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Sunday, November 25, 2007



Distrust authority.

Except _my_ authority, of course. You can _always_ believe me, the Great Assistant Professor and True Sophia. I know more than you, the Church, or even Mr. Atheist Author, who is after all only a male.

Mark Brumley

If Pullman's Dust is what Freitas claims it is--condensed God stuff or God powder--then Pullman's trilogy would be, at best, pantheistic or panentheistic, not theistic. Theism affirms that the Supreme Being is transcendentally and infinitely distinct from the cosmos, even while holding divine immanence in the cosmos.

I don't believe Pullman is espousing pantheism or panentheism as such in his trilogy, although his imaginative creation, Dust, may have unintended implications in that direction as a result of its function in the story. But in any case, his vision of the universe is not theistic and Catholic, but hostile to theism and Catholicism. If Freitas claims otherwise, she is misuing language and misleading readers.

Of course there are similarities between Freitas' religion and Pullman's imaginative world--they both draw on gnostic sources and adapt them to serve their antitheistic, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic ends, whether or not they would use those words.

Ed Peters

Sandra Miesel is SOOO reliable here that folks who take her on come across as either (a) having no idea who she is, or (b) being completely out to lunch. I mean, it's rather like trying to take on Gasparri on the 17 Code, you're just not gonna win that one.

Sandra Miesel

Thank you for that extraordinary vote of confidence, Ed.

I call Pullman's universe Monistic. He cherry-picks Gnosticism on the Fall of Man but denies the Gnostic rejection of Matter by saying that Matter and Spirit are one. He's a romantic Materialist. I didn't see any evidence that he thinks the cosmos itself is divine. Divinity as a concept just doesn't exists. He even implies that the pagan deities of his witches are false.

But hey, I'm just an overeducated peasant, what could I know?


Freitas wrote:

"Readers of the trilogy know that the Authority is a tyrannical figure who uses his power to deceive, to conceal, and to terrorize. His death not only liberates all beings, but reveals the true God, in which and in whom all good things - knowledge, truth, spirit, bodies, and matter - are made. The impostor God has spent an eternity trying to wipe out all traces of the divine fabric of the true God - what Pullman calls Dust - because it is so threatening to his rule."

If that's what the books said, which seems to be more Frietas's wishful thinking than what Pullman actually wrote, then the books would be espousing a modern-day Gnosticism. (And when I first heard of them, that's what I thought they were.) Lyra and what's-his-name get the hidden knowledge that frees them from the tyrannical God-who-only-thinks-he's-a-God blah blah blah. There are lots of these schemes in Iranaeus for an author to choose from.

Anyway, if this woman is a Catholic theologian she ought to recognize a Gnostic heresy when she sees it. Although, I guess, many feminist theologians LIKE Gnostic heresies.

Gail Finke

Carl Olson

He's a romantic Materialist.

A perfect, pithy description. This is what makes reading interviews with Pullman an exercise in hilarity and exasperation. He'll spout the hardcore materialist line for a while, but then wax poetically about life's deeper meaning and purpose, sounding very much like a Romantic. Well, if he's a true materialist, all of this talk about purpose and meaning is nonsense. He might be a fine writer of fiction, but as a philosopher/theologian, he leaves much to be desired.

Dale Price

Pullman's creation myth sounds much like Steven Brust's earlier "To Reign In Hell." "Yaweh" [spelt thus in the book] was the first being to coalesce out of the primeval chaos, and developed delusions of grandeur as a result. Satan and Lucifer (two different beings here) led a revolt by the angels who refused to submit to the delusional "god" but were defeated. Humanity was born out of the aftershocks of that battle, and the rebels went down to warn weak humanity about the dangers of following Yaweh.

Overall, kinda "meh" as a book, even before I woke from my drifting vague theism. Some [intentionally] funny parts, but once you got over the alternate history of theism angle, it just didn't hold together. That, and the stage directions to boo "god" and his dopey minions were wearisome.

But the parallels with Pullman on this point are interesting. Is this some kind of gnostic trope I'm not aware of?


Well, it seems it's finally happening. Atheism's slowly developing from a vague spirituality into a fully developed religion. Soon, I'm sure of it, we'll see some rites and rituals emerge, if they haven't already. As an Orthodox Catholic Christian, I find these developments most disturbing. After all, what do you suppose a religion, whose core tenet is the destruction of all other religions and the total reconfiguration of human nature itself, will do? Yeah, the Gnostics were bad, but they mainly provided comic relief in the grand scheme of things. However, these new guys, if the seize power, will have the ability to utilize massive amounts of technology, especially biotechnology, to create whatever odd kind of distopia that suites their fancies.

