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Sunday, 2 December 2007

You be the judge....

Is this material anti-Catholic?

http://www.lovingit.co.uk/2007/11/his-dark-materials.html

Thank you to Catholic and Loving It's James Pearce for culling the money quotes from the apparently well written and engaging muck.

There's a lot of ascii being spilled across the world debating the question: "Are Pullman's books anti-Catholic?" A lady at Church recently told me she had read the first one and wasn't sure they were (she said it was too dull to read the other two). Personally, I'm really suprised this is even a question.
I read the whole trilogy just over a year ago and the best way to explain it is like this, imagine if somebody wrote a book set in a parallel world where the Prime Minister of Britain Adolf Hitler heroically saved the freedom loving Nazi's from an evil global Jewish conspiracy. Such a book, fiction or not, would be a tad offensive. Nobody would say "It's just a story", especially if a rift were opened between said parallel world and our own.
In the first book, the one being released as a film, the anti-Catholicism is subtle. The bad guys are called "the magisterium" and they have "priests" but it could be a coincidence. Couldn't it?
By the beginning of The Subtle Knife, things are becomming a bit more obvious. When a rift opens between Lyra's world and our own, Ruta Skadi, queen of the witches tell us...
"Sisters," she began, "let me tell you what is happening, and who it is that we must fight. For there is a war coming. I don't know who will join us but I know who we should fight. It is the Magisterium, the church. For all it's history - and that's not long by our lives, but it's many, many of theirs - it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can't control them, it cuts them out. Some of you have seen what they did at Bolvangar. And that was horrible, but it is only one such place, not the only such practice. Sisters, you know only the north: I have travelled in the south lands. There are churches there, believe me, that cut their children too, as the horrible people of Bolvangar did - not in the same way, but just as horribly - they cut their sexual organs, yes, both boys and girls - they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to.
Thats right, the Church is the enemy of freedom and sexual organs. Lyra befriends a chap called Will from our world who finds an object called the Subtle Knife that can be used to travel from parallel world to parallel world.
Now Pullman goes all Screwtape on us. First he tells us about the fall...
There is a war coming, boy. The greatest war there ever was. Something like it happened before, and this time the right side must win... We've had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It's time we started again, but properly this time..."He stopped to take in several rattling breaths."The knife," he went on after a minute; "they never knew what they were making, those old philosophers. They invented a device that could split open the smallest particles of matter, and they used it to steal candy. They had no idea that they'd made the one weapon in all the universes that could defeat the tyrant. The Authority. God. The rebel angels fell because they didn't have anything like the knife; but now..."
God was a tyrant you see. Then he tells him about the two sides in the war between good (mankind) and evil (the aforementioned tyrant)...
"There are two great powers," the man said, "and they've been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been faught over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.
Next, Screwtape (I mean Pullman) tells us about how God didn't create us and just deceived us all...
"Tell me, then," said Will. "Tell me about the Metatron, and what the secret is. Why did that angel call him Reagent. And what is the Authority. Is he God?"He sat down, and the two angels, their forms clearer in the moonlight than he had ever seen them before, sat with him.Balthamos said quietly, "The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty - those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves - the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself. Matter loves matter. It seeks to know more about itself, and Dust is formed. The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he was, and she found out the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still. And the Authority still reigns in his kingdom and the Metatron is his Reagent.
God, by the way, is getting on a bit...
"Well, where is God," said Mrs Coulter, "if he's alive? And why doesn't he speak any more? At the beginning of the world, God walked in the garden and spoke with Adam and Eve. Then he began to withdraw, and Moses only heard his voice. Later, in the time of Daniel, he was aged - he was the Ancient of Days. Where is he now? Is he still alive, at some inconceivable age, decrepit and demented, unable to think or act or speak and unable to die, a rotten hulk? And if that is his condition, wouldn't it be the most merciful thing, the truest proof of our love of God, to seek him out and give him the gift of death?"
Maybe we should euthanise God?
First, we need to profoundly misunderstand what "Spirit" and "Soul" means...
"You know," Mary said, "the church - the Catholic Church that I used to belong to - wouldn't use the word dæmon, but St Paul talks about spirit and soul and body. So the idea of three parts in human nature isn't so strange"."But the best part is the body," Will said. "That's what Baruch and Balthamos told me. Angels wish they had bodies. They told me that angels can't understand why we don't enjoy the world more. It would be a sort of ecstasy for them to have our flesh and our senses.
Now we can get on with killing God. How do we go about doing that? Well how the fall happen last time? Remember the Garden of Eden? For maximum offense let's have somebody called Mary (you know, the one who says "Yes" to God and tramples the serpent underfoot) play the part of the serpent. Mary tempts Will and Lyra...
"I used to be a nun, you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn't any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.""When did you stop being a nun?" said Lyra"I remember it exactly," Mary said, "even to the time of day. Because I was good at physics, they let me keep up my university career, you see, and I finished my doctorate and I was going to teach. It wasn't one of those orders where they shut you away from the world. In fact we didn't even wear the habit; we just had to dress soberly and wear a crucifix. So I was going in to university to teach and to do research into particle physics.
...
"Anyway, some of my colleagues were going to a restaurant a little way down the coast, and they asked if I'd like to go. [...] Well, sitting opposite was a man I'd seen once or twice around the conference. I didn't know him to speak to; he was Italian, and he'd done some work that people were talking about and I thought it would be interesting to hear about it [...] He was handsome," she went on "He wasn't a ladies man or a charmer. If he had been, I'd have been shy, I wouldn't have known how to talk to him. But he was nice and clever and funny and it was the easiest thing in the world to sit there in the lantern light under the lemon tree with the scent of the flowers and the grilled food and the wine, and talk and laugh and feel pretty. Sister Mary Malone, flirting! What about my vows? What about dedicating my life to Jesus and all that?"Well I don't know if it was the wine or my own sillyness or the warm air or the lemon tree, or whatever... But it gradually seemed to me that I'd made myself believe something that wasn't true. I'd made myself believe that I was fine and happy and fulfilled on my own without the love of anyone else. Being in love was like China: you knew it was there, and no doubt it was very interesting, and some people went there, but I never would. I'd spend all my life without ever going to China, but it wouldn't matter, because there was all the rest of the world to visit.
...
I suddenly realised I had been to China. So to speak. And I'd forgotten it.
...
I was twelve years old. I was at a party at the house of one of my friends, a birthday party, and there was a disco [...] Usually girls dance together because the boys are to shy to ask them. But this boy - I didn't know him - he asked me to dance, and so we had the first dance and then the next and by that time we were talking... And you know what it is when you like someone, you know it all at once; well, I liked him such a lot.
...
As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt a stirring in the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had she would have recognised the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. [...] She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe, as Mary went on:"And I
think it was at that party, or it might have been at another one, that we kissed each other for the first time. It was in a garden, and there was the sound of music from inside, and the quiet and the cool among the trees, and I was aching - all my body was aching for him, and I could tell he felt the same - and we were both almost too shy to move. Almost. But one of us did and then without any interval between - it was like a quantum leap, suddenly we were kissing each other and oh, it was more than china, it was paraside.
...
I thought: I want to go to China. It's full of treasures and strangeness and mysteries and job. I thought, will anybody be better off if I go straight back to my hotel and say my prayer and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be better for making me miserable?"And the answer came back - no. No one will. There's no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn't know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all.
...
I took the crucifix from around my neck and I threw it in the sea. That was it. All over. Gone."So that was how I stopped being a nun," she said.
Lyra is 11 years old by the way, and this is a book for children. Lyra decides to act on Mary's wisdom...
Then Lyra took one of those little red fruits. With a fast-beating heart, she turned to him and said, "Will..."And she lifted the fruit gently to his mouth.She could see from his eyes that he knew at once what she meant, and he was too joyful to speak. Her fingers were still at his lips, and he felt them tremble, and he put his own hand up to hold hers there, and neither of them could look; they were confused; they were brimming with happiness.Like two moths clumsily bumping together, with no more weight than that, their lips touched. Then before they knew how it happened, they were clinging together, blindly pressing their faces towards each other."Like Mary said -", he whispered - "you know straight away when you like someone - when you were asleep, on the mountain, before she took took you away, I told Pan - ""I heard," she whispered, "I was awake and I wanted to tell you the same and now I know what I must hav felt all the time: I love you, Will, I love you -"The word love set his nerves ablaze. All his body thrilled with it, and he answered her in the same words, kissing her hot face over and over again, drinking in with adoration the scent of her body and her warm honey-fragrant hair and her sweet moist mouth that tasted of the little red fruit.
It does the trick. Will and Lyra's love for one another (which wasn't real love until they got physical) saves the world by creating a load of that Dust stuff. God can't stand it and dies.

