BY WILL HEAVEN
BISHOP DAVID McGough, an Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, has criticised a new book by the children’s author Philip Pullman which refers to Jesus Christ as “the scoundrel”.
The book, which is set to be published at Easter next year, is called The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. It will argue that St Paul transformed the character of Jesus and, by using his “fervid imagination”, bestowed godly attributes on a normal man.
But Bishop McGough, who writes “The Word this Week” for The Catholic erald, said: “There is no evidence that Paul influenced the Gospels. No respectable scriptural scholar would have anything to do with [Pullman’s] theory.” He told The Catholic erald: “This implication ignores the fact that there was a living Christian tradition from very early on which involved re-telling the Gospel in an oral form.” Pullman, who is an atheist and member of the National Secular Society, told the Sunday Times: “By the time the Gospels were written down, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether different and extraordinary and some of his version influenced what the Gospel writers put in theirs. Paul was a literary and imaginative genius who has had more influence on the world than anybody else, including Jesus. He had this great ability to persuade others and his rhetorical skills have been convincing people for 2,000 years.” The author also claims that St Paul’s imagination has led some to acts of evil and fanaticism.
“For every man or woman who has been led to goodness by a church, and I know there have been many, there has been another who has been inspired by the same church to a rancid and fanatical bigotry for which the only fitting word is evil,” Pullman said.
“The more [power the church] has, the worse it behaves – without exception.” He said: “The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories.” Jamie Byng from Canongate Books said: “Philip Pullman has written a book of genuine importance, a radical and ingenious retelling of the life of Jesus that demystifies and illuminates this most famous and influential of stories.
“It strips Christianity bare, exposes the Gospels to a new light and succeeds brilliantly as a work of literature because it is convincing, thought-provoking, profoundly moving and beautifully nuanced throughout. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws down a challenge and does what all great books do: makes the reader ask questions.” Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said Catholics would not be overly concerned by the book: “It is important that people should be free to express themselves, and Christians have withstood a lot more in the past – namely being thrown to the lions – that puts a book into perspective.” Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, said: “Pullman has taken existing myth stories and re-worked them. I’m sure he will do something interesting with this one.” When it is published in 2010 the book is expected to cause controversy.
Pullman’s most famous work, His Dark Materials, was condemned by some groups for being “antiChristian”. The book is viewed by many as a rebuttal of C S Lewis’s Christian Narnia tales.
The Vatican also criticised the film adaptation of the first part of the trilogy, The Golden Compass, which was released in Britain in 2007.
L’Osservatore Romano published a long editorial saying that it promoted “a cold and hopeless world without God”.
It was seen to be the Vatican’s most outspoken condemnation of a film since the adaptation of Dan Brown's thriller The Da Vinci Code.
The editorial stated: “In Pullman’s world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events.” The official Vatican newspaper went on to say that “honest” viewers would find it “devoid of any particular emotion apart from a great chill”.
In the His Dark Materials trilogy the Church and its governing body “the Magisterium” are linked to cruel experiments on children aimed at discovering the nature of sin.
Catholic groups in the United States called for a boycott – with one group stating that the film’s objective was “to bash Christianity and promote atheism” to children.