23 January 2009

The Church I Know, The Church You Know

I just finished His Dark Materials for the second time, this time in audio format. While I enjoyed the story again, and I think Philip Pullman is a remarkably talented writer, I found myself also frustrated yet again with his narrow-minded approach to religion and the Christian church. It is unfortunate that so many people base so much of their anger against organized religion on what appears to be such a small portion of the church.
Pullman's characters discover that the Church, in Lyra's world in particular, is firmly dedicated to grasping and holding power, to controlling wills and even to taking life to protect their position and power. I remember thinking as I read, "if the Church I serve were really like this, I'd want to join Lord Azriel and take it out, too!" There is nothing wrong with wanting to do away with a corrupt, power-hungry, politically driven church. The problem comes when one takes one's picture of the whole from a snapshot of the lunatic fringe.
This is not the church I know. The church I know is dedicated to creation, to nourishment, to helping people discover their gifts and use them for the benefit of the world. Have we always wanted to do this? Not at all: in some periods of time, the church was guilty of exactly the type of sins Pullman levies in his fiction. But not presently, not in any way, shape or form that resembles the characterization in this series.
It is disheartening to think that a mind as obviously gifted as Philip Pullman's has been so clouded against this church I love so dearly. The church we see is the church we know, and someone (or, more likely, a whole congregation of someones) gave Philip Pullman a vision of the church that is far different from the church I know. That, unfortunately, leaves us with very different views of the church, even though we agree about corruption, legalism and the danger of mixing power and religion. It takes a great story and makes it merely good, with the caveat that could have been offered magnified into an outright condemnation I'm not sure is deserved. The church Pullman knows deserved rebuke: the church I know would accept it gladly. It's too bad we'll likely never have the chance to see that happen.


  1. I just read the triology for the first time this winter and couldn't agree more.

  2. someone very close to me is not much of an organized religion fan shall we say... and they commented once they found the church today fairly irrelevant and mostly self-serving. *blink blink*...

    but it led to a really good discussion in starbucks... and well, we're still discussing months later.