Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Philip Pullman fails theology!


Jewish date:  9 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Lekh-Lekha).

Today’s holiday:  Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “No triggers for a public option. Tell Congress now.

Philip Pullman signing a copy of Lyra's Oxford...Image of Philip Pullman via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  Last night I finished The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman, and a great secret of this story is finally revealed in chapter 21.


The plot of this book focuses on two mysteries:  a weakly-interacting elementary particle known as “Dust” and the kidnapping of children.  Dust starts accumulating in children around puberty, a time when their dæmons loose the ability to change shape.  The Church has decided that Dust is evidence of (the purely Christian concept of) original sin.  Keep in mind, class, that original sin is sinfulness inherited from ’Adham (Adam) and Ḥawwah (Eve) due to their violating the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; since it is something people are supposed to be born with, something acquired at puberty is probably not whatever physical manifestation it has.

To get around this obvious problem, Pullman rewrites his world’s version of Genesis 3:2-7 to give ’Adham and Ḥawwah dæmons which change shape.  The Snake promises that if they (’Adham and Ḥawwah) eat the forbidden fruit, their dæmons will take on their true forms.  Only when they eat of the fruit do their dæmons take on fixed forms and do they realize they are different from the rest of the animal kingdom, which do not have dæmons.  This still does nothing to get around the mismatch between Dust acquisition and original sin.  Pullman also introduces novel interpretations of a phrase from Genesis 3:19, “for you are dirt and to dirt you will return”:  “thou shalt be subject to dust”—hence the name of the particle—and that somehow this phrase is supposed to indicate that YHWH (God)’s nature is somehow to be partly sinful.  Neither of these new interpretations is tenable in the original Hebrew—and I will (figuratively, not literally) grind into the dirt the face of anyone ignorant enough to dare claim otherwise.  Pullman is simply jamming Scripture into a vague semblance of a useful form in order to be able to make the Church rationalize doing something awful.

As I have mentioned previously, the point of kidnapping children is to perform on them intercission, the separation of body and dæmon/soul.  Not one, but two reasons for intercission are given.  The first, which villain #1, Mrs. Coulter, is supposed to intend, is to keep children from being affected by Dust and thus save them from original sin.  No reason whatsoever is given to believe this should work, and nothing is reported on whether it works.  In fact, it makes no sense to have severed children wander around away from the facility if this is really what they want to do; such children should be retained in order to measure whether they collect Dust or not.  The other reason, which the heroine Lyra deduces that villain #2, Lord Asriel, intends, is to release the energy of the bond holding body and dæmon together.  Lord Asriel actually does this, using the energy to power a contraption to enable traveling to another world.

In summary:  I am not impressed.  Rather than show us the truth or beauty of atheism (whatever that may be), Pullman has invented a Christian world embodying what he hates about Christianity.  He hates the Roman Catholic Church.  He hates John Calvin.  He hates the past abuses of the Church.  But Pullman has gone farther than that.  He has rewritten and reinterpreted Scripture, and he has invented new crimes for the Church to perform and lame rationalizations for those crimes.  In effect, he is preaching against a Church which has never existed.  This is disappointingly in line with the other works of the militant atheism movement which I have read, the only improvement being that his writing is readable.  If he is trying to build a case against Christianity or religion in general, the fabrications invalidate it.  If he is trying to build a case for atheism, he has made no case at all.

Next up:  Book 2:  The Subtle Knife.  I hope it does not prove as big a disappointment.

Topic 2:  By now you probably should have heard of claims of the Mayan calendar running out or a rogue planet swinging by Earth in 2012, causing horrific disaster.  In response to this, I feel it is appropriate to note some materials debunking such claims:  “Apocalypse 2012? The Truth About the End of the World” and “Doomsday 2012, the Planet Nibiru, and Cosmophobia”.  I also dug up a relevant list:  “The millennium and end-of-the-world predictions”.  Due note that the end of the World has been predicted numerous times, and all times which have passed so far has proven wrong.  Given the shaky evidence on which the 2012 claims are based (to put it politely), there is no reason to believe things will be any different this time.


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