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Monday, November 19, 2007

"The Golden Compass:" more on Pullman

The Golden Compass is a film scheduled to open in theaters on December 7th. There are Christians who are up in arms about Pullman's militant atheism. I'm not for atheism, either, but there are some dangers in campaigns like this.

I have previously posted on this topic, arguing that there are influences from the media that are considerably more insidious, hence more dangerous, than blatant atheism. I stand by that conclusion. I would also point out that campaigns of this type sometimes backfire. There is a possibility that people will see The Golden Compass just to see what the fuss is about, who might not have seen it otherwise. Since the first of the books is considerably less blatant than the next two, there is also the danger of looking ridiculous.

I'd like to provide two links that indicate Pullman's anti-Christian attitude. It's real.

The first link is to an article written by Pullman, about the Narnia books. The article is more anti-C. S. Lewis than anti-Christian, to be sure, and, as much as I admire the writing of the late Lewis, I must admit that Pullman presents some valid and pertinent criticisms, most of which have previously been made by Christian critics. However, his militant atheism comes through loud and clear, when he says that the revelation, to the main human characters in The Last Battle, that they have died, and that they are now in an infinitely better world, is "propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology." That ideology is Christianity.

The second link is an interview with Pullman, about his beliefs, and where they came from. He expresses his anti-Christianity quite clearly.

I originally had a second part, indicating that Pullman has undercut his own anti-Christian case or, perhaps better put, the cases of some other atheists. However, on December 4, 2007, I decided to remove that portion of the post, and change the title accordingly, based on comments by George (see those comments below) who says that the evidence I presented did not support the claim that I had originally made. That being the case, I removed the claim. This will have the effect of removing any links anyone might have made to the original post.


Rob Rumfelt said...

Great post, Martin. Reading the interview with Pullman was enlightening. He seemed a very intelligent and thoughtful person, though very anti-Christian. And defintely anti-Lewis!

Something I've noticed about so-called "atheists." A lot of them seem more anti-Christianity than merely not believing in God. Even Pullman intimated in the interview that he might be called an agnostic rather than an atheist. But his feelings on Christianity are vehemently negative. Some of the atheists I know personally are the same way.

Anyway, thanks much for the links. Once again you've proved to be a wonderful resource. Also, welcome back! Hope you had a nice trip.

You and your family have a great Thanksgiving!

All the Best,

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Rob.

I guess, if I had to categorize Pullman in a phrase, it would be "anti-church."

You are right about atheists. It takes some real courage to be a fully committed atheist, (or a fully committed Christian) I believe.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found this blog from the Exploring our Matrix, the blog of Dr. James F. McGrath.

Anyway, Martin, chief criticism seems to be that Pullman is inconsistent, if not hypocritical in his rejection of the supernatural, by rejecting the concept of the Christian God but embracing so-called 'Materialist Magic'. But doesn't it seem a little ridiculous to assume that because a fiction author writes of 'Materialist magic', that he believes that sort of thing actually exists?

I'm an amateur writer of science fiction myself, and several of my stories have dealt with the not-uncommon genre concept of humans having been 'engineered' by advanced extraterrestrials- but it would be foolish to claim that I am inconsistent in my rejection of Intelligent Design because I write fiction sympathetic to the concept.

Can you really not make the distinction between what a person might write in a work of fiction and their actual beliefs?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, George. You are right, of course, that there may be a distinction between what a person believes, and what her characters believe. See my post on "Paganism and Christianity in Juliet Marillier's fiction" -- link under Most Important Posts, at the upper right of my blog.

Pullman really is a materialist. If you want proof, check out the links to two pieces of evidence in my post, or to another interview with Pullman, here, or the Wikipedia article on Pullman.

I am not saying that the movie should be boycotted, or the books not read, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Oh, of course I'm quite well aware that Pullman is a materialist- and an atheist; although he doesn't strictly define himself as such, his position closely coincides with my own, and I define my position as 'atheist', so from where I'm standing the label is accurate enough.

What I take issue with is your labeling of him as a "Materialist magician". I see no justification for your assertion that Pullman harbors any sort of belief in the (pseudo-?)supernatural. While I am familiar with the type- those who, for instance, vehemently deny the Christian God while credulously embracing ESP, UFOs, ghosts and the like- your only rationale for counting Pullman among those ranks seems to be what he wrote in a children's book. You might as well accuse C.S. Lewis of heresy for claiming to be a Christian while writing of talking animals and relating a creation story entirely at odds with Genesis 1.

Martin LaBar said...

Well, "materialist magician" may have been too strong. I did this because he believes, according to some of links in the post, some of which quote Pullman, that all matter has some sort of consciousness, as if each quark, say, has some sort of spirit (or "dust") associated with it.


Anonymous said...

Uh... there is absolutely nothing in any of the links you posted supporting your cliams that he adheres to this animism you describe, nothing whatsoever. Let's go through the links in this post one by one:

"I have previously posted on this topic,"

Which does not address or reference any material relating to Pullman's supposed belief in 'materialist magic'.

