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Some Things Said… (December 07) (Number 4)

If they read Philip Pullman’s trilogy for children, “His Dark Materials,” their perception might be strengthened. A movie based on the first book in that series, “The Golden Compass,” appeared in theaters last week, and plans for the other ones are in the works.

Although the series is a fantasy set in multiple worlds, there is no doubt that Mr. Pullman, a self-described atheist, targets Christianity — and particularly a rather thinly disguised Catholic Church — in these children’s books…

So is the ferment about “His Dark Materials” just Harry Potter vs. Fundamentalists redux, a clash that generates heat but no light? Probably not.

First of all, “His Dark Materials,” unlike the Harry Potter series, is real literature and, as such, deserves serious attention. Mr. Pullman, a graduate of Oxford University with a degree in English, knows his stuff.

The books are loaded with allusions to Greek mythology and philosophy, Milton, Blake and the Bible, with images ranging from the obvious (the Garden of Eden) to the obscure (the bene elim, or angelic Watchers mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4). These allusions, unlike the throwaway Latinisms of Hogwarts’ spells, drive the plot, characters and themes of Mr. Pullman’s series. Indeed, a child who investigates them would begin to gain the rudiments of a classical education.

Moreover, again in contrast to J.K. Rowling’s books (which were criticized by some Christians for their use of magic and witchcraft), Mr. Pullman’s series is bluntly anti-Christian…

The polemic against religion starts quietly enough in the first book, which introduces Mr. Pullman’s truly brilliant gift to fantasy literature, the personal daemon. A daemon is not a demon but more like Socrates’ daimon, a sort of guardian spirit that accompanies a person throughout his life…

There couldn’t be a more time-honored general theme for children’s books, but Mr. Pullman seemingly found at least part of the impetus for his work in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series…

Mr. Pullman insists, as Dan Brown did regarding his novel “The Da Vinci Code,” that he is only telling a story. Yet surely he, like his character Lyra, knows that a story is one of the most important things there is. In a climactic scene in the third book, Lyra comes to grief when she spins a fantastic tale to a mythological creature called a harpy who is guarding the underworld. ” ‘Liar! Liar! Liar!’ ” it screams, “so that Lyra and liar were one and the same thing.” When Lyra tells the harpy another story, a true one, it responds quite differently. Why?

“Because it was true,” says the harpy. “Because it was nourishing. Because it was feeding us.”

“The Golden Compass” may delight its audience’s palate with wonders and even whet its appetite for literature, but whether it can nourish them remains to be seen. –excerpted from an article by Leslie Baynes 12.14.07 from the column Houses of Worship in the Wall Street Journal

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The Philosopher vs. Son of God

…that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. — C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Cleverly Firing Back at Atheism

For centuries, atheism has been the rake lurking around the edges of the Christmas party, but now it’s slurping from the punch bowl in the middle of the room.

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are selling atheist manifestos by the bin, and teens are soaking up blasphemous bits on Comedy Central and HBO. The movie version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass is peddling a villainous Catholic Church to kids. And the Christmas concert at public schools has long since morphed into the Winter concert.

In terms of cultural clout, it’s a good time to be an atheist in America.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible by Robert Hutchinson fires back at this icy trend with history, statistics, logic, humor and even a few rabbit punches. If counter-terrorist Jack Bauer were to take up Christian apologetics, he might have penned something like this…

Hutchinson’s book is not only a compact, well-argued defense of the Bible but also of Christianity and Western civilization. He doesn’t tie up all the loose ends but comes awfully close. Hutchinson dispatches numerous alleged Biblical errors or contradictions, examines recent archeological finds, demonstrates why science developed as a direct result of Christianity and exposes faulty logic, most notably by sexual libertines. One quibble: He gives a tad too much respect to authors such as the late John Boswell, whose error-riddled book on alleged church blessings of same-sex unions, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, is characterized as a “classic.”

…Some of the strongest chapters are devoted to rebutting the assertion that human rights are a product of secularism rather than God-given and guaranteed by the advance of Judaism and Christianity. Citing Freedom House reports, he notes that where Christianity has taken root or had cultural influence (as in Iceland and Costa Rica) individual freedom has advanced. Where it has not, human rights are virtually non-existent (Saudi Arabia or China). Russia, which is still rated “not free,” is only 15% Christian.

For believers, this is great fun. For atheists, it’s probably more like getting a filling without Novocain.

Hutchinson makes the case that the history of Christian Europe is the history of freedom’s rising, informed by the Bible’s insistence on human dignity. Despite atheists’ charge that the Bible endorses slavery, both Old and New Testaments are full of sound reasons to oppose it. The Bible acknowledges the fallen nature of man and tempers the worst without endorsing the practices…

“The truth is that the savage cruelty of slavery has existed on a massive scale all over the world for most of human history — and still exists today in parts of the Islamic world and Asia — and yet it was first officially banned, by force of law, only in Christian Europe,” Hutchinson writes. “No culture on earth questioned the morality of slavery until Christians did the questioning.”

The current, romanticized look back at pagan cultures as more tolerant and civilized is utterly false, Hutchinson asserts.

“The golden age of ancient Greece and Rome, celebrated by the ‘enlightened’ pagans of the eighteenth century, was built almost entirely on slave labor: By some estimates, fully one-third of Roman society was made up of slaves who could be killed at will by Roman householders.”

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible is chockfull of such corrective history and should prove an invaluable tool, especially for students confronted daily by balderdash of all kinds. — excerpted from an article by Robert H. Knight at 12.18.07 submitted by Mark Zaveson

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