Correspondence on Philip Pullman's Subtle Lie

The following is correspondence entered in to by Ann Thomas after her article entitled “Phil Pullman’s Subtle Lie”.

11/06/04

Dear Ann

His Darkest Materials trilogy

Let’s start off with a few basic points: you’re an evangelical Christian and I’m an Atheist, so we’re never likely to agree on most points – though I hope we can disagree in a civilised and friendly fashion. I believe strongly in genuine and absolute freedom of speech (as Voltaire is so often translated: “I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it”), so I’m happy to acknowledge that you’re fully entitled to your point of view so long as it is not prescriptive of the rights of others to share a different perspective. To start with, please allow me to debunk a couple of other myths present in your words:

Firstly, that humanists overestimate the capability of human kind. We do no such thing. We accept that the inherent strengths and weaknesses of mankind will determine how long the species survives, and that man has both the tools for self-destruction and self-preservation to hand. If the alternative is to believe in the providence of a supernatural deity, there is no hope for the human species! Do you really believe God will intervene to create a better life for humans on earth? Obviously not, but even you must recognise that only people are likely to improve our environment.

Second, belief in life after death can best be described as wishful thinking. To suggest that those of us who don’t believe in it are living without hope is patently absurd. Such an aspiration can only be met with ultimate disappointment, so I am quite content to live a full life and die at the natural end to it. Feel no pity for me – I need no artificial props or belief systems! This is neither unattractive nor depressing – it’s the truth. Hope is what drives Lyra and Will to their ultimate destiny, not the strictures of religious or political teaching (from which Lyra’s background has exempted her.) I am most certainly not lacking in hope for myself or society around me – like the people in Pullman’s worlds, we learn lessons and modify our behaviours within a wide band of variant opinions.

I came across your carefully-worded critique of Philip Pullman’s His Darkest Materials trilogy by accident. I congratulate you on a thoughtful and cogent argument. Nevertheless, I must defend Mr Pullman and his admirable refutation of traditional theology. Unfortunately you get off on the wrong foot by entitling your article “Philip Pullman’s subtle lie.” Doesn’t exactly promise a fair and objective analysis, does it? I pride myself on an open-minded approach to life based on experiential learning. While it’s not fair to generalise, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of Christians and adherents of other religions choose to believe in their own infallibility and be remarkably intolerant of anyone else’s point of view. In your view it’s black and white – you’re right and anyone who chooses to disagree is almost certainly wrong. The power of faith is evidently strong, but therein lies the problem. It seems to me this is critical to a reasonable interpretation of Pullman’s work. Please allow me to elaborate.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much! It’s dangerous ground to defend the church. Despite your idealistic view that any community of like-minded individuals constitutes a church, you know full well that in practice every significant religious body, cult or church has its own orthodoxy, which while it might evolve gently over time generally promotes a single interpretation of the laws of its members and participants. Do you believe the book of Genesis literally? Or as an allegory? If the latter, you can hardly blame Pullman for responding in kind. If the former, I’m sorry for you.

Consequently, it’s very fair and reasonable for Pullman to describe the Kingdom of Heaven as it is preached here on earth as being a dictatorship, and explains why any natural phenomenon which conflicts with the fable of creation has been disowned and sometimes virulently attacked by church leaders for undermining not the basis of pure religion but the foundations of the earthly power of the church itself. In other words, institutions and their authority are divorced from the basic precepts under which they were created: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I wonder if you take the view that any criticism of church policy is inherently heretical? Is the pope really infallible? That after all is the point Pullman is making – that God has become irrelevant and the earthly leaders in their assumed wisdom proclaim absolutely the lifestyle their followers must adopt to enter the kingdom of heaven. Certainly the promise of a glorified afterlife has been used to justify widespread suffering in this life. Your religious freedom to be an evangelist is only available because the secular freedoms make it possible to enjoy freedom of thought and expression – though they in turn have also demonstrated appalling excesses of human behaviour (the seven deadly sins live!)

You’re quite right to identify that the church within Lyra’s world is akin to the medieval Catholic church, though the point Pullman makes is that churches of all religions have perpetrated the worst excesses of human behaviour in the name of Gods of every complexion. Wars have often been fought where both sides declared that God was on their side, populations subject to the most appalling persecution because those with political and religious authority declared that views contrary to that of the church were blasphemous or virulently undesirable. Not that I am in any way a Marxist, but Marx was quite correct to point out that a study of history demonstrates that religion has widely been used as an instrument of social control, or the “opiate of the masses”.