"The first link is to an article written by Pullman, about the Narnia books."

In which he doesn't go into his personal beliefs at all, though his anti-Christian stance can be readily inferred from the content.

"The second link is an interview with Pullman,"

In which he mentions no personal belief in the sort of animism you're talking about.

"Atheists are generally materialists,"

Wikipedia article on materialism.

"They are also generally naturalists,"

Wiki on naturalism.

"humans have familiars, or familiar spirits."

Wiki on familiars.

"See the Wikipedia article on Dust (His Dark Materials)"

And here we have it- your evidence. Much as you protest otherwise, you are making exactly the same point I said you are making-

"I have now seen the trailer for The Golden Compass, and was reminded of one aspect of the books (there are two more) namely that humans have familiars, or familiar spirits. In Pullman's books, these are seen as animals. This, it seems to me, does not square with naturalism or materialism. If Pullman uses familiar spirits throughout his books, that would seem to implicitly legitimize angels, deities, and the human soul and spirit. His atheism isn't mainstream atheism, it appears."

What??? How can you possibly justify that logical leap? Because Pullman writes of a non-material world in his fiction, he contradicts his materialism???; that's exactly what you are claiming. So why did you then claim in your response to me that you had provided links with quotes by Pullman stating he believed such thing? You provided no such links. The only mention of the sort of animistic beliefs you are attributing is in the Wiki article on Dust, Pullman's fictional creation. Do you really have that much trouble discriminating between fiction and reality? :headdesk:

"I did this because he believes, according to some of links in the post, some of which quote Pullman, that all matter has some sort of consciousness, as if each quark, say, has some sort of spirit (or "dust") associated with it."

No, he writes in his fiction, according to some of the links in the post (actually one, the Wiki article on Dust), that all matter has some sort of consciousness, as if each quark, say, has some sort of spirit (or "dust") associated with it. Again, :headdesk:

Martin LaBar said...

OK. Perhaps not. I thought there was such evidence.

Martin LaBar said...

P. S. I've put a disclaimer in the post.


Anonymous said...

Ok. I didn't really mean to put you on the spot there or anything, by the way.

David B. Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...

Well, "materialist magician" may have been too strong. I did this because he believes, according to some of links in the post, some of which quote Pullman, that all matter has some sort of consciousness, as if each quark, say, has some sort of spirit (or "dust") associated with it.

Sounds like he's more a panpsychist/idealist than a materialist in his metaphysics. Its not an unreasonable metaphysical hypothesis since it avoids the problem associated with a purely materialist metaphysical theory---that of why the arrangement of matter we call a brain results in consciousness. There's nothing particularly magical or supernatural about the idea. Idealism and panpsychism are just as consistent, after all, with the nonexistence of God and supernatural entities as materialism is.

Personally, I tend to agree with the old, out of fashion, logical positivists in their opinion that disputes for which no evidence is, even in principle, possible are pretty pointless and possibly meaningless.

David B. Ellis said...

And that's only assuming this view is one of his own and not just an element of the fantasy setting of his novels. I don't really know one way or the other on that. I just wanted to point out that atheists with a naturalistic worldview dont have to be materialists. There are many metaphysical theories equally consistent with naturalism.

I'm a metaphysical agnostic myself.

Martin LaBar said...


I think I'm in over my head here, as, I'm sorry to say, I have never taken a course in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

ok, here goes: It seems to me that I would definitely agree with your assertion (Mr. La Barr), that you are in way over your head, since you have never pursued philosophy academically. So, I would like to offer that "labeling" is an activity best left to those who wish to confirm what they already desire to be the truth, and true critical thought (ie- no assumptions or labels, etc.) is an activity best left to geniuses. Please say you are a genius, and please attempt to be more thorough in your investigations of truth; or else please, leave discussion to those who actually have taken the time to consider every possible angle. Otherwise you are just blowing wind because some part of you recognizes that a genius has done something beyond your own limitations of creative thought. Thank you! Namaste.
PS-please feel free to continue once you actually take the time to make the attempt at actually looking at the sort of truth that we would call "objective", and not "subjective". Amen!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my ...........???? higher self????? OK, damn it! GOD! You people are insane. I can't believe educated people can be so absolutely clueless and narrow-minded. Please, may we investigate everything more carefully, thoroughly, and with the appropriate background info in order to make pertinent comments, and not just type words that sound smart. I admit I did not read all of the posts, but goodness, it was hard enough to make it through just some of the rhetoric and dogmatic thinking on this page. Good day kind people!

Martin LaBar said...

I don't know what you meant by "higher self," anonymous. I searched for "self" on this page, and didn't find it. Perhaps I missed it.

I'm sorry you feel as you do, for whatever reason. It would seem that "investigate everything more carefully," (your phrase) would include reading what you are complaining about. It's true that some of the complaints about Pullman were made by people who hadn't done that, and that's wrong, but you are doing it, too, I'm afraid.

Thanks for commenting.