Sunday, June 24, 2007

Will God's Children Grow Up?

I think when I drive. And since I did a lot of driving over the past few days, I thought. A lot.

I've been reading through some of the criticisms of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I read the trilogy when I was younger and loved it. And since they're making movies, I figured I would reread. I actually want to see Pullman's worlds on screen, unlike the prospect of the Chronicles of Narnia which got a "meh" from me at best.

Of course, I also read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was little -- much littler than when I read Pullman. I enjoyed them at the time, but they never captured my attention the same way as other fantasy series did. I don't remember much about the philosophy expounded by C. S. Lewis therein -- I do remember realizing that it was an allegory. I only remember two scenes. Reepicheep sitting on the prow of a ship and somewhere in The Last Battle, Aslan allows a foreign prince into heaven because even if he didn't follow the right names his actions were worthy. That's it.

Pullman on the other hand had me at hello. This was refreshing. This was different. (By that time I had been jaded by Terry Brooks, Lloyd Alexander, etc. Never made it through Tolkien.) And there was so many things to contemplate! And, while I don't remember details from the second two books (my rereading plans have been derailed by my little brother's inability to keep up with things), I do remember that while God's death at the end of The Amber Spyglass made me raise my young eyebrows a bit, it didn't offend or bother me. (I also finished up the book while sitting in a church building, if you must know.) I certainly didn't see it as an attack on ethics or morality. And, in fact, it I remember correctly, God's "death" is actually a liberation, as God had been imprisoned and used by other forces. Now, I was a bit older than the publisher's target audience for the series (16, nearly 17 -- I had eagerly awaited publication and bought the book in hardcover as soon as it came out), but I had already figured out that religious institutions have no more a monopoly on truth than anyone else in the world, so you can't say that Pullman destroyed my faith in organized religion.

What I'm quite intrigued by, returning to His Dark Materials with an increased capacity for theological thought, is Pullman's concept of the Republic of Heaven, rather than a Kingdom of Heaven. I've been using the term Kingdom of Heaven myself in a very specific sense that draws on Vladimir Soloviev, Sergius Bulgakov, and other Russian Silver Age thinkers but is certainly infused with a number of notions I've taken from my own experience, sense of justice, and bite from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I've been using the term to refer to existence as it should be and is intended to be. And, in some ways, I think that perhaps the term Kingdom is incorrect for the vision I see and that the term Republic might come closer.

I'm bothered by the overlap of the usage of the world Kingdom by conservative, fundamentalist evangelicals. Perhaps they and I see the same thing, but from radically different angles. Perhaps we do not. I hear people insisting that we must toe the letter of laws that were written done for a society two thousand years gone like children who have been told that they shouldn't say the word "stupid" or "shut up" and run squealing to tell the teacher anytime one of their peers slips up. They want to cling to the forms of the dominant Western society and elevate the traditions of humanity (and only one segment of humanity at that) to Divine Law. Their Kingdom, however, is founded on absolute, unquestioning obedience to authority and submission to one's place within the hierarchy. This isn't an idea I have any wish to promote. It's an idea I have a firm faith is incorrect. (ETA: I should probably put a disclaimer in here that my disgust isn't with all evangelicals, or even all fundamentalists, some of them do have visions that overlap with mine a significant portion of the time. Unfortunately, the ones who dominant the stage and I seem to share little to nothing in the way of perspective.)

Drawing from Soloviev in particular, I see the duty of humans as continuing striving to reshape this world into something that more closely resembles this vision of the Heaven while gaining an ever-clearer vision of just what that Heaven is. We are not to sit passively by waiting for a heaven to come after we die. Further, we can no longer simply accept what we are told by the authorities of this world as if we were the small children of a large household in which the will of the Father is communicated through servants. We must grow up and leave the safety and the certainty of house in which things have always been done a certain way. We must take responsibility for finding our own truths and trusting ourselves as children and heirs of Divinity to see such things. The Divine calls on us all to grow up, assert our independence, gain our confidence, and speak freely before the Divine as an adult child might speak freely before a loving and beloved parent, not to cower as slaves before a cruel judge.

This means we must overcome our fears to leave behind the ways of past. We must recognize that to alter the revelation of our fathers and mothers is not taboo. We have to accept the responsibility of using our own judgement and the possibly that we may be wrong. I'm enough of a Gnostic to see the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as a precious gift -- not something unclean and criminal. The laws of Heaven are not found in carefully replicating the dominant themes of human history. Nothing in the statement, "well, it's always been that way" means that it always should be that way. Which is not to say that we can not take our lessons from human history. But one of the most valuable lessons of both the Gospels and the Prophets is that we should look to those marginalized by the dominant society. I mentioned in a previous post how I liked that the labyrinth in the floor of a local church forces one to go out to the margins before returning to the center. And whether this means leaving behind the notion that only men are allowed to have a leadership role in the church, or that marriage can only involve a man and woman, or that all women are intended solely for marriage and childbearing, or that only Christians have access to the truth, or that it's okay to not pay a worker enough to live on because he or she doesn't have specialized skills, we have to be willing move past what we previously held to be true. And we have to be brave enough to claim our birthrights as citizens of Heaven to speak the truth we see, strong enough listen to visions that oppose ours, and humble enough to accept it we have erred. And in our hungry for the good, the true, the just, and the beautiful, the most grievous error we could make would be to sell our birthright of thought, reason, and speech to the first person offering a tasty bowl of lentils.

I think Pullman's scene of God's "death" resonated with me, because I believe that God has been appropriated and trapped by other forces. I would perhaps hesitate to go so far as to say that God must die in order for humans to grow up and become citizens rather than children, but certainly the Divine must be liberated from the box it's been shut up in.

1 comment:

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I would perhaps hesitate to go so far as to say that God must die in order for humans to grow up and become citizens rather than children

My personal tendency would be to say rather that the process of "becoming citizens rather than children" is the lesson of the expulsion from Eden. There's a nostalgia to it, this sense that the world was paradise once, before we knew all of what was in it.

I think that that loss of what-is-called-innocence can feel, at times, like a loss or death of the Divine.