Whether you like it or not church leaders have undue political and social power, even in some secular societies. In societies controlled by religious figures, freedom is everywhere in chains. Your description of the church as the coming together of believers does not accord with the political realities of organised religion. Pullman’s allegory states simply that churches do not necessarily represent the pure values of religion, but they do attract the most oppressive human behaviours. Not that they can’t be a force for good too – Pullman brings out the subtlety of emotions and behaviours, particularly in the shape of Mrs Coulter being torn between her passionate devotion to the church and the love of her daughter.

But to fail to recognise their potential for and practice of evil is to deny the lessons of history. Churches have frequently been hypocritical organisations, right back beyond the days of Inquisition. We know how the Catholic church suppressed for many years evidence that priests were molesting children in their care, for example. All the more appropriate that the advanced absolution accredited to Father Gomez is deemed an appropriate way to absolve him of responsibility for his proposed actions is typical: do as I say, not as I do. I defy you to suggest that churches are any less Macchiavellian to this day, even if their methods are often toned down or cloaked in secrecy to fit with the mores of society.

Do you really believe Pullman’s view is “out of date and extreme”? That suggests that there is real and genuine change to the needs of people. Is this born out by reality? The Catholic church is as deeply entrenched in history as it has ever been, but the zeal and extremism of religious fundamentalists is more dangerous than ever. When Bush declares war on “terrorism” we know that is code for muslim fundamentalists opposed to the principle of democratic life.

But than
kfully, we do have secular and democratic societies where you are free to worship as you see fit. We abhor persecution of religious minorities wherever it occurs. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the mores of your current Christian theology and consider whether your beliefs oppress others by thought or by deed? Pullman suggests are more all-embracing theology based on the “republic of heaven” where tolerance and freedom allows a multiplicity of views can not only be tolerated but encouraged to ensure that religion remains practical and universal.

For example, I expect you believe that believers of other religions are going to hell because they don’t believe in your particular orthodoxy (or worship “graven images and false gods” – though the assorted deities have long been described by pantheists as different faces of the same God), and vice versa. In the republican vision, might you not all end up in heaven, each in your own way? Full marks to Philip Pullman for exploding the myths.

And as for the Amber Spyglass being “a clunker”, I’d suggest only you and Mr. Hitchens believe that. Certainly all the many people I know who have read the three volumes found the final part of the saga to be gripping and ultimately satisfying. True, a very close friend of mine who also happens to be an evangelical Christian thought it “anti-religious”, but he also agreed with me that freedom of speech and thought and belief was absolute – and that God is not above criticism and re-evaluation. You may disagree, but I think it totally right and proper that you allow Christians to have their own interpretation and not condemn works of fantasy fiction. Fundamentalists have burned great works of art for hundreds of years. Embrace tolerance and thereby strengthen your beliefs! Time for religious beliefs to co-exist by virtue of their common ground. Long live the republic of heaven!

Kind regards A.M.

14/06/04

Hi A.

Thank you for your considered comments on my article. You say you came across it by accident – I would be interested to know how that happened. I want to take the time to give you a proper answer to the points you make, so just to let you know I have received it and will be in touch.

Regards

Ann Thomas
Reachout Trust

14/06/04

Hi Ann

As it happens, I was searching the web for comments and reviews about HDM when I came across your review. I’m keen on an intelligent debate, so I couldn’t resist the challenge of responding in kind – in much the same way that I do with my evangelical friend. Don’t believe that personal differences should prevent a healthy dialogue – we can always agree to differ.

Just as an aside, while I think traditional theology has very little relevance to modern life, I’m certainly not decrying its importance or value either as a community of interest, therapeutic service, political force or power for change. Indeed, I think religious bodies should be encouraged to do as much as they can to change political priorities towards the humanitarian well-being of people everywhere. Religious virtues can foster very desirable and less selfish behaviours – perhaps they ought to spend more time and resources doing so rather than engaging in other pursuits…

I look forward to your interpretation of my views with great interest!

Kind regards

A.M.

28/06/04

Ann

Thought you’d be interested in this small interview excerpt from Philip Pullman’s own website.

Q. His Dark Materials seems to be against organised religion. Do you believe in God?

A. I don’t know whether there’s a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I’d want nothing to do with them.

A.M.

