Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

His Darker Materials


NPR
Pullman says he hopes his book will send readers back to one of the other versions of this story: the Bible. He believes they might be surprised by some of the inconsistencies they find there.
First, I want to say: what's the problem with inconsistencies? Why do all atheists (Pullman is a very public atheist, I'm not picking on "non-believers" here) think inconsistencies in the Biblical narratives will suddenly make all believers over into non-believers? Is it because a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds? Is it because all atheists presume all believers are merely dupes and fools and poor, pitiful folk clinging to nonsense and fictions in extremis?

"Think of a sick man wracked with pain and fear. Think of a dying woman terrified by the coming darkness. there will be hands reaching out to comfort them and feed them and warm them."
Which is just so insulting and simplistic and ignorant it should be passed over without further comment. But then Pullman says this, too:

The Jesus who emerges from this story is a real person, a man ... a man of strength and conviction with a gift for story telling ...
"This story," of course, is his novel, one which "he hopes his book will send readers back to one of the other versions of this story: the Bible," wherein they will find those dreadful contradictions that will surely shatter their complacency and religious feelings.

I am first to agree that too many Christians in churches are merely baptized heathens. I remember the church member of my first church who, after three months of my sermons, told me he'd read the Bible in his youth, and knew all he needed to know about it, and didn't need to hear any more from it from the pulpit. So I'm not naive about Biblical illiteracy among "the faithful," and I daresay pointing out the contradictions in the Biblical stories (as I've said before, the nativity stories of Luke and Matthew are literally irreconcilable, yet we reconcile them every Christmas by overlooking the contradictions) will get a pastor in some hot water, at least. But you know, somehow that hasn't made me an atheist, or made any church members I knew or know now, into atheists. And I think if people were to "return to the Bible" they'd see that Jesus is "a real person, a man ... a man of strength and conviction with a gift for story telling." And if the Church is not teaching Jesus that way, then the fault is with the Church, although it's also with the people, who crowd the mega-church of Joel Osteen to hear about how God wants them to be rich (the Church of Meaning and Belonging), and flee the church that requires too much of them (the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging) (those two terms being explained here). And that fact makes me a little weary of those who would "reform" believers or even make them over into non-believers by getting them to separate from that "stranger" the Church. It's a voluntary organization, and it is what its members want it to be; and the idea that all it is, is a comforting fiction whispered in the ears of the vulnerable, well....that suggestion is just beyond ridiculous:

"My church comforts the sick and the dying. My church feeds the hungry. What does your church do? Oh, that's right, you don't have a church!"
I guess I'm saying I love these people on the outside looking in who think the exterior view is enough to make them experts on what I can't understand from the inside.

Feh.

I'd also argue that the inconsistencies are good things! Especially the ones in the parables! But that gets us back to the Church of Meaning and Belonging, v. the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging. The distinction between them, though, can't be seen from the outside; and the view from the outside is the only view critics like Pullman have.

In the immortal words of Nigel Molesworth: "He is utterly wet and a weed. I discard him."

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the hope of pointing out biblical inconsistencies is to create cognitive dissonance in the minds of fundamentalists/literalists. Tall hill to climb.

NitPicker

4:58 PM  
Anonymous rick allen said...

Mr. Pullman seems to be adopting an increasingly common strategy, the splitting of what is in fact a unity. Got a problem with the Jesus you like and the one you don't? Go with the good Jesus and the scoundrel Christ.

Increasingly I see these kinds of articles about the Church--one in the NY Times a few weeks ago: well, there are two Churches, one with the horrible old men in the hierarchy and the one with those good nuns who help people. Except in every real way it is one Church, but that too is offensive and difficult to accept because the unity of pride and humility, power and service, sin and saintliness won't fit into a few soundbites.

I have still been creeping through Augustine's Confessions. The Manichees offer an attractive solution, the good man against the bad man, the bad not being the true me, the spiritual me. It's another splitting of a unity, the human person.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Maybe the hope of pointing out biblical inconsistencies is to create cognitive dissonance in the minds of fundamentalists/literalists. Tall hill to climb.

Well, that would be my purpose in pointing out how, for example, you can't reconcile Matthew's nativity with Luke's; not if you want to claim the Scriptures are literally true and wholly without error.

But I gave up on that effort when I realized the hubris involved, and how much I, too, was splitting a unity (as Rick said) into "good" Jesus (those who agree with me) and bad "Christ" (the "evil twin" who is the cause of all the problems).

Now I focus on the contradictions in the parables, when I want contradictions. They are guideposts to remind me I am not God, am not even Jesus (much less "Christ," which, ironically, is a title meaning "Anointed One." I still wonder if Pullman knows that, or cares). In those contradictions I learn humility, and it brings me closer to God. Which is the real purpose of Xianity, as I understand it.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody believes it'll make you all give up Christianity. We're just trying to instill you with some humility. Many of you do treat this book as infallible and attempt to make the rest of us live our lives by your rules. So yes, it gives us a kick to point out that it's not exactly internally consistent.

Grow up. the whining here is overwhelming. You sound like white supremacists crying about the fact that they don't get to use the term 'nigger'. Well, being in charge of everything means you're a douche-bag when you do the things that come perfectly natural to those who have been pissed on their entire lives. By people like you. Maybe if you policed your own a bit better, the rest of us wouldn't give you shit.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Oh, I do love the idea that I'm responsible for everyone who calls themselves "Christian." I'm very interested in how I'm supposed to "police" the thoughts and expressions of others. Apparently "freedom of speech" only extends to those who agree with anonymous posters on blogs.

Or is that foolish consistency again?

I did specifically say in the post that I wasn't complaining about all who consider themselves "atheists," just those who think they make a rational argument, when they argue without sense and without information. Or hide beyond anonymity.

I'm not impressed. Or moved to change my opinions.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

I laughed at Pullman's description of Jesus, because I thought, "That's the Jesus I know!" That Pullman prides himself in believing that he says a new thing about Jesus (nevermind the Christ!) is ludicrous.

And what human life is without inconsistencies? None that I've known.

"Think of a sick man wracked with pain and fear. Think of a dying woman terrified by the coming darkness. there will be hands reaching out to comfort them and feed them and warm them."

And even if it was only that, and you gave the sick man and the dying woman a few minutes, or hours, or days of comfort, that would not be so bad a thing, would it?

5:17 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

Maybe if you policed your own a bit better, the rest of us wouldn't give you shit.

I suggest you get right on this, RMJ. I've got a baseball bat you can borrow, if that'll help.

Please don't dawdle. The world is waiting for the sunrise!

7:27 PM  

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