The Archbishop of Canterbury has commended the novels of Philip Pullman to a gathering invited to Downing Street by the Prime Minister. Dr Rowan Williams reportedly said that, while it would not be right for atheism to be incorporated into religious education, as a pro-Labour think tank advocates, Pullman’s His Dark Materials ought to be taught. The Pullman trilogy has recently achieved new popularity on stage, but it has also offended Christians by its caricature of the Church.
The Archbishop says that “teaching about religion [should] include teaching about its critics”. This is in the best Anglican tradition of toleration. Yet Pullman’s quarrel is less with the Church of England than with the authority, celibacy and rituals of Catholicism. For Catholic readers, Pullman seems motivated as much by old-style No Popery as by the atheism he professes.
Well, this is not the half of it. The article (which is an opinion piece) is not supportive of Williams’ suggestion, but nonetheless doesn’t quite get the point of Pullman. He’s absolutely, totally anti-theistic. God – old, whithered, useless, and an obstacle to real human joy and freedom, dies in the third volume of the trilogy, and good riddance, too.
So it goes a bit deeper than anti-Popery.