Reply re Philip Pullman’s Subtle Lie 28/06/04

In re-reading my article I have realised that there is a basic problem of communication. Reachout Trust is an evangelical Christian organisation and the article was written for our Quarterly newsletter, which is read mostly by Christians. I therefore employed a certain amount of ‘shorthand’ in assuming the reader would have a basic understanding of Christian theology and the Bible, and would largely share my views.

Publishing the article on the website has opened it to a wider audience and thus to the possibility of misinterpretation. I welcome your comments for making me think and expand on my points.

I readily admit that I have not made a study of humanism and may have over-simplified, but Philip Pullman’s message is that only when mankind takes its destiny into its own hands will heaven be created. It seems to me that if mankind could create a better world, it would have done so by now, or at least there would be signs of it. Look at the great civilisations of the past – the Greeks and the Romans, for example. But their civilisations eventually fell due to man’s inherent greed and corruption and this is still evident today.

The Christian message acknowledges the ‘fatal flaw’ in us all, and that there is no way we can perfect ourselves. The Good News is that God Himself provided the way and offers it freely to all.

It is interesting to note that you begin by saying that I am fully entitled to my point of view – and then go on to say that it is wishful thinking and idealistic. Still, I too believe everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Let me tackle first your point about the title “Philip Pullman’s Subtle Lie”. I think you have missed the point. It was a play on words, making the point that the books are not all they seem to be, as Pullman himself has declared he has a hidden agenda. I believe the analysis was fair, and as objective as I could be, given my faith, but I think it is important to take the novelist’s intentions into account, where they are so clearly stated. In fact it was finding out what Pullman had said that made a big difference to how I viewed the books the second time I read them. Having said that, the main motivation for the article was to correct some of the ‘knee-jerk’ reactions from certain sectors of Christianity, and to defend the books as remarkably good literature.

You make a lot of assumptions about church and about Christian belief – many of which I would disagree with. I would be interested to know whether you have any experience of Christianity or where you get your ideas from. Like you, I have come to my present position based on experience – I did not become a Christian easily or blindly. I don’t claim to be infallible (neither is the pope, by the way) – it is God whom I have found to be infallible. Unfortunately some people who claim to follow Him do not represent Him well.

Some of what passes for Christianity is not what it should be, and I find myself in agreement with some of the things you say – with the proviso that Christianity as I know it is much truer to the Bible and free from the very things you criticise. There are countless examples of good Christianity, which are conveniently overlooked by those who want to criticise the church. The changed lives and the sacrifices made for others are miracles. “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart” as someone once said. Jesus said, “He who would be greatest must be the servant of all.” Church should not be about power but about service – to fellow believers and to the wider community. This is ‘pure religion’ as you call it. In fact the writer James described pure religion as “to look after orphans and widows in thei
r distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

You say that “institutions and their authority are divorced from the basic precepts under which they were created.” This was the whole point of the Reformation: to point out to the established church that they had ‘lost the plot’ and to rediscover the truths of the Bible about how we were really to live. Pullman is misleading when he uses the medieval church as his model, as it ignores the fact that the church has been constantly bringing people back to the fundamentals of the faith.

In the same vein I do not believe criticism of church policy is heretical. Anyone who serves under God should be open to question. We are all seeking a better understanding of what the Bible teaches us about God, about His relationship to us, and about how we should live in the light of that. “Earthly leaders”, as you call them, do not dictate lifestyle through their own “assumed wisdom”, but proclaim honestly what they have found to be true. We are all free to make our own choices, but if there is a God, and if He is concerned with us, we choose to ignore Him at our peril. God has become irrelevant only because mankind has rejected Him and gone their own way, and in my experience it does not lead to happiness. I have found God’s way of living to be much more fulfilling.

You make some sweeping generalisations about war. Every war in the last 200 years was fought for political or humanist ideologies. People go into war thinking right is on their side – whether they call it God or an ideology or whatever. If you do away with right – what is there to fight for? I also object to your generalised criticisms of “churches of all religions”. I can only speak for Christianity as I know it, and cannot answer for Christian mistakes of the distant past nor for other faiths (including Catholicism). In fact there are many places in the world today where it is not “freedom… in chains” but Christians.

