The following is a review of Pullman’s trilogy by two Catholic educators, Susan Tenbusch and Mary Teresa Tenbusch, posted here with their permission. The authors encourage readers, if they so wish, to copy and spread their review.
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman is an award-winning fantasy series (theo-fiction, a genre mixing theology and fiction) for grade-school children, has been made into a movie, which was released on December 7. (A question apparently remains as to whether or not God will be mentioned in the movie version, even though he is central to the theme of the books.)
In the His Dark Materials trilogy, the girl, Lyra (raised as an orphan), leaves the Oxford of her universe on a journey to reach her father and to locate kidnapped children. In another universe, inhabited by consciousness-eating beings (SK, p. 215) (Editor’s Note 1), she meets Will (raised by his mother who suffers from mental illness), a boy from our universe, who is intent on finding his missing father. At this point, Lyra is interested in “Dust,” which is identified, among other things, with dark matter (SK, p. 91) or elementary particles (GC, p. 371-372) (Editor’s Note 2), but which is also described as matter that is “conscious” (AS, pp. 31-32, 222) (Editor’s Note 3) and able to communicate with human beings (AS, pp. 370, 440), and even portrayed as associated with original sin (AS, p. 223).
In contrast to the Catholic belief that children are afflicted with original sin at the moment they come into existence (Rom 5:12) and that they are able to commit personal sins as soon they reach the age of reason, in this trilogy, original sin appears to be linked to puberty and sexuality. At puberty, “dæmons” (the concretizations of souls, generally as the opposite sex (GC, p. 77)) bring impure thoughts (GC, p. 284), a state of experience replaces one of innocence (GC, p. 373), and “Dust,” proof of original sin that can be perceived by the senses (GC, p. 371), settles on people in a significant amount (GC, p. 375). By dividing souls from bodies, “Dust” (in this context, seemingly synonymous with original sin) can no longer dominate human life (GC, p. 375).
After various adventures, separations and reunions, the two children set out for a realm reminiscent of the underworld of Greek mythology, from which they free all the ghosts of those who have died by leading them out to where they will blend with the rest of the universe (AS, p. 364). In the trilogy, Lyra, in fact, is touted as another Eve, in that she will be tempted (AS, p. 68) and be responsible for a choice with definitive and universal ramifications (AS, p. 66). Apparently the temptation Lyra must overcome is that of remaining with Will to the detriment of the various universes, whose passages to other worlds must be closed for their proper restoration (AS, pp. 484, 491-492).
Meanwhile, a great war is being waged. Lyra’s mother, Mrs. Coulter, for motives of power, is connected with a Church (caricatured) organization engaged in cutting souls (dæmons) away from bodies (GC, pp. 282-284, 374-375), ostensibly to prevent sin. (Although, in the trilogy, souls can be killed (AS, p. 467), this procedure only results in creatures that can only be described as the living dead (GC, p. 375).) Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel, is interested in this procedure on account of the tremendous amount of energy released in the process, which he uses to transport himself into another universe (GC, pp. 375-376, 393). He is busy preparing a revolt against God (AS, pp. 210-211), the first being to coalesce from “Dust” (AS, pp. 31-32), and against his “regent” (AS, pp. 31-32, 399), who, in turn is seeking to acquire Will’s ability to create openings between universes. To add to the suspense, in this story, the Church sends out a priest to murder Lyra before she is tempted (AS, p. 71).
At the end of the trilogy, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter throw themselves into a pit taking the “regent” with them (AS, p. 409), the priest determined to kill Lyra falls fatally into a small canyon trying to kill an angel (AS, p. 469), and Lyra and Will return to their own worlds, leaving angels to close all the passages to other worlds except the one to that of the dead (AS, p. 494).