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Is it anti-Catholic? Yes.

Does that mean it shouldn't be read by anyone? No.

Does that mean it shouldn't be read by children? Not necessarily.

I'm divided on the matter of what to let children read. I know I wouldn't buy my children (if I had them) Harry Potter books or Golden Compass. But my mom makes the good point that children don't get their values from entertainment. I, for example, grew up on Star Trek. That's a show that says that humanity will one day cast off archaic prejudices and beliefs (like religion) and be saved by technology so that they can accomplish great things unfettered. Yet I am now the most devout member of my family. My girlfriend, on the other hand, grew up in an extremely restrictive conservative home. (If you assume me to be exaggerating, her mother forbade her to listen to Mozart) She grew up mostly fine, although she has no knowledge of culture. However, her brothers are entirely homeschooled and subject to her mother's extremism. My girlfriend fears that her brothers won't even be able to function in society because of such sheltering. On the other hand again, maybe it's better to go too far in protecting children than to not go far enough? Hopefully I have a long time before I need to figure that out.

I don't think I'd disallow my children to read the books or see the movie because, like it or not, these are the kinds of things they'll have to deal with. I was traumatized by the problem of evil when I was confronted with it in college and almost lost my faith because of it. I can't help but think that a decent parent bans Golden Compass but a good parent will put it in context for a curious child. Sit down with them and explain that other people don't think as they do, why they don't, and why religion isn't the "opiate of the masses". If the parent even has an answer for those questions.

But I guess all of that stems from my view that the Christian faith is fair game for attacks. It's fair game because it CAN be defended. And teaching a child to defend it from attacks is far better in my mind than not letting that same child be exposed to ANY attacks. Do I think children (or anyone) should be encouraged to read those books? Absolutely not. But they shouldn't be universally banned either, as it seems the "Catholic" League wants to do.

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