Sunday, December 09, 2007

the golden compass

Sometime tomorrow I plan to walk downtown to our public library and see if I can borrow a copy of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.
I've been largely indifferent to the trilogy ever since I first heard of it, years ago. A friend of mine read it and wasn't impressed, and since I was past the age where I was shelling out money for children's books out of general curiosity, I was content to let it lie there.
The revelation that J.K. Rowling based the character of Gilderoy Lockhart on Pullman also didn't inspire me to seek the books out, either.
But, thanks to the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises, New Line Cinema has brought "The Golden Compass," the first book in Pullman's trilogy,to the big screen. And the Religious Right is upset.
Now I'm intrigued, and I want to read the book.
People invariably assume that my sudden interest is due to a deep-seated contrarian streak, sparked by the recent call from Focus on the Family founder James Dobson for Christians to boycott the movie.
It's not quite that simple, though. While I can be contrary, and while I do have a chip on my shoulder, the plain fact of the matter is that I love Story. It draws me, in all the terrible ways it undermines my ease and self-confidence, and questions my half-baked assumptions, it draws me inexorably closer into a confrontation with Truth.
Truth makes us uncomfortable, and when we feel really uncomfortable, we get angry. Sometimes we learn from anger, and become truer ourselves. Sometimes, like Ebenezer Scrooge, it's easier to extinguish the light of truth than it is to learn from it.
Like I said, I don't know much about the books, except that they've angered or offended a lot of the right people in the ecclesiastial heirarchies of both the evangelical and Catholic churches. I know that the main character, Lyra, is transported to an alternate world, where she is caught up in a battle with a group called the Magisterium that resembles the Catholic Church, where she is aided by daemons, and where she ultimately discovers a pretender God who turns to dust when she confronts him.
That doesn't bother me in the least. As my friend Rob the aging hippy said today, all Pullman has done is show how pathetic the God is whom he doesn't believe in. By extension, I suppose he's shown how pathetic are the people who believe in such a weak and impotent God. That's not a problem for me; I don't believe in that God either.
But I do believe in Story, a grand and epic tale of which Pullman and I are privileged to be part. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," is how one writer began the "Once upon a time" of that grand Story.
All stories echo and proceed from that first one. Why be afraid of this one?


marauder said...

Join the discussion on CHRefugee

Anthony & Patti Gazzillo said...

Sounds like a bit of a Gnostic take on Christianity...You know an awful lot of villages have been brutally wiped out due to people's inability to just shut up and accept the Christian god's benevolent doctrine...Not to mention the millions of people who erroneously decided to inhabit regions of religious veneration without belonging to the right group, at the right time.

I think that Umberto Eco is close in his book, Foucault's Pendulum. Those most embroiled in the search for the numinous are mislead by their egoism. In the attempt to secret the divine from others, despite the fact that the details don't matter, they blind themselves to what matters. The arrogance of the intellect demands that we attempt to slice the indivisible into ever tinier components...and devour them or build a monument to ourselves through their haphazard re-assembly in our own image.

Kind of makes me think - atheism's greatest error is that it ignores the implicit malevolence of nature, society and religion...