The Subtle Knife

I didn’t laugh as much as I plowed through this one.

I mentioned that I laughed a bit during The Golden Compass because it was so obvious what Philip Pullman was up to according to quantum physics and the  psychology of Jung, James Hillman and Thomas Moore.  In The Subtle Knife, Pullman gains steam and begins to gather the forces of good from multiple parallel worlds to take on his equivalent of Tolkein’s Sauron, the Dark Lord.

In a fairly large casting foh-pah, Pullman has asked God to fill the role.

There is a critique of Christianity in these books that bears thinking about.  The bottom line is that Pullman (and others of this ilk) believes that Christianity destroys life.   All the various metaphors Pullman employs as he moves from world to world are metaphors of life being cut away from people by various ill forces, all of which are run by people with dark, hard hearts who pledge allegiance to “the Almighty.”  He makes his case is stark, violent, and jarring terms.   As a mere reader of fantasy, I am absolutely rooting for Pullman’s heroes to succeed in their quest, for the enemy in these multiple worlds is absolutely Satanic, if you follow Pullman’s logic.

Of course, Pullman’s logic leaves a bit to be desired.

At issue is the meaning of life.  What is life?  Human life.  Where is life to be found?  There is agreement, I think, in the idea that human beings should act according to their essential nature, and that violence is done when they move away from it.  The acorn, to fully live, must become an oak.   Period.  In Pullman’s world, Christianity, and by implication, all monotheistic religion, forces acorns to become grotesque weeds.   Where we part company is in what we believe the essential nature of the human to be.

We believe God made human beings, and life, according to His Image.  For Pullman, the Image of God is a straightjacket, one that cuts us off from connection with the real, with the physical, with the sensual, with the instinctual, with the truth.  At issue are all the central understandings of the human–what is good, what is love, what is sin, what is wrong with things, what actions will bring the greater good.

Pullman is no atheist, whatever he claims.  His is a divinely driven world, the divine simply being Consciousness (often capitalized in atheistic literature) or in the case of this fiction, Dust.  Always, always, there is a force moving in the universe other than humans (true in Richard Dawkins as well) a force that exerts energy that humans are asked to tap into.  People go into trances, they calm their spirits, they meditate–they do something to tap into this greater thing–why not call it god–in order to align themselves more closely with it, such alignment being of course, good.

Anyway, here’s my question, the heart of Pullman’s critique of Christianity.  What is life?  I know Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.   So, he’s the life.  Okay.  But what is life?   How do you know when you’re living it?  Is Pullman’s essential point of view that we are cut off from experiencing life a fair one? Why or why not?

As you mull the question, don’t answer to defend Christianity.  Don’t answer to win the point.  Don’t answer to sound intelligent on a blog.  Pullman and company are using the tools of popular culture to hammer away at the foundations of faith in God and in this particular vision of life.

Experientially, how do you answer?

2 Replies to “The Subtle Knife”

  1. Life is living each day to its fullest potential without holding back in the hopes of receiving some greater reward after we die.

    It is infinitely less moral to do good because of the threat of divine retribution than it is to do good because it’s just the right thing to do.

    We should live not by the black and white morals mandated in some ancient book or by a modern prophet but instead to the best of our ethical ability for every circumstance we encounter.

    That’s not the answer to what life is…it’s just a short ramble on a blog I enjoy reading. Take care.

    Super J.

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