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December 06, 2005

Defending Narnia

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Nelson defends The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe against attacks by award-winning writer and atheist Philip Pullman. Pullman pulls no punches in his disdain and revulsion of the story and its themes. Nelson, however, point by point, shows that these attacks are without merit in the areas of sexism, racism, violence, death and love. In more than one case, Nelson notes that the very thing that Pullman professes to dislike about Narnia is also featured in Pullman's own children's literature.

The most ironic portion:

One of the books in Pullman's His Dark Materials series won the 2001 Whitbread Award both for best children's book and for best book of any kind published in England the previous year — the only time the main prize has ever been awarded to a work for children. Pullman wrote the series, he says, because "I really wanted to do ... Paradise Lost in 1,200 pages. ... It's the story of the Fall which is the story of how what some would call sin, but I would call consciousness, comes to us." Over the course of three volumes, Pullman wanted to celebrate, as he thinks John Milton does, our first ancestors' decision to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.

In Pullman's mind, rebellion from a loving God is better than (or at least a better story than) redemption and acceptance of the gift of eternal life from that same loving God. Read the whole review for some more good irony and a good defense of Lewis' story.

Posted by Doug at December 6, 2005 09:52 AM

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Defending Narnia? Against atheists? Atheists suffer from their own brand of bigotry. If atheists were honest—that is—that they just don’t believe in God, they would appreciate the Chronicles as good children’s entertainment. But in their attack, their hated, their bigotry is revealed.

Posted by: William at December 6, 2005 11:17 AM

I get it. Every criticism made by an atheist is an Attack. Every attack is motived by Hatred and Bigotry. Because they're atheists, and that's how atheists are— they cannot just write a criticism. It's always— by definition— a hateful and bigoted attack.

Why do Christians feel the need to be so defensive when they receive criticisms from atheists?

Posted by: s9 at December 6, 2005 05:44 PM

Not every criticism is an attack and, like most of Pullman's comments in the aforementioned article, not every attack is constructive criticism. Pullman labels Lewis a simpleton, duped by the opiate of the masses, as well as a racist and a sexist.

I don't think many would call that, regardless of their point of view, anything other than an attack.

Posted by: jwookie at December 6, 2005 06:05 PM

Pullman has labeled the books racist and sexist. I've not seen where he leveled that charge at their author. I don't know where the charge of 'simpleton' came from...

Also, it would also help to remember that not everybody who says "religion is the opiate of the masses" is doing so as an attack. Consider the example of Irving Kristol, who says it without any hint of hostility. Pullman is an atheist— there's little doubt about that. Calling him a bigot just because he criticizes the work of a Christian as racist and sexist is an overreaction. Why so defensive?

Posted by: s9 at December 6, 2005 10:14 PM


Have you read the Nelson article?

Consider this paragraph:

Certainly there is nothing remotely as tendentious in The Chronicles as Pullman's attacks in His Dark Materials against Christianity. "For all its history," a benevolent witch tells Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, the young protagonists of the series, the Church "has tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. ... That's what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling." As for God, a rebellious angel later tells the children, "God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty ... was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves ... [who] told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie." In one of the last scenes of the trilogy, the children watch God die. "Demented and powerless," Pullman writes, "the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery." Every Christian character in the series is rotten to the core, and none of them bothers to pretend otherwise. "The Christian religion," one of Pullman's main characters blandly explains, "is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all." Oh.

Assuming Nelson is quoting Pullman honestly, it's easy to see why Pullman's criticism is characterized as an attack.

Posted by: Kent at December 7, 2005 12:22 PM

And it is easy to see why Pullman sets himself up to be seen as a bigot. Whether he did it on purpose or not is another question.

Posted by: william at December 7, 2005 03:18 PM

I'm well aware that Pullman's His Dark Materials ends with his protagonists "killing off" the Authority, a kind of syncretic ur-God. The target of Pullman's criticisms in His Dark Materials comprises more than just the central doctrines of Christianity. His argument is directed against pretty much all of monotheism.

It is not easy to see His Dark Materials as an "attack" on C.S. Lewis. He was aiming for a much broader scope. Complaining that Pullman is attacking C.S. Lewis is missing the point.

Calling him a bigot is to rob the word of its power. But then, you folks have never been particularly interested in preserving the power of that word, have you?

Posted by: s9 at December 7, 2005 07:51 PM

Pullman has had several interviews in which he criticises Lewis and Tolkien as writers and, yes, he doesn't draw a line between their writing and their belief. I just wish that Nelson had quoted from one of those interviews directly. I also noticed that he didn't point out the lovelessness of the characters in Pullman's books, especially Lyra's parents and their abuse of her.

Posted by: Jean at December 8, 2005 11:49 AM


I consider a person a bigot when he generalizes from a few traits to the whole person. For example, a person is a racial bigot when he sees a black skin and generalizes to a black character. A person is a social bigot when he sees a small-town address and generalizes to a small mind. A person is an educational bigot when he sees a non-Ivy League college degree and generalizes to a non-Ivy League intellect.

And a person is a religious bigot when he sees a disagreeable religious belief and generalizes to a disagreeable social and ethical system.

Nelson quotes Pullman:

the Church "has tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. ... That's what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling."

It is a fine example of religious bigotry to proceed from a disagreement on the reality of God to this kind of statement about the nature of all churches. It is palpably untrue that every church seeks to "obliterate every good feeling." Most of the participants here can testify to the sweet feelings they have experienced in church at one time or another. I believe it requires a bigoted outlook for Pullman to assert otherwise.

Curiously, I am myself a Mormon, and so I suspect that many regulars here would disagree with my self-characterization as a Christian. There have been some very sharp criticisms of Mormonism on the board. That's fine; this is an evangelical site and there are important theological differences between Mormons and evangelicals. However, none of the denizens here has ever attacked me personally, or questioned the moral character of Mormons in general. That's not just fine; it's terrific. It shows an understanding of the difference between honest critique and bigotry.

A bit of a tangent, but it is a curious fact that C.S. Lewis is well-beloved by large numbers of Mormons.

Posted by: Kent at December 8, 2005 11:51 AM

I am an athiest (please christians, although I appreciate your intentions, I don't need anymore sermons.) Even as an athiest, I am sick and tired of other athiests attacking christians. Yes, there is an athiest bigotry. From what I have seen, most athiests don't critcize, they do attack. This doesn't excuse christians who attack athiests, but I have seen it much more from other athiests than I have from christians. I may be mistaken, but I thought America was a place where people were free to express their beliefs. Most christians I've met are nearly terrified to share theirs for fear of being labled 'judgemental' or 'religious zealot'. How pathetic is that? I may not agree with what they believe, but they shouldn't be afraid to say it! It makes the rest of us look bad. As far as christians being 'criticized' and it being percieved as an attack, why would they take it that way? Perhaps because they are being attacked!
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about the movie "The Chronicles of Narnia". Many athiets have been complaining about it being a christian propganda film and a vehicle for christians to impose their values on society. Well what has Hollywood been doing for years? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Posted by: Roberto at December 18, 2005 08:48 PM

Roberto: As an agnostic-turned-Christian, I couldn't agree with you more.

Posted by: A Nony Mouse at January 3, 2006 03:32 PM