A fictitious version of the Church plays a central and negative role in this trilogy. In Lyra’s world (a universe parallel to our own), the Church has a different history: in the past, a character called Pope John Calvin moved to Geneva to establish a totalitarian regime. The papacy died with him, only to be replaced by a magisterium composed of “councils,” “courts,” and “colleges” (GC, p. 30). It is even possible that the Church may disappear altogether in its fight against what it perceives as evil (AS, 71).
Present and accounted for, in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and presented with the prevalent inattention to the full range of historical facts available to the serious student of history, are the “usual suspects” that occupy such a prominent place in much anti-Catholic literature. The Inquisition is mentioned (GC, p. 127), and the Church in Lyra’s world practices torture (SK, pp. 38-39; AS, pp. 70-74), sentences people to death (SK, p. 46), considers unproved scientific claims (in the context of this trilogy) to be heresy (GC, pp. 30-31), and rewards scientific discovery with excommunication (GC, p. 376). It would appear that the Galileo case, in which theologians, philosophers and a scientist all overstepped the bounds of their respective fields, and which was definitively put to rest by Pope John Paul II in 1992 (1), has been disinterred yet again. Likewise, it would seem that the Black Legend which exaggerated the facts and figures of the Spanish Inquisition, and was so often embellished in the past for motives either political (denouncing Spanish rule) or religious (promoting novel ideas by positing an imaginary underground church apart from the Catholic Church in earlier centuries), has been exploited again. It is worth recalling that on March 12, 2000, John Paul II asked, among others, Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (what was formerly called the Holy Office and in charge of the Roman phase of the Inquisition), to apologize during a Lenten penitential ceremony for past sins committed in the name of faith and morals, which he, in fact, did (2).
The Church in the trilogy not only appears in an evil light, it acts in a manner directly opposed to authentic Catholic teaching (GC, p. 373; SK, p. 38; AS, pp. 68-69), practices divination (AS, p. 69), and teaches erroneous doctrines (GC, p. 373; AS, pp. 71-72, 464, 469, 491). Among the latter are found, for example, the novel concepts of “preemptive penance” and “preemptive absolution,” involving doing a certain amount of mortification (e.g. flagellation) and receiving pardon in advance for the purpose of committing a sin later in good conscience (AS, pp. 71-72).
The Church is further portrayed as obsessed with sin, to the point of sanctioning an operation to separate people’s souls (dæmons) from their bodies to prevent original sin (GC, p. 375), and as antagonistic to human sexuality, to the extent of promoting the mutilation of children (SK, p. 50). In the parallel world, the clergy are willing to sacrifice the existence of the Church to rid the world of sin (AS, p. 71). An ex-nun of the Catholic Church is, in fact, presented in a positive light for turning her back on her faith and rejecting her vow of chastity (SK, pp. 91, 249; AS, pp. 441-447).
The trilogy not only presents the Church in an unfavorable light, it is based on a doctrine which is not Christian. Many of the concepts in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman are shared with the “New Age” movement. According to the Vatican document, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, explicitly addressing the New Age Movement, some features of this movement are the rejection of a personal God (3) and the acceptance, at least implicitly, of pantheism (4); a focus on mediating spirits apart from God (5); the discarding of institutional religion (6) in favor of Gnosticism (7) and Eastern religions (8); and a “spirituality” encompassing elements from all religions (9). The document warns that many of the movements behind the New Age Movement are frankly anti-Christian (10), and that the idea of the philosopher, Nietzsche, namely, that Christianity stunts human development, has gained credence (11). The Vatican adds that the New Age Movement seeks to overcome what it calls “dualism,” ignoring the real distinction between the Creator and creation, between man and nature, between spirit and matter (12), and also speaking of an androgyny both in the entirety of creation (13) and within every person (14). The universe is composed of interrelated entities (15) and is replete with cosmic energies (16).
