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Pullman’s approach is gnostic. Human wellbeing depends on the acquisition of knowledge. Like many others, despite the evidence, he believes in the upward progress of humanity. The Fall was not about becoming depraved but becoming like God in our possession of knowledge. According to him, the Church uses the idea of sin to repress our natural instincts and to separate us from our familiar spirits. But is this a realistic view of the human condition? Can it be described adequately without taking account of the alienation, fear, greed and hatred which exists in and between humans? It is true that the Irenaean tradition in Christian theology also sees the Fall as having a positive dimension, as “a fall upwards”, because it is brought about by the making of a moral decision, even if it is the wrong decision. Whatever we make of this, the Augustinian insight that human sin is so serious that we stand in need of rescue is surely nearer the mark, even if it offends our inflated egos. Our fallen-ness reveals our need of redemption and is thus the occasion for that plan of salvation which begins with primal sin and comes to fruition in the events of Good Friday and Easter. It is in this sense that the Church sings at this time: O felix culpa quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem (O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer). None of this, however, should cast any doubts about the seriousness of what has gone wrong and which needs putting right.

If Good Friday is about atonement, literally at-one-ing us with the very source of our being, with one another and with the whole of creation, Easter is about hope — hope not derived from the natural cycle of the growth, death and renewal of vegetation but based on an historic event. There are many things that can be said about that first Easter, but here we need only note the amazing change in the attitude of the scattered and frightened disciples of Jesus, making them a world- and history-changing force. Something must have happened to account for this transformation. The other, and related, fact is the existence of the Church. If Jesus had died as a despised and rejected criminal, and his followers had been scattered, how do we account for this unstoppable Jesus movement which has, with all its imperfections and betrayals, rolled on for 2,000 years and shows no signs of stopping?

As Melanie Phillips pointed out recently in Standpoint, the Church owes a great debt to the Hebrew Bible, its older Testament, for its understanding of how the Creation depends on the Creator, of an ordered universe, of a universally applicable moral law and much else besides. Christianity is also, however, deeply committed to how God has shown himself in the special history of a particular person, Jesus Christ. Its notion of faith is not irrational but fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding, trying to understand what we believe. For Christians, faith is both about what we believe and trust in what is believed. The foundational events for faith, in either Testament, should be open to historical, literary and theological investigation, as, indeed they are. The Bible must be the most critically examined of any collection of ancient books. As St Anselm tells us, faith and reason complement one another. There may be irrational systems of belief but neither Judaism nor Christianity are among them.

As the Inklings have shown, however, the religion of the Bible is not just about a rational understanding of ourselves and of the universe; it is also about the use and expansion of the imagination. It is about literary and artistic creativity. There is no escaping the great classic themes of the Bible whether of Creation, the Fall, the Exodus and the giving of the Law, or of the Incarnation, of God’s eternal Word coming in human form, of sacrifice, atonement and reconciliation. At Easter we will be reminded of all of these, of the grand sweep of salvation history. For the believer, they have huge significance, of course, but the wonder is that unbelievers keep returning to them whether in novels, paintings, sculpture or poetry. That is a testimony to their enduring value; value which will last long after Philip Pullman and his critics have gone. 
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AnonymousAlicia Sinclair-Portland
April 11th, 2018
5:04 PM
I don`t need to bother with Pullman except to remark that he`s clearly a succesful, good writer who will have truths in what he says. His notion of the Jesus as opposed to the Christian "Christ" deserves deeper study, and has many points I`m sure. But I am reminded of Jesus mocking the blind guides and proselytes who will go a long way to make a convert, at no end of inconvenience. Pullman is without excuse by now, let Jesus judge him. Nazir Ali is a hero to many of us, and really should be targeting his Islamic spikings of popular culture-who knows. Pullman might agree with us on that? At Easter, we go to the Cross and return to the empty tomb. After that-and after we`ve got all that that means to us-we are free in Gods love, in Jesus example and our faith in Him to do as we will-as opposed to what "thou wilt".

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