If these new atheists manage to get their hands on some genuine power, Islam's going to start looking like the Easter bunny. Somehow, a band of Muslim calvary riding through the desert pales in comparison to billions of compassionless, biogenetically engineered "synthete" super soldiers striding across the barren, nuclear wastes searching for any "organics" they might have missed destroying during the initial bombing campaigns of the one-world "Utopiac People's Republic."

...I think I may still be underestimating the threat that's facing us.

Mark Brumley

These various storylines with "God" forming out of primordial chaos, etc. all sound like bad STAR TREK scripts.

Chris W

The Boston Globe probably thought it was doing Pullman a favor by publishing Freitas' far-fetched defense. But in the process it also informed its readers that the movie and books in question are (anti?) religous propaganda. In that respect, I believe it did orthodox Christianity a favor.

bill vlasic

Thanks for your article. You must have some patience dealing with Pullman the ventriloquist and his dopey puppet Frietas. In another time they would have been good matter for the Twilight Zone.
God love you


Ha. Ha. Ha.

I believe that, using Freitas' way of thinking (i.e., anything that in some way resembles whatever fragment of truth I find appealing in some unorthodox line of thought promoted by a self-identified but heterodox Catholic must actually be truly Catholic in nature), one could just as easily say that any number of Hindu or Buddhist texts are actually Catholic. Or the 'Satanic Bible.' Or the religious mysteries of the Greek and Roman pagans. And the funniest thing is that she might not even find that fact disturbing.

What isn't funny is the innocents that she leads astray and the eternal consequences that will follow. Let us pray for her and all those who are misled by her teaching.


Phil Thegiues

The only part of all this that still confuses me is why a person or piece of literature that is anti-Church is automatically brand anti-God or atheistic. Seems very disingenuous to me. And fairly offensive.

Carl Olson

The only part of all this that still confuses me is why a person or piece of literature that is anti-Church is automatically brand anti-God or atheistic.

Perhaps these quotes will help. From an October 13, 2000, interview in The Capital Times:

To what degree do you consider yourself a Christian or what is your religious background?

Well, I look at the world, and I see no sign of God anywhere.

You can see no sign?

No sign of God -- a living God. So I have to consider myself an atheist. But because of my upbringing I'm a Christian atheist, and I'm a church atheist. And I'm very specifically, because I was brought in my grandfather's household and he was a Church of England priest when the old prayer book was used, so I'm a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist, a Hymns Ancient and Modern atheist, and King James Bible atheist.

I know the Bible and the hymn book and the prayer book very, very well, and they form a deep and inescapable part of my nature. I don't want to be free of them. I value enormously my past and my background, and the education and upbringing I had is in a very Christian household.

But I find it impossible to believe. However, the corollary of that is that if there is no kingdom of heaven, we must have a republic of heaven. We can't have another king. We mustn't have another king. Worshipping the wrong thing is going to lead to trouble, so we have to have a republic, by which I mean that we ourselves in this world here in the physical universe where we know we live have got to make it as much like the traditional idea of heaven as we can.

“By which I mean it's a place where we're connected to other people by love and joy and delight in the universe and the physical world. And we have to use all the qualities we have -- our imagination, our intelligence, our scientific understanding, our appreciation of art, our love for each other and so on -- we have to work to use those things, to make the world a better place, which it sorely needs making.”

And from a November 2002 interview with Susan Roberts of

“But when you look at organised religion of whatever sort – whether it's Christianity in all its variants, or whether it's Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism – wherever you see organised religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It's almost a universal law.

“It's not just Christianity I'm getting at. The reason that the forms of religion in the books seem to be Christian is because that's the world I'm familiar with. That's the world I grew up in and I knew. If I had been brought up as an orthodox Jew, I would no doubt find things to criticise in that religion. But I don't know that world as well as I know Christianity.”

And, from Pullman’s website (, on religion:

“Some of the articles and talks I've written are to do with the subject of religion, which I think is a very interesting one. The religious impulse – which includes the sense of awe and mystery we feel when we look at the universe, the urge to find a meaning and a purpose in our lives, our sense of moral kinship with other human beings – is part of being human, and I value it. I'd be a damn fool not to.

“But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.

“That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy.”

