A Couple of Items

So there’s this creationist ‘Zoo Farm’ place in Somerset.

A donkey was led in and the presenter traced a marking on its back. Did we know that the domesticated donkey has a dark cross marked on its back, he asked us casually, whereas the wild donkey doesn’t? Did the cross not remind us that the donkey carried Jesus? In retrospect, I was intrigued by my shock at this mild evangelical interjection, a reaction that reflects a more general antipathy towards creationism. Anthony Bush hopes “to give people permission to believe in God”, by disputing the truth of Darwin’s theories. However, the prospect of a religious world-view having any authority fills non-believers with dread.

Well exactly. And that’s not just some random weird reaction, some vague distaste, some reflex dislike. Non-believers have every reason to be filled with dread at the prospect of a religious world-view having any authority. Because authority is just exactly the very thing that a religious world-view should not have. That’s the heart of the issue, isn’t it. Yes, people are at liberty to believe anything they feel like believing, but no, it does not follow that they therefore have the right to force their belief on anyone else. If religious world-views have authority, that means they are – necessarily – being forced on everyone else. And that just won’t do. You can’t demand that other people believe things for which you can give no other grounds than ‘faith’. You can believe it yourself, but you can’t enforce it on others. To do that, you have to have better grounds than mere ‘faith’ or belief – you have to have evidence. Non-believers do indeed dread world-views that disregard or distort and misrepresent (or outright falsify) evidence in order to coerce people into subscribing to said world-views. There is something in us that profoundly resents that, and experiences it as an insult and intrusion and presumption. That’s because it is.

And so there’s Philip Pullman.

His books have been likened to those of J. R. R. Tolkien, another alumnus, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance. “ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is fundamentally an infantile work,” he said. “Tolkien is not interested in the way grownup, adult human beings interact with each other. He’s interested in maps and plans and languages and codes.”

Yup. Infantile. Very like The Wind in the Willows in a lot of ways, only not as good.

When it comes to “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis, Pullman’s antipathy is even more pronounced. Although he likes Lewis’s criticism and quotes it surprisingly often, he considers the fantasy series “morally loathsome.” In a 1998 essay for the Guardian, entitled “The Dark Side of Narnia,” he condemned “the misogyny, the racism, the sado-masochistic relish for violence that permeates the whole cycle.”

I like Lewis’s criticism too, and don’t find it particularly surprising that Pullman quotes it often. It’s too bad Lewis didn’t stick to what he did best.

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