I am grateful to live in a free society where I am allowed to worship as I wish, and would not want to deprive others of the same freedom, but there is a great misuse of the word ‘tolerance’ these days. People use it to mean that we must not criticise one another, but allow everyone to believe what they wish. You do not have to exercise tolerance if you agree with someone, tolerance means allowing views which you disagree with. Christianity is not intolerant for disagreeing with all other faiths. Christianity is tolerant because, while disagreeing with them, we will fight for their right to believe. If religion were up to men, we could all find our own ways to God and all end up in some sort of heaven at the end of it. The trouble is that we would be following a god made in our own image. In order to take account of a God who made us and all creation, who is sovereign over all, we have to find out what He wants, not what we want. Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father but by me.” Because he also claimed to be God, you cannot just accept him as a good man or a great teacher. He was either insane or deliberately deceiving us, or he was who he said he was. Then we have no choice but to believe what he said. This makes all other religions false in terms of the one true God. It is not that I think that “believers of other religions are going to hell because they don’t believe in your particular orthodoxy”, it is what God Himself has said.

I did think that the Amber Spyglass was too involved and wordy, but I did enjoy it. I would not however class it with “great works of art”. I would not want to burn the His Dark Materials series, but I do feel a word of caution is appropriate because it sets out to give a distorted view of the church, life after death, and of God.

Regards
Ann

06/07/04

Ann

Thanks for your reply to my admittedly provocative email. I guess we each have our own prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions, so your article and the two subsequent emails indicate that we have misinterpreted aspects of each other’s philosophy.

You’re right that I don’t have a background in Christian theology (my parents and my wife are believers, though I’ve been sceptical as far back as I can remember.) I went to church and Sunday school as a kid, but retained a healthy scepticism even then – that what was taught as fact was in fact divisive, speculative, frequently a lot of fairy tales. I remember in particular one teacher telling a group of young children that the odds against evolution resulting in human life were umpteen billion to one against; I thought then, and would have said but for peer pressure to accept the teachings of the church uncritically, that the odds against creation as it is described in the bible are far, far higher, and unlike evolution are based on no physical evidence whatsoever! From that point on I developed my principle view that religion would be a restriction and limitation on my freedom and independence of thought. Isn’t it a lovely irony that what you would see as a liberation I would see as shackles! Certainly, I don’t accept your definition of tolerance, even if it seems in widespread circulation. Tolerance is an active debate between contributing members of society in my book.

Yes, I make assumptions, albeit based on a lot of observation here and in the US, arguably a better comparison for Pullman’s church. I’ve seen churches manipulate people for their own political ends, be totally intrusive of the lives of their followers, charge sizeable levies for membership, wield power like tyrannical autocracies . They are among the most intolerant groups I’ve ever observed, and certainly don’t preach unanimity or love of your fellow man. Oh, and they almost unanimously claim to be closer to the bible than any other group. To appreciate the dangers of hard right Christianity, perhaps you need to stand further outside your value set? It’s often not the forgiving or tolerant religion you paint it to be, for sure.

Even closer to home, I was always deeply sceptical of the motives of evangelical groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who I gather are required to convert more people in order to save their own souls. Ultimately, everyone has a personal motive for their actions, so to paint evangelicals as being any different is disingenuous. Sorry – I don’t mean to question your motives, which I’m sure are genuine and selfless, but do you ever doubt your faith or your own motives? I’m delighted if your faith gives you peace of mind and hope for humanity, but do you ever see the restrictions by which you are bound?

While I’ m proud to be regarded as a humanist and a political historian (by first degree – I also have an MBA and will shortly start a PhD); as such, I am sure that mankind will ultimately die a death. The point there is that only mankind has the power to create virtuous and sustainable life, and also to destroy it. If you wait for God to do so, you’ll be waiting for ever with no afterlife to look forward to, for that too is a human construct within many cultural traditions, many predating Christianity. The greatest failing in human beings is that of self-deception, and frequently mass self-deception, a charge I levy at everyone and not just religious bodies. I would attack the behaviour of secular societies just as severely as the behaviour of fundamentalist ones.

But credit to Pullman, there is much light and shade in his version – plenty of room for emotional confusion and changes of opinion. Look at Mary Malone, who abandons her faith when she realises that there is more to life. Look at the pragmatic view of Mrs. Coulter, who realises that whatever atrocities she has performed in the name of the church, the love of her daughter is infinitely more important. Lyra represents the sacrifice in her life.

