Whether Pullman will recognize it or not, everyone has a functional savior.
For the church Pullman rightly condemns, it’s not Jesus but rather power and influence. “Woe to you rich,” Jesus said. Not that having money is a sin, rather the sin is how one uses the money to manipulate and dominate others. The church (and Christians) should never place themselves in that position. “Blessed are the poor,” said Jesus. Pullman apprehends this in his obvious preference for the disenfranchised. However, make no mistake. Pullman does have a savior in his story. It’s not any of the characters. Pullman’s savior is self-determination, free choice, democracy. When we embrace these and live up to their potential, we will be saved. Everyone is looking toward a savior, the question is whether or not your savior can provide it. It’s not whether I’ve got the “right set of beliefs” but rather in whom am I to believe.
For the Christian, salvation is not about having the right information or the right religion. Sadly, much of what is presented (even by Christians) is the self-righteousness of “I’ve got it right, and you’ve got it wrong.” But that is ALL religion — even the religion that says we’re saved by self-determined, free choice, democratic salvation. Don’t you see? It’s just one of many attempts by me to save myself.
The gospel is exclusive. All ways of salvation are exclusive — even Pullman’s self-determined, free choice, democracy one. However, his exclusive is harsher because I am frankly, a petty, rebellious, foolish sort of person who could never live up to making the right choices or be determined enough to do right. In Pullman’s religion, I am excluded. The difference between the Pullman gospel (really bad news) and Jesus’ gospel is that a person like me CAN be saved. I can be saved because it’s not about whether I’ve been good enough, but whether I am humble enough to receive what he endured on behalf of me. And this being the case, Christianity is really more exclusive than Pullman’s ‘there is no ONE way.’