In apologetics, a crucial question to ask a critic of religion is, “What do you mean by God?” Author Philip Pullman gives an imaginative answer to that question in His Dark Materials, a fantasy trilogy for young adults turned television series now airing on HBO. The books originally generated backlash from Christians because of Pullman’s anti-religious bent and his negative characterization of God and the Church. However, a closer look at Pullman’s “god” reveals him to be merely a straw-man, a false god Christians would likely reject as well. Therefore, rather than rushing to defend against Pullman’s attacks on religion and the Church, a more fruitful approach might lie in challenging his assumptions about the nature of God. The imagination is powerful, evidenced by the profound influence Milton’s Paradise Lost had on Pullman and His Dark Materials. However, there are some distinct differences between the two stories, namely Pullman’s assumptions about the kind of world we live in. With Pullman’s choice to cast Dust (or consciousness) as the ultimate foundational reality, he creates a materialistic world in which God is simply another created being. His Dark Materials, with all its fantastical elements, really begins and ends with matter and leaves little room for the immaterial, eternal God of the Christian Bible. Unfortunately, this a priori commitment to an anti-supernatural worldview often results in a distorted understanding of God and Christianity.
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Rebecca Howe about her online-exclusive review, “What Do You Mean by God?Pullman’s “Straw-Man God” in His Dark Materials“.
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