Monday, August 16, 2010

Good man satire, scoundrel missing the point

Re-imagining the Gospels, this time with 100% more sibling rivalry! (image credit: Neal Fox)

In this novel, Pullman presents his very thinly-veiled disdain for organized religion with a creative retelling of the familiar Gospels. Pullman splits Jesus Christ into twins: the generally good-to-a-fault Jesus, and the more complex, morally ambiguous, and ambitious Christ. Pullman's sources are the Gospels and the Epistles. In fact, according to the review on NPR, "Pullman says he hopes his book will send readers back to one of the other versions of this story: the Bible. He believes they might be surprised by some of the inconsistencies they find there."

Read some excerpts here [Guardian] and here [NPR]. The above picture links to a short parody distillation of Philip Pullman's latest novel, Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reviews the book mostly positively, praising Pullman's clear storytelling and clever presentation of the centuries-long battle between truth and truthiness in doctrinal authority. "Mark's gospel, in particular, presents a Jesus who insistently refuses to use his own miracles to prove his status, and a company of disciples who are chronically incapable of understanding Jesus's challenges. [The New Testament] seems to recognise the irony that the more you say about Jesus the more you risk getting it wrong."

Fr. Gerald O'Collins misses the point of Pullman's novel, however. Jesuit priest accuses Philip Pullman of waging war against Christianity [Guardian]. I guess the words "THIS IS A STORY" on the book jacket didn't fool Fr. O'Collins, who docks Pullman for distorting the historical Jesus. Fr. O'Collins also sees right through Pullman's unsubtle satire against organized religion and accuses Pullman of misusing the Gospel story to undermine Christianity. Thank you, Fr. Obvious, S.J.!

Pullman's latest novel is definitely a thought-provoker. He gives us a very clever retelling of the Gospels in modern, accessible language. For those of us, like me, who grew up hearing the same stories at church, year in and year out, this novel offers a fresh look and challenging perspective on familiar stories. While I thought some moments of his satire were as subtle as a sledgehammer, my favorite moments are the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, I wouldn't suggest the book to, say, my parents, but anyone who enjoyed Christopher Moore's Lamb would find Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as its more dour, emo, little brother.

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