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.


justin holcomb said...

Bill, thanks for your "ramblings." The point you and Dr. Miller made about killing a false god is very helpful. It reminds me of Nietzsche's comment that "god is dead." Many religious folks get all worked up about it...but if they realized that the god he said is dead is an impersonal, distant god of diestic philosophers during the Enlightenment. That god existed (according to the diests) to creates the world and establish some moral rules and then leave the rest up to us. That's not the picture of God in the Bible at all. It is good THAT god had died because it was a counterfeit.

Determined in my 30's said...

Bill, I believe that what you are doing is noble and honorable, I pray that in your attempts to read and find all the facts about the aligations made against this author and movie that the Lord will keep you safe from any open doors that I believe can be opened during our attempts to seek more information. I was listening one morning when you, Dave and Carmen were talking about you reading it, and the thing that stood out the most to me was how we need to know all the facts so that when we say we don't want to have any part of it, or we don't agree with what is being said or portrayed, we have argument. It makes sense to read the book and get to the source of where the author was coming from in order to get the discernment that comes only from the Holy Spirit whether or not supporting something is for me or not. I did not support the Di Vinci Code, and now I wish I had at least read the book so I knew what it was I was not supporting. I have no desire at this point to do so, but with this new movie coming out, I may just read this one. Thank you for being open enough to help us the listeners understand a little more about this situation we face today.
Angel of Gainesville

My name was supposed to be in this spot said...

thank you for your informing blog! I di not realize exactly what this story was about.

Donika said...

Bill, I read this blog some time ago, but I never left a comment. I had meant to leave one, but I just wasn't sure how to put it into words, so I never did. I wanted to let you know that reading this blog acted as a reminder to me that I need to be careful not to jump to conclusions without all of the facts.

Someone who Listens said...

Bill, I just read your blog. This is the first time that I have been on here. I came here beacause you, Carmen, and Dave have been talking about it all week. So I thought I would check it out. I can tell that you take great care and spend lots of time on this. I just want to say thank you for doing so. This blog to me was great beacuse it expresses what I feel about how Christians react to things in our world. I do think that we need to be careful and that our voice should be heard, but it must be in a way that glorifies God. People have told me not read things becasue it is opening doors for the devil to put doubt in, but I think that my faith in God will keep that from happening. My thought is, how can I reach that person for God if I do not know where they are coming from or what they believe? How can you show them the true love of God if you cannot reach them where they are, because you are afraid to go there? I believe that if you are grounded in and living the Word of God then He will slam shut those doors which might have been opened. Well I could go on and on, but I will stop with that. To God be all the Glory. Thanks for all that you do Bill. I enjoy listening every day.