Pullman’s Plausibility and Power

I can now say I have read The Golden Compass — Dark Material, indeed. Let’s just say, if what Pullman has written is about being human, I’d rather be a bear.

There is quite a bit more buzz about the film and the books because of the controversial subject matter, and I’m beginning to see and read about it everywhere. I’d like to add a few more comments in order to offer additional perspective through which you might understand the movie: power and plausibility.

Firstly, it’s about Power. The dramatic tension throughout the book is about the struggle for power. The daemons (the externalized, animalesque, souls of individuals) constantly position and battle with each other even as the characters physically and psychologically battle with one another. Always, whether it’s the Magisterium (or THE CHURCH) or Lord Asriel’s Party — human parties seek to expand, suppress, and will to power over the other. It grieves me that the impression which the church has given (and rightly perceived in many ways) is that the gospel, too, is one of power, and that the church is the broker of this power which is of course, a fallacy. Though Pullman’s polemic against the church is it’s own pitiful record, I can’t find much of a polemic against Jesus — which of course is Pullman’ own short-sightedness. Ironically, Pullman, leaks Christian ethic in his obvious attraction to the disenfranchised, excluded, and weak. As St James has written, the acceptable and pure religion is the one which looks after orphans and widows in their distress — this of course is what true Christianity is.

Secondly, there is Plausibility. Plausibility structures are those convictions or presuppositions which make belief possible. Pullman has envisioned a universe in which it is plausible that the Church has pulled the wool over the eyes of Western thought (he apparently has little respect for Eastern Orthodoxy’s rich theological heritage and influence), where God is not really God, and where actions are not morally absolute. His attack against Christianity is by offering another plausibility which might explain the events of history, our experience with reality, and the meaning of the universe. Pullman has stated his ideals and his criticisms of say Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. However, he doesn’t understand what he’s criticizing, especially as it relates to Lewis’ view of childhood, adolescence, maturity, humaneness, and death for that matter. [If he is so horrified by child death, someone would’ve saved poor little Tony Makarios (makarios ironically is Greek for “blessed”) and Roger Parslow from sacrifice]. These sorts of polemics against Christianity as a system of thought are the same old distortions and misrepresentations (the creeds mind you, not the deplorable behavior of Christians) which began with Pilate (“What is truth?”), continued with Gnostics, re-imagined by the Celestine Prophecy and the DaVinci Code, and presented in Pullman’s universe. So how, should we as bond-slaves, respond to such presentations of a plausible reality?

Our response to power and plausibility should not be to employ power to ensure belief. Our hope is not in a sign or in clever wisdom, but in Jesus and him crucified. For us this means emulating him in our living by dying to self. The world will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. Only in charity and love is plausibility manifest without dominating by power.

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