Wednesday, December 05, 2007
If You Can't Beat 'Em ...
Donna Freitas, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Boston University, a Catholic theologian and coauthor of Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials, has a piece entitled "God in the dust" in the Boston Globe about the controversy surrounding the release of the film The Golden Compass based on the first part of Pullman's trilogy. You can also hear an interview with Ms. Freitas and excerpts of an interview she, in turn, did with Mr. Pullman at the website for NPR's program, Here and Now.
Bill Donohue's Catholic League and Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family (talk about your unholy alliances!) have been beating the religious right's war drums to whoop up a boycott of the movie. My wife's reaction was that she hoped it was a better movie than the last one we were forced to see in order to thumb our noses at the wannabe censors. That was the execrable Last Temptation of Christ. I don't mind showing solidarity with art that is under the threat of suppression but, dammit, can't you mouthbreathers pick on good art?
Anyway, in an ironic twist, Ms. Freitas' premise is that Mr. Pullman is really a theologian playing with ideas of a feminist God of Wisdom, as reflected in some parts of the Old Testament, as well as such themes as Liberation Theology, all played out in a retelling of Milton's Paradise Lost.
The "God" who dies in "The Amber Spyglass" is not a true God at all. Pullman's Authority is an impostor, more like Milton's Lucifer than like a traditional conception of God. In the novels, the universe's first angel tricked all other angels and conscious beings created after him into believing he is God, and has spent an eternity building a corrupt empire for the purpose of hanging on to absolute power.Thus, according to Freitas, in Pullman's tale, "God is not dead, then: A false God has died and the true God - a feminine divine - is revealed." As she sums up:
Most Christians are taught to imagine God through the first and second parts of the Trinity, through the Father (God) and the Son (Jesus). Pullman's vision of God is much closer to the third part of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Dust is the Holy Spirit.
It is a beautiful story, and a Christian story. It is a story that could prompt believers to reflect on their faith. It is just not a story that everyone may want you to read.Amen?