THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: the superstitious Philip Pullman

Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA
Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA

Philip Pullman is ranked among the most influential men in our culture, and one of our greatest story-tellers.

His fantasy trilogy, ‘His Dark Materials’ has sold more than 17 million copies.

He has now embarked on a further trilogy, entitled, ‘The Book of dust’, of which the first volume has now been published. Pullman makes no secret of his opposition to Christianity.

Indeed, he has stated that ‘If there is a God, and if he is as Christians describe him, he ought to be put down and rebelled against.’ When a visit to Britain by Pope Benedict was mooted, he joined other writers in an open letter, demanding that the Pope be not accorded the honour of a state visit, because of certain tenets of Catholic social policy.

It has been suggested, also, that the ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy is intended as a direct rebuttal of C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia.’ In Philip Pullman we have an intellectual who happily describes himself as agnostic, a man guided only by reason.

Imagine my surprise when my attention was caught by a recent magazine article, drawing on an interview Pullman gave to Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times’. The article was headed: ’Why Pullman grew his hair’. It seems that during the writing of ‘The Book of Dust’ he grew a ponytail, as a talisman against writer’s block.

The great rationalist admitte: “It was a silly thing to do. I said to myself, if I don’t cut my hair The Book of Dust will be all right. I am very superstitious, so I had this appalling thing on the back of my head.”

There is a sneaking inconsistency there, I fear. While he blithely dismisses Christian belief as misguided, he himself is held in bondage to a superstition. Words like ‘pot’ and ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ come to mind!

In the early years of the Soviet regime, a girl sitting an examination faced the question, ‘What is the motto written on the Sarmian wall.’

She had a hunch that the motto was ‘Religion is the opiate of the people’, a phrase wrongly credited to Karl Marx, but which actually originated in the novel ‘The Water Babies’, by an Anglican rector, Charles Kingsley. She wrote the motto down as her answer, but was somewhat unsure. Immediately after the examination she made her way to the Sarmian wall and, there it was, the motto ‘Religion is the opiate of the people’. She knelt down in the road, crossed herself and said ‘Thank God.’

She thanked the God she no longer believed in.

Those who believe in God concede that we do not possess all the answers. After all, we live by faith. But if the alternative is a world from which God is banished and a world where superstitions reign, give me the former every time.