Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Monday, 31 May 2010

An alternative Christ

Philip Pullman takes a conspiracy theory line when adding to his story of Jesus a theological overlay. This is helpful since, as so obviously wrong, it does point to what might have happened.
We have to imagine having been witnesses to the events of Jesus' ministry. Just think how radical it was; enough in itself to start a huge welling up of hope from those previously excluded from society. I suggest, though, that something else surrounded his death. We read of it as the resurrection; quite what it was we have no real way of knowing.
What then happened was men and women trying to make sense of it all. Inevitably they took the framework already avaialable fom Judaism and the Hellenic world. Yet I do not see this as conspiracy, merely an honest attempt to understand something truly extraordinary.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The two natures

Diarmaid McCulloch's BBC history of Chistianity offered a wonderfully simple metaphor for the enigma that Jesus is considered both human and divine. He took three glasses at his restaurant table: one of water, one of wine and one of olive oil. He poured the water into the wine and they mixed; the oil, though, floated on the water with a definite seperation. An early argument was whether the two natures were mixed or seperate. Reading the gospels, they seem very much mixed.
I wonder whether Philip Pullman has managed to seperate out from this mixture a sense of what the man Jesus might have been like? For Christians this is hugely important. It is after all the man whom we follow, his teaching which nourishes us and whose command we joyfully obey when we meet for bread and wine.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The benefit of actually reading!

So much for my March entry based on an extract, I have now read the book The Good Man Jesus and the Soundrel Christ twice.

The experience of reading Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is disturbing but hugely worthwhile. Whilst Pullman emphasises that It is a Story, it does follow, in a great many respects, the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels. There is a huge jarring early on as the Annunciation is replaced by a rather equivocal scene with an angel in the guise of a young man. The result is twins and this provides the machinery of the plot.

Jesus is a good man who does not claim to be God. This successfully circumvents the conventional argument Christians put forward to those who say that the historical Jesus was a good man but not God; how can he be good and make the claims he does? Well in this story he doesn’t, but his younger and weaker twin brother, named Christ, has no such scruples. Jesus is passionate about calling all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is very close at hand. Scholars argue that the historic Jesus held a very similar view. Christ is altogether more circumspect.

The enduring impression is of Jesus and his honesty and goodness.

Second Thoughts about Pullman

I really enjoy Pullman’s writing; I loved His Dark Materials. I know he knocks the established church, but he also seems so perceptive and above all imaginative: a great storyteller. So, in the light of this, I was shocked even by the title of his latest book, this time for adults. It is a story, not some new theory. It re-tells the story we love so much. I recoiled, how dare he!

I then read reviews by no lesser persons than Rowan Williams and Richard Holloway , former Bishop of Edinburgh. They found within the story elements of the perception and imagination I had previously found in Pullman, but also some scenes that jarred and fell wide of the mark. I had decided not to read it, and probably to put my copy of His Dark Materials on the fire; now I’m not so sure. Perhaps there is something to be gained by reading what is an atheist taking another swipe at the established church.

There is one observation to come from the more general idea of attempting to re-tell the story. We have little hard history of Jesus the man, but we can gain a strong sense of who he is by reading the Gospels. If this can be communicated by the means of new stories, then, why not. What matters is that people, who don’t know him, get to know him.