Above all, Pullman is right when he says there is no way you can know there is a God. Personally I believe all Gods in all religions are fundamentally the same, all constructs of the human
mind but for very good reasons – the human need for reassurance and sustainance in its own virtue for one. By following God, you are following your own path to a virtuous life, that of the superego in Freudian terms. You say your God is different and that other religions are worshipping “gods made in our own image” – and doubtless millions of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, even Jews, and followers of other religions would say the same about yours. Why is yours right and theirs wrong? If I have sympathy with any religious group, it would be pantheism, which at least has a positive common language to unite all people regardless of their philosophies – truly a collaborative exercise in spiritualism. I’m sure Pullman would have a similar instinct.

The point I made to you in the previous email, particularly about war, was that religion was often used to mask or to justify true motives and behaviours in defence of the indefensible. Interesting when I discussed the Iraq war with religious friends: their opinion varied, some for and some against. None believed it was the equivalent of a Jehad against Islam, but equally there were some who saw it as an opportunity to promote “Christian virtues” in the middle east. Cultural imperialism, political opportunism, moral authority or religious fervour? Or a combination? Even in HDM, the reasons for fighting seem somewhat confused.

With which, I hope you take this email in the constructive tone in which it is intended. I look forward to hearing from you again, and wish you every happiness!

Kind regards

A.M.

Resent 24/09/04

Dear A.

This discussion began over my critique of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, and we are ranging far and wide in the topics it has raised. You may not agree with my opinions, but from your own experience, from the things you have said, I think you will agree that from an evangelical Christian point of view there is valid reason for concern, both about the message of the books and the intentions of the author. The vast majority of fiction, particularly children’s fiction, gives no clue as to the ideology of the author – except for example that the right should always triumph in the end. Philip Pullman, on the other hand, clearly states that he does not believe in God and that he believes that humanity’s destiny is best left in its own hands. And he has written this message deliberately into these books.

Nowhere have I said that there was anything wrong with the books (in fact I have praised them) – except that they undermine the truth as Christians see it. In your reply you take issue with the Christian faith and say that Pullman was right to attack it – which means that you agree with me that it was a deliberate attack. Since there is so much misunderstanding in the world as to what Christianity is about (including yourself), books such as these only serve to exacerbate the problem.

Philip Pullman makes two basic errors in his reasoning. Firstly, he reasons from the general to the specific – which is a basic philosophical error. He looks at the broad sweep of religious history and some of the evils and abuses that have gone on, and applies them specifically to Christianity today.

“I would say that these people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly. So belief in a God does not seem to me to result automatically in behaving very well.” – Interview with Susan Roberts, fish.co.uk.

I could do the same with British football supporters, look at the reports on the news of the violence and bad behaviour, at the number of times they have to call out the riot police and the number of people who get arrested. You could tell me you are a football supporter and I could immediately refuse to have anything to do with you because you must be a hooligan. What this view fails to take into account is all the thousands of people who support their teams by attending matches and never cause any trouble. They are decent, hardworking people who deplore the violence in the same way I do.

As I said in my previous email, “There are countless examples of good Christianity, which are conveniently ignored by those who want to criticise the Church.” And you make the same error in several places. The most glaring one is in using the phrase “evangelical groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” This group is, by definition, as far away from biblical Christianity as you can get and are recognised throughout Christendom as a cult, which teaches a completely twisted view of many Christian beliefs. Anything they do can in no wise be used to criticise evangelical Christianity. You also speak of “hard right Christianity”, which by very definition is extremist and cannot therefore be used as a measure of the whole. That is similar to taking the Nazi SS as a representative example of the German people – something I am sure, as a political historian, you would never do.

The second error in Pullman’s reasoning is in drawing conclusions from insufficient or non-existent evidence – sometimes referred to as arguing from silence. In the same interview quoted above, Pullman says:

“I’ve got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don’t know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn’t shown himself on earth.”

This reminds me of the question, “What was the largest island in the world before Australia was discovered?” The answer is “Australia” – because it was still there even when no one had discovered it. If you claim there is no evidence that there is a God, the best conclusion you can draw is that there is nothing to base a conclusion on. You cannot conclude he is not there until all your evidence is in.

I, of course, would claim that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God – it is just not the sort of evidence that people want to see. Nor does it point to the sort of God they want to meet. Our grand daughter told my husband Michael the other day, “My mummy doesn’t believe in God because she says she has never seen him.” To which Michael replied, “Tell her she’s looking in the wrong place.”

Most people who say they do not believe do so as a reflex action to keep life simple – they know that if there is a God, they would have to do something about it, and they don’t want to.

