A dangerous misunderstanding of Christianity

While doing a little “research” on the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, I came across this review on “The Open Critic” page, from a link on the Wikipedia page for “The Northern Lights”.

You have to really wonder. If this critic is correct (and I don’t at this point claim that he is) Pullman has fundamentally misunderstood the Christian doctrine of the body. The critic writes:

During the critical expository scene following the near “intercision” of Lyra’s daemon (the removal of her soul), Mrs Coulter, the executrix of the church, explains the process as being “healthy” and a necessary kindness which ensures a child is protected from the “impurity” which adolescence begets.

It’s herein that the conundrum for the conservative 20th century church lies; surely, to remove the agent of original sin is to be lauded; it is after-all what Christ did through his self-sacrifical act. Furthermore, it’s an act played out with each baptism and “born-again” event. Not only that, a soul separate from the body is integral to the church’s idea of spirituality. And in fact, only through the release of the soul from the body is redemption complete.

Wherever the idea that redemption means the “release of the soul from the body” came from, it ain’t orthodox Christianity. Perhaps, however, this misunderstanding is a key to understanding where Pullman is coming from.

The other thing is this–and remember that I haven’t got to the end of the third book yet where this episode takes place:

It comes as no surprise then, when salvation comes to the universe through an allegorical act of that replicates the act of “original sin.” What Pullman is telling us is that the fall of man was truly an extra-ordinary act of love, and if replicated, it’s that act which will redeem us.

Okay the allegorical act is really thinly veiled sex between two deeply in love, just barely adolescent children.

I can’t wait… However, I am eager to see whether Pullman in fact does what the Open Critic claims he does: that is, confuse “the original sin” with the act of sexual intercourse.

If either of these two ideas are really at the core of Pullman’s work, we have a deeply disturbing instance of a characterisation of a gross misunderstanding of Christianity. Can it be that Pullman really believes that Christianity teaches either of these essentially gnostic concepts?

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3 Responses to A dangerous misunderstanding of Christianity

  1. Peregrinus says:

    I haven’t read Pullman (and haven’t any immediate plans to), but it occurs to me to wonder whether Pullman explicitly presents his work as a critique of Christianity?

    If he doesn’t, and if it’s critics and commentators who draw attention to this dimension of his work, then what is actually happening is:

    – Pullman is critiquing ideas about body-and-soul, original sin and salvation which are, as you say, fairly Gnostic, and

    – it is the critics who identify these ideas as Christian ideas.

    Pullman may or may not think that these are Christian ideas, but the important issue is not what Pullman things, but what (a section of) his readership thinks.

    At this point it would be easy (and to a large extent justified) to witter on about how the media/contemporary culture just doesn’t get Christianity, and engages instead with a crude caricature of Christianity.

    But that avoids the question of how exactly the critics/the media/contemporary culture got this distorted view of Christianity. Did Christians, perhaps, have anything to do with it? We have to admit that temptations to a false dualism and/or a dangerous puritanism are things to which individual Christians and Christian movements do seem to be prone. And, more to the point, does the way in which we present Christianity today have anything to do with the persistence of these misconceptions? Are there lessons about evangelism that we need to learn from this?

    The final point that occurs to me is with respect to the novels themselves. If they are in fact attacking Gnosticism, and some people are condemning them as an attack on Christianity, are those people not reinforcing the very error that you have identified? Do those people, to some extent, consider that the Gnostic ideas which Pullman attacks are in fact Christian ideas? If Christians defend Gnosticism as Christianity, we can scarcely blame Pullman, the media, the critics or anyone else for making the same mistake.

  2. Schütz says:

    Very good points Peregrinus. It is exactly this that occured to me, and the pitfalls you point out for the Christian critic are exactly those I wish to avoid.

  3. William Tighe says:

    I read interviews with Pullman at the time of his first book’s publication. It was clear from them that he despises Christianity and loathes the “God” (he professes himself an atheist) that Christians worship.

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