And, finally, from a September 23, 2006, BBC interview:

IV: Let's go into some of the actual nature of the book. The stories of the book, the use of vocabulary, the magesterium, the Board of Oblation; oblation isn't a word you run across very often. It's in the liturgy of course. The society of the work of the Holy Spirit. I mean, these are all taken from the Christian churches.

PP: Well, they're made up titles, but they're sort of made up from bits, a kit of parts which the Catholic church has kindly prepared for us. Yeah, that's what they're intended to mean.

IV: Ah, but these are the wicked lot.

PP: They are.

IV: So, are you gunning for the Catholic church?

PP: I'm happy to have it in place as a -- as a villain. But we're talking about another world, remember, and we're talking about a world in which the Catholic church develops in a very different way, because Calvin became the Pope in the history of Lyra's world, and instead of having one single figure and one single body of authority, the church in Lyra's world is actually split into a number of little constituent and warring and rival colleges and bodies of authority, and so on. So, they're all fighting amongst themselves, these things.

IV: But where do you feel this great antagonism? I mean, is it a seething resentment of the damage that you believe churches and established religions do? Or is it a convenient vehicle for a rather waspish look at the Vatican, say?

PP: Waspishness can sustain you perhaps for 1,000 words of a newspaper article, but I'm not sure waspishness can sustain you for seven years in which you're writing a long story. I think it's probably more than waspishness.

IV: So, it is quite a deep-seated-

PP: Well, it's a deep anger-

IV: - horror.

PP: - and yes, horror at the excesses of cruelty and infamy that've been carried out in the name of a supernatural power. And it's not only the Catholic church that is guilty of this, of course. The Protestants were just as guilty of burning the Catholics and their town, and of hanging the witches. And both sides are guilty of persecuting the Jews. And then you get Moslems killing Hindus, and Hindus killing Moslems, and Sikhs killing Moslems and Hindus. Ah, you know. The list goes on and on. I think it was a physicist, who said the truest thing about this. He said, good people have done good things, and bad people have done bad things without the help of religion, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

Does that help?


Well, finally it is all making *some* sense.

I have been scratching my head every time I read the bizarre claim that these books actually have a Christian perspective. In Freitas' case, I guess it's basically wishful thinking. In her mind, the *true* Church is nothing like the big bad oppressive institution we have been stuck with for all these years.

The enemy (Pullman) of my enemy (orthodox Catholicism) is my friend! Or something like that.

The other thing that never fails to surprise me is how utterly stupid very smart people can be (Pullman is clearly a bright guy, I reserve judgement on visiting assistant professors of religion at Boston University (which happens to be my alma mater! I'm just glad I didn't waste money on *religion* courses there.)


I was puzzled by the ultimate lesson and ending of HDM, which appeared to be 'supressing pubescent sexual desire in any way is wrong' - ie in the union of the children Lyra and Will. I don't think he has children, which could explain this odd philosophy. As they say, a social conservative is a liberal with a daughter in high school.


I'm going to get this book, it looks great. I hope somebody pointed out that HDM is in essence traditional English anti-catholicism updated with the new religion of political correctness. It is odd how so much 20th century English literature has been influenced in one way or another by Catholicism.

Carl Olson

I don't think he has children, which could explain this odd philosophy.

Pullman has two sons. It seems that much of Pullman's personal philosophy is rooted in his own childhood and various conclusions that he reached as a teenager and young man (which, of course, makes him little different than most of us, for what it's worth). Put another way, his beliefs re: God, religion, and philosophy don't demonstrate much in the way of intellectual rigor, but reflect more of an emotional, subjective reaction to an assortment of "evils" that he insists are unique to religion, especially Christianity.


A good Priest told me a story where he was informed by a critic of the Church that "he was against organized religion."

The Priest replied, "Well, if you like your type of religion to be disorganized and chaotic, then you're welcome to it! I like my religion organized!"

Jordan Stratford

So, Dust is panentheism (which is a subset of theism), God *exists* is a character in the books, but the books are atheistic? This is a pretty ridiculous argument.

The Magisterium is a literary device for authoritarianism, for "absolute power corrupting absolutely". The only way to say that this stance is anti-Catholic is to assert that Catholicism is in essence that corrupt power, an assertion I reject.

This post is poorly-researched, contradictory sloppy-thinking. And about a children's film. This is what you're going to spend energy on?


Thanks for the link to the Boston Globe article. I was looking for it and stumbled onto your website.

Gads, you people are creepy.

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