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Saturday, 23 June 2007

The War Against God

Richard Harries, in today's Guardian Review, admirably and cleverly takes on Christopher Hitchens, whose new book is a direct frontal assault on religion and a belief in God. The main theme of all the recent anti-God tracts published in England and abroad is that man hands on misery to man, and that this deepening coastal shelf of pain was made by true believers - entirely ignoring the truth that the fact of man's wickedness is the best reason for the need for religion, not the best reason to assume it is yet another human evil. Religion - at its height - symbolizes the horizon at which the human finds possible perfection - hardly an aim worthy of such hack indignation...

This at a time when Hypocrite-in-Chief Tony Blair has met the Pope in Rome, on his way to becoming a Catholic - an admirable road to take, but one which will be paved with the need for a great deal of soul-searching, or at least, forgiveness. Lying to the nation and helping to instigate an illegal war are hardly the highlights of the Sermon On The Mount. Blair and Bush as poster boys for Jesus would have the saviour turning in His grave, were he not already above them.

Meanwhile, P. Pullman's Northern Lights has been selected as the best book for children of the last 70 years (since 1937, then) - a curiously arbitrary period that is no doubt designed, among other things, to avoid the possibility that otherwise the award would have gone to J.R.R. Tolkien. It seems possible to argue that books for children like The Hobbit, Wind In The Willows, or Charlotte's Web, are superior to Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy - and surely The Chronicles of Narnia are better by far - and the clear Aunt Sally with which Pullman shadow boxes.

Pullman's writing is fluent, inventive, sometimes utterly delightful and frequently very exciting - and his idea of shape-shifting daemons is most clever. But his attempts to work philosophy, poetry, and theology into his novels are hardly as innovative as many critics claim - indeed, almost all serious fiction refers, on any number of levels, to myth, belief and the poetic canon. And, of course, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had done so, before.

What is to be regretted is that Pullman has allied his fictional gifts and interest in childhood and its various discontents, to a deeply atheistic vision of the world, one which, among other things, is profoundly anti-Catholic. In some ways, Northern Lights is A Child's Garden of Satanic Verses - except, this time, it is Christians who are getting the ungracious salute. Naturally, Jonathan Swift crafted imaginative works whose anti-humanism and satiric rages are great, despite or because of, their dark perspective and materials, and Pullman is to be excused his intolerance and Blakean zeal.

Who doesn't want to see the film version of The Golden Compass (the American title of NL), especially as Nicole Kidman (above) plays the villainess?


http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2109068,00.html

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2108818,00.html
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