutes for a change?..."
The word "Christian" appears, I think, exactly twice in the Dark Materials trilogy and there are no references to Jesus at all that I remember. Many of PP's Christian critics have viewed this as an implicit admission by him that Jesus won't fit into his imaginary universe, and that this is a flaw in his theology. Yet this seems too easy. How hard would it have been for one of the rebel Angels to tell Will or Lyra something like:"There was another angel, two thousand years ago, whom the Authority loved dearly, even like his own son. Yet when this angel sought to intercede and plead for mercy on the humans' behalf, the Authority had him tortured to death on a cross. And then promoted Metatron as regent in his place." Bang! Then at one blow, you've made Pullman's God even nastier and more malevolent than the Christian God. (You've made him, in fact, into the Arian/ Jehovah's Witness God). Pullman would have deflected the "But what about a merciful, humble Jesus?" counter-argument using a variant of Rita Brock's and Brian McLaren's " cosmic child abuse" interpretation. So Pullman could have: why didn't he? Was he saving his ammunition for this book instead?

[*] King and Pullman have similar views about organised religion: ".... God o' the Cross was just another religion which taught that love and murder were inextricably bound together... in the end, God always drank blood" ("The Little Sisters of Eluria"). Interestingly, though, while they agree that three centuries ago Everything Changed, they disagree strongly on whether the Enlightenment/ Scientific Revolution was a Good Thing. Pullman sees it as the start of humankind's war of liberation against its angelic oppressors, and the dawn of the "Republic of Heaven", while King labels it "The Age of Poisoned Thought." - ouch.

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