You made a judgement at a very young age based on little, if any, evidence, which you have not tested with the greater wisdom of the years. It seems that you still believe that what is taught in church is “divisive, speculative, and frequently a lot of fairy tales.” You talk of churches you’ve observed who “certainly don’t preach unanimity or love of your fellow man.” This again shows a lack of understanding, as unanimity and love are not necessarily the same thing. The dictionary definition of ‘unanimity’ is “complete agreement” or “agreement without a dissentient.” It is possible for a group of people to be unanimous about a specific item, or even a whole range of things (such as a faith system), but not about everything. What sort of unanimity did you have in mind, that you would like Christians to preach? I love all my children, but I cannot be unanimous with them when they want to do something dangerous or unwise. I have even been opposed to some of the decisions they have made, but I still love them. Even within the spectrum of Christianity you will find there is not unanimity, but we have a principle which is widely used, which goes something like this: “These things we hold firmly, these things we hold lightly, and these things we hold away.” Those things we hold firmly enable us to identify with others as Christians, those things we hold away identify those who are not Christians, and the rest we disagree about, but it is not crucial. That is why you find such a range of beliefs and practices among people who all call themselves Christian.

Jesus most certainly preached love for one another and even went so far as to tell us to love our enemies. In fact he died for his enemies – all of us. But he never preached unanimity – far from it. He said, “No man comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Christianity is exclusive, we say in effect, “There is only one way to be right with God, and this is it.” As I said in my last email, either Jesus was deliberately deceiving, mentally unstable, or he was who he said he was. In the words of C.S. Lewis – Liar, Lunatic or Lord. If he was the Son of God and Saviour of the world, then he is the only way to God.

Which brings me back to the word ‘tolerance’. Your definition is just that – your definition. “An active debate between contributing members of society” is a great idea, but you can’t make a word mean what you want it to mean. According to the dictionary definition, to be tolerant is “to endure with patience or impunity, to allow to exist.” Tolerance is “willingness to tolerate or allow.” Tolerance is a passive thing – you put up with something you don’t like, or disagree with. By that definition you are tolerating my contrary views, and I yours. As we “endure with patience” those with whom we disagree “An active debate between contributing members of society” may well ensue. Indeed, if such a debate takes place there must, by definition, be disagreement otherwise there would be nothing to debate. During such a debate ‘tolerance’, by its dictionary definition, is essential and good. Tolerance isn’t defined by debate but makes sensible debate possible. On that basis Christianity is very tolerant. But we do disagree with all other religions – and must do, because of what Jesus said. This is something I recommend you look into further. If you had the cure for cancer, wouldn’t you try to persuade everyone to use it? Or would you suggest that they try any other alternative they fancied – even if it meant they would die before they got round to trying yours?

As I said earlier, our discussions have raised a lot of topics, which I would be happy to tackle in future, like evolution vs. creation, and Christianity’s hope for the future (both now and after death). But I would like to bring to a close the debate about “His Dark Materials”. One last comment I would like to make about your ‘freedom’ and my ‘restrictions’. You might like to think about the difference between liberty and licence. The way you describe ‘freedom’ fits more closely the definition of ‘licence’. Licence is the unrestricted freedom to do whatever you like. This is well illustrated by your apparent belief that you are free to define ‘tolerance’ in a way that suits you but has no bearing on the universal understanding of the word. ‘Freedom’, if it is to have any meaning in society, must involve rules and restrictions. Some ‘rules’ improve our freedom. You are free to enjoy a concert because the rules of society stop people from talking loudly and spoiling it. You are free to drive safely on the roads – but only if everyone obeys the Highway Code. My ‘restrictions’ help me to live a better and more fulfilling life, because, to quote the apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12).

I look forward to your next instalment!

Regards

Ann

15/10/04

Ann

Forgive the delay I’m fully engaged between a full-time job, play rehearsals, family time and my father’s terminal illness. Hope you’re having an easier time of it. How do you fill your time?

Didn’t really want to extend the discussion on HDM too much further – we could debate it forever, which in my view serves no useful purpose other than to indicate how successful Philip Pullman has been in opening the can of worms – which I believe was his primary purpose all along. Putting yourself in the position of the author, you know that your work will be read and dissected at different levels and any opinion expressed via allegory will undoubtedly be lauded by one section of society and perceived as divisive or dangerous by another. But without the debate, freedom of expression and society would be much the poorer (hence my use of the famous quotation commonly attributed to Voltaire.)

END OF SUBJECT

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