In the His Dark Materials trilogy, “Dust,” of which all things are said to be composed, describes itself both as spirit and as matter, because there is no real distinction between the two (SK, p. 249). Everything is living (AS, p. 449). This identification of matter and spirit, the inert and the living, is a feature of pantheism, the philosophical system mentioned above as characteristic of the New Age movement. In the pantheistic system of thought, the universe and God (an uncreated but, obviously, an impersonal being) are one, existing and acting by necessity (being unable to do otherwise), and constantly evolving (from unconsciousness toward consciousness). In the pantheistic system, in fact, all is one: truth is the same as falsity, good is the same as evil. The dictates of conscience, beliefs that certain things are true, perceptions of freedom, and impressions of individuality or personality are declared illusory (a statement, however, that cannot legitimately be made within this system of thought, since it invokes the distinction between truth and falsity).
As can be expected in an essentially pantheistic worldview (or even a completely materialistic one), the universes of the trilogy are subject to fate (GC, p. 310). If things are the way there are of necessity, or if all can be reduced to matter and material (physical, chemical, etc.) processes, there is no place for free will, no reward of goodness and no punishment of evil. Furthermore, there is no room for an afterlife, because nothing spiritual survives the body.
As a result, in the trilogy, although, incomprehensible as it may be, the dead have congregated in a sort of netherworld, or “prison camp” created by God (AS, p. 33), this situation is only temporary. Heaven is an illusion (AS, p. 33), and Lyra and Will meet a number of disillusioned ghosts in the netherworld including a martyr who considers it unfair that both the good, who have foregone the pleasures of this world or even given up their lives, and the evil end up in the same place (AS, p. 320). This martyr believes blending with the material universe is her true destiny and looks forward to it (AS, p. 320). The ghosts that Lyra and Will lead out of the netherworld also literally become one with nature in a cosmic form of recycling (AS, p. 364). There is no room in these books for the immaterial, and, therefore, incorruptible, soul wished by a loving God to be reunited with its resurrected body in eternal life with him, in whom it finds its own fulfillment (17) (Gen 2:7, Jas 2:26, Gal 5:17, Job 19:26, 1 Cor 15:12-58, Jn 6:40, 14:2-3, 1 Cor 13:10). Likewise, there is no room for a just God (Rev 15:3), who, because of his own goodness and mercy (Ps 79:9, 107:1), respects human freedom (Sir 17:1-15, Dt 30:15-20, Ezek 18:21-32), without which there is no sense in reward or punishment, and binds himself both to treat those in this life with forbearance (2 Pet 3:9) and to reward goodness and punish evil in the next (Heb 11:6).
St. Thomas Aquinas holds that to have knowledge of a material thing is to possess the thing in an immaterial way, for to possess it in a material way would be in some way to become it (18). Since the activity of the intellect, a faculty of the soul, is immaterial, Aquinas holds that the soul itself must be immaterial, therefore incorruptible, and therefore immortal (19). The fact that the intellect can comprehend things that are not material (e.g. imaginary numbers in mathematics, abstract and universal concepts, necessarily true judgments, etc.) further indicates that its nature is itself immaterial. Likewise, the intellect’s capacity to be present to itself (unimpeded by extension and quantity) in reflection, awareness of itself as knowing, also gives evidence of its immateriality. Although the senses supply a physical brain with their sensations and sensual representations, out of which the intellect forms ideas, the senses and brain are conditions, not the causes of thought (20). (Indeed, brain cells do not function if deprived of a life principle.) After denying the existence of an immaterial intellect, and identifying thought with only the mechanical processes of sensation and the physical changes within the brain, a person cannot logically pass beyond the realm of the sensual, either to posit an external world or to form concepts, make judgments, and perform reasoning, all of which require abstraction (the passage from the particular data of the senses to a universal idea, e.g. the eye’s perception of an object’s being red to the mind’s idea of redness).
Aquinas, furthermore, writes that man acts freely (not through instinct or fate). Human reason is able to follow opposite courses in contingent (able to be or not to be or to be otherwise) matters, and the human will may, thus, be inclined to various things. Man can be said to judge freely, through a mental act of comparison, what should be sought or avoided in particular instances, and in following this judgment can be described as acting freely (21). Free will is, thus, a capacity of the immaterial soul, and of the spiritual order, and is, therefore, not governed by physical laws. It is valuable to realize that by simultaneously acknowledging that individuals have an awareness of personal free will and declaring that this awareness is an illusion, pantheism makes a distinction between the world of thought and the world of actual existence, a distinction that cannot be made by a philosophy holding that all is one and the same.
The Christian knows that all creation is under the direction of Divine Providence, but also knows that God wishes to direct the rest of creation through man (Gen 1:27-28) (22), and man through his own reason and his own free choice in accordance with his knowledge of the eternal law (Divine Providence) inscribed in his own being (23). Rather than eliminating human freedom, Divine Providence guarantees it, for by not acting in accordance with God’s plan, man acts against his own nature as a person, thereby damaging himself and enslaving himself to his “lower” instincts, emotions, and desires, instead of governing himself by his “higher” reason.
Inexplicably, in the trilogy, Lyra is described as possessing free will, and in fact, having it to a remarkable degree (GC, p. 310).
It is worth reemphasizing that a world without a Creator and governed by fate leaves no room for good and evil. If there is no freedom, there can be no good or evil, since good is defined in the dictionary as “as it should be” (24), and evil is a lack of goodness. In a fatalistic universe, there is no “should be,” since nothing can be other than it is.
Incoherently, in this trilogy, a notion of good and evil still exists, albeit a reductionist notion. A character portrayed as enlightened acknowledges neither absolute goodness (God) nor forces of evil (devils). Likewise, she holds that human beings are neither good nor evil personally, but only their actions can be so classified, insofar as they “help” or “hurt” others (AS, p. 447). It is useful to note that the very notion of “should be” essential to the concept of a “good” action indicates an objective standard to be met. C.S. Lewis calls it the “Rule of Decent Behaviour” (25); it is also known as Natural Law, the law which man does not create, finding it already inscribed within him by his Creator, but feels compelled to obey (Rom 1:18-32, 2:14-5) (26). Refuting the notion that actions do not affect the actor, John Paul II stresses that man not only participates in God’s eternal law, his Providence, by directing each of his actions in accordance with the natural law (and in accordance with God’s revealed law, e.g. his commandments), he also chooses his end in life, directing himself toward the true good, namely God, and increasing true goodness within himself (27), thereby perfecting himself as a human person, almost as an artist molds raw material (28). In choosing to perform an objectively evil action, he turns away from the true good, away from God as his final end, and injures himself as a person. Each and every human (deliberate) action is not only the manifestation of the goodness or evil of its performer it is also a cause of that goodness or evil (Mt 15:18-20, Rev 14:13) (29). An attempt to divide the performer’s goodness or lack of goodness as a person from the goodness or evil of his actions is to endeavor to disconnect completely his action from his being and nature, and to detach the deeds of his body from the direction of his soul, thus striking at his integrity as a person and moral agent (Jas 2:8-11) (30).
What, in fact, seems to remain as an ethical theory in the His Dark Materials trilogy is the “teleologism” against which John Paul II explicitly warns (31): a moral perspective in which the end justifies the means, in which the actor and his good intentions are separated from his concrete actions. Such teleologism is based on the idea that the moral “rightness” or “wrongness of an action is determined by weighing against each other the apparent goods and evils which will result from it and the corresponding values to be respected.” Against such an untenable view of morality, John Paul II places the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and reaffirms that certain actions are always evil by virtue of their object, regardless of the intention of their performer or any circumstances in which he is placed, and are, therefore, never morally permissible (32). Intention and circumstances can sometimes make an action evil but can never make an objectively evil act good (1 Jn 5:16-17, 1 Cor 6:9-10, Rom 3:2, Dt 31:21, 2 Mac 6:18-31). It is worthwhile to observe that the very fact that one can judge one’s own intention to be good or evil implies there is something other than a purely subjective criterion to be met.
In Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, it is explicitly noted that in the New Age Movement, a nebulous sense of cosmic duty dislodges a sense of accountability to God. With no accountability, there is no sin, and no need for salvation (33). Human beings become the ultimate source of good and evil. Furthermore, in the New Age Movement, ethical questions ultimately tend to be resolved by what “feels” right (34). This is the relativism against which Benedict XVI warns (35). Indeed, in the trilogy, although there is a figure replacing God, there is none to replace Christ.
As can be foreseen, therefore, the concept of goodness presented in the trilogy is unrecognizable to the Christian reader. Indeed, because of the inconsistent conceptions of morality upon which this trilogy is founded, evil is not infrequently presented as good. Lyra, the heroine of the work, lies habitually (GC, pp. 38, 83, 93, 100; SK, p. 83; AS, p. 169), apparently disobeys those in authority (GC, p. 69), steals (GC, p. 36), wishes to kill her father (GC, p. 397), engages in impure activities (AS, pp. 466, 499), is seriously involved in divination (GC, pp. 150, 174; SK, p. 91), and is also known for the emptiness of her contrition (GC, p. 51). She is, however, described as innocent (GC, p. 176), and another character in the work sets Lyra up as a standard of goodness (SK, p. 216).
The occult has a positive role in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Various forms of divination, the seeking of knowledge not from nature, reasoning or God (in prayer) but, therefore, logically speaking, from the devil, are practiced. The ex-nun consults the “I Ching” (AS, p. 429). An Englishman is known as a shaman (SK, p. 212) and seeks esoteric knowledge (SK, p. 214). Other knowledge is to be derived from dreams (AS, p. 429) and trancelike states (GC, pp. 150-51, 174; SK, pp. 91, 215). Interestingly, the document, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, explicitly mentions witchcraft (36), the I Ching (37), Shamanism (38), esotericism (39), and states of altered consciousness (40) as elements of the New Age Movement.
A reductionist view of human sexuality is also put forward as the only view of sexuality in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Love in the trilogy has nothing to do with the virtue of charity, wishing the good of the beloved, but is reduced to unbridled physical attraction and mutual pleasure (AS, p. 444). Since, in practice, spirit is generally reduced to matter in these books, love is essentially reduced to the bodily and material order, to lust (AS, pp. 439, 466, 497). The child, Will describes his love for the child, Lyra, as an interest in her physical composition. Indeed, he compares his love for her to his love for things (AS, p. 497), a betrayal of his perception of her as an object of pleasure instead of as a person to be treated with respect, a point of view against which John Paul II explicitly warns as greatly detrimental to both persons affected by it (41). In this trilogy, adultery is acceptable (GC, pp. 122, 396), and fornication, in fact, seems to be on an equal footing with marriage (GC, p. 314), in which unfaithfulness of heart is not considered reprehensible (AS, p. 508). The sexuality of children (about 12 years old) is a topic treated in depth (AS, pp. 444, 447, 466, 481, 499), and some of the passages are explicit enough to be an occasion of sin for young readers. There is even a hint of sadomasochism (GC, p. 396). John Paul II has repeatedly decried the impoverishment of human sexuality by the reduction of its meaning to the assuaging of concupiscence and the use of another person as the means to personal pleasure (Mt 5:27) (42). He, in contrast, presents human sexuality as a place in which the expression of love in the total gift of self is possible within the marriage covenant (Eph 5:21-33, Gen 2:23-24, Mt 19:3-9, Heb 13:4) (43). Outside of marriage, he repeatedly warns, the marital act offends, not only against goodness, but against truth and authentic love (44), containing within itself a lie: the partners’ self-donation is incomplete and it is no longer an expression of self-giving for life. John Paul II notes that true love between spouses requires the union of all aspects of the person, body and soul (45). It is not surprising that, not only true love, but also true friendship is a scarce commodity in this trilogy, since chastity is the basis of all friendship (46).
Significant violence is also present in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra’s father kills her friend, the child, Roger (GC, p. 397); the girl, Lyra, wishes to kill her father (GC, p. 397); children come after other children with the intention of killing them (SK, pp. 229-230); children are engaged in lethal self-defense against adults one is to presume are willing to kill them (SK, pp. 6-7; AS, p. 161), etc.
In these books, euthanasia is presented as acceptable, whether it be the murder of a suffering person (SK, pp. 39-40), or suicide to avoid personal suffering (SK, pp. 188-189). This is a great distance from the Catholic teaching so beautifully expressed by John Paul II that, due to the Cross of Christ, even suffering has meaning and value, and that, in a mysterious way, God in his overflowing love and power, enables human persons to make their small contribution to redemption (their own and others’) by uniting their sufferings to Christ’s own sufferings within his Mystical Body (1 Cor 12:27, Col 1:24), thus allowing good to be drawn out of evil (Rom 8:28) (47). John Paul II, in fact, sees suffering as having the practice of charity, both in the sufferer and in those surrounding him, as its particular goal (48), a great distance from the worldview of His Dark Materials.
Lastly, in a materialistic or a pantheistic philosophy, there is no reason to show particular respect for the human body, which, in Christian belief, forms a composite with the soul as the human person created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27), redeemed by the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14), constituted a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and called to future resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-58). In a materialist perspective, the body is only a complex of organs and physical mechanisms, ultimately doomed to decay. In a pantheistic philosophy it is absorbed in the whole. In the trilogy, therefore, children desecrate graves (GC, pp. 49-50), and, as would seem inevitable, a talking bear decides to feast upon the dead body of his human friend (AS, pp. 42-43).
Although borrowing Judeo-Christian terminology, the theology on which this series is based has nothing to do with the Judeo-Christian tradition. The undiscerning reader may, nonetheless, believe it is Catholic.
In the His Dark Materials trilogy, in contrast to the true God, the uncreated Being and uncaused Cause of all created being (Ex 3:14; Gen 1:1; 2 Mac 7:28; Jn 1:3; Acts 17:28; Col 1:16-17), goodness itself and the source of all goodness (Mk 10:18; Gen 1:31), whose existence can be known by human reason (Ps 14:1; Rom 1:18-23), the being called God in this trilogy is not the Creator but the first angel to be made of “Dust” and the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven (AS, pp. 31-32). Although there may have been a Creator, the characters of this trilogy are in ignorance on the point (AS, p. 210). According to a reading of Genesis 3 in this work, the God of this trilogy may even be evil (GC, p. 373). Witches in the trilogy have different gods (and goddesses) altogether (SK, pp. 39, 45). Furthermore, although the being called God in this trilogy is the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven, Metatron, a being identified with the man, Enoch, of Genesis 5 (AS, p. 399), an entity of great intelligence, cruelty and even lasciviousness (AS, p. 30, 399), is the “regent” of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In turn, to the Catholic eye, the angels of the His Dark Materials trilogy are unrecognizable as such. In opposition to the holy spirits revered by Jews and Catholics for centuries, the angels of this trilogy are spiritual yet material (SK, p. 47; AS, pp. 11-12, 28-29, 34, 467-468), can experience fear and be ashamed (AS, pp. 29, 161, 466), can suffer and die (AS, pp. 62-63, 466-469) or be killed by a human being (AS, pp. 28-30), are weaker than human beings (AS, p. 11) and less knowledgeable about the material world (AS, p. 31). Even more remarkably, angels in the work are male or female (SK, p. 139) and appear to have homosexual tendencies (AS, pp. 26, 62-63, 469). Some angels in the trilogy, though not all, were once human beings (AS, pp. 16-17, 33), and these in particular are still enslaved by sensual desire (AS, p. 399).
Not only have God and his angels passed beyond recognition in these books, the Kingdom of Heaven has become something against which man should wage war. The Vatican document, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, cautions that in the New Age movement