Friday, December 7, 2007

Thoughts on Killing God

I'm just reading the first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, Northern Lights. Here in the States we call it, The Golden Compass, and the New Line Cinema production with the same name will have been running by the time this blog is read.

On our morning show, we talked about the difficulty many Christians are having with various aspects of Pullman's story. I encouraged Christian parents not to just read the e-mail forwards and form conclusions based on innuendo. With that in mind, I turned to a friend who is working on a scholarly treatment of Pullman's His Dark Materials. He taught English Literature at Purdue for over 30 years, crafted a course in high fantasy and became a "Miltonist" (a specialist in the author of Paradise Lost, the work from which the phrase, "His dark materials" derives). Dr. David M. Miller spoke with me about what many Christian critics consider the most diabolical detail: the "killing of God" in book three, The Amber Spyglass.

Dr. Miller pointed out, first, that the version of God killed in the dramatic sense is "a tyrannical old man," who "I suppose welcomes death - that god is slain..." Now that, I think, is a very important detail, and one that Christians might want to get straight before they get worried that somehow Philip Pullman has managed to pull off the very thing the hordes of Hell never could. If Pullman's God-figure (the "Authority") is a caricature of the real God, then he has unwittingly portrayed the very act we must commit if we are to come to real faith.

Most of us have a de facto image of God based on our experiences, our image of earthly fathers, and stories of Zeus (Jupiter) and the mythological pantheons. Many people are hindered in their trust and love for God and their understanding of grace because their view of God is faulty. In other words, the thundering figure who is synonymous with corrupt institutions, angry dads and capricious self-interested tyrants is an idol that needs to be killed in order to make room for the God who reveals himself in creation, Scripture and supremely in Jesus Christ.

Let the pretenders be slain. Thank you Philip Pullman.

Second, Dr. Miller reminded that "what goes in (that god's) place is an important question," and the answer, I believe, entirely depends on one's worldview. Since Pullman is agnostic, we can't expect that he has killed a false god to make room for the True God. Instead, as I read on I expect to find a humanist vision in a human-centered universe. I expect that vision will be dim in volume one (muted in movie one) and more explicit in the subsequent volumes (movies). So how can Christians respond?

We must not misrepresent the facts and fall prey to another witness-defeating overreation in the name of "standing up for the faith." Instead, we should get informed and critically interact with people who might even be led to the God of Scripture indirectly by the crooked witness of Pullman's stories. I'll give the last word to the Apostle Peter, who writes in 1 Peter 3:15:

...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (ESV).

That kind of witness turns our paranoia in to a powerful conversation that might even lead to someone committing the kind of deicide that opens the way to true Christian faith.