Saturday, December 1, 2007

More Golden Compass Stuff

I've recently come across this interview here with Philip Pullman. It was a very interesting read, and I recommend that you check it out. The most interesting Pullman quotes:

On being ingrained with the culture of the Church of England:
"My answer to that would be that I was brought up in the Church of England, and whereas I'm an atheist, I'm certainly a Church of England atheist, and for the matter of that a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist. The Church of England is so deeply embedded in my personality and my way of thinking that to remove it would take a surgical operation so radical that I would probably not survive it....My own background, as I've said many times, is Christian to the core. Christianity has made me what I am, for better or worse. I just don't believe in God."

Then he was asked a question about his books carrying Godly messages, though obviously sophisticated, despite his own atheism:
"That would be embarrassing, wouldn't it? But I think this question touches something that I answered in my previous email, namely the tendency among Christians (and no doubt other religions too) to think that anything they like in the work of an avowed atheist or agnostic is a sign that really the said a. or a. is deluding himself, and that he's really Christian, only he doesn't know it. But I resist that interpretation, as you'd expect me to. I'm not deluded: Christians are. There is no God."

In the interview he makes it clear that he gets very upset with Christians monopolizing virtues. If I say that love and self-sacrifice are Christian virtues, then I'm not wrong in the sense that my religion is wrong, but wrong in the sense that my religion cannot monopolize those virtues. I can see what sort of attitude he's talking about, and it's one that's rife in the Church. The attitude is that only believers can do or know good, and non-believers can't. Well that's obviously wrong. Non-believers can cherish the same virtues as we do, and many of them can live by them better than we do. It's not a question of monopoly. Good is universal for the doing, and evil is the same.

Christians need to be careful not to say (or think) that only Christians can have access to these virtues. On the contrary, the existence of these virtues on a universal level testifies to the whole point of Christianity, or the Gospel. The fact that everyone does think love and self-sacrifice are good things, and that selfishness/etc are bad things (and the fact that we often have more of the latter than the former) gives us a good reason to think that the Christian world view isn't all that crazy. No, Christians don't have a monopoly on virtue. But, if the Gospel is right, then the fact that so many stories and authors point to these virtues should be a good sign that there is universal truth in the message of Christ. If you don't believe the Christ bit, that's your own deal. But Christians have good reason to see Christian virtues in non-Christian works. If they didn't, then they'd have a reason to be suspect of what they believe. If, for example, Christ said it was virtuous to be lazy and disobedient, well we'd have to wonder. Not many people of any cultural variety would call that virtuous. Not that all morality of all religions and cultures is equal, which it's not, and not to say that the message of Christ wasn't radical in ways, but rather he spoke to a deeper story and struggle that every human faces. Do you see where I'm going with this? It's okay for Christians to point to the work of non-believers and see a greater message embedded in them. It's because the struggle is universal that you will inevitably find evidence of that struggle everywhere. But no, don't think that only Christians know about or can be live by these virtues. The difference is that Christians (should) realize that they fall short, that everyone does. That's the point.

Now for those books, you can check out my thoughts on them here. If you're a Christian, go read them. The story is great (though the end is wanting), and you won't go to hell for it. In fact, you may just learn something. The opposite of faith is fear (I shamelessly steal from Pastor Chris), and being afraid of a story won't get you anywhere. You need to be able to evaluate everything for what it is, for it's good points and bad. Pullman has some good lessons, and he has some I don't care for. The important part is being able to test for yourself what's worth taking from the books, and what's not. But don't let his atheism put you off. Rather, see this as an opportunity to learn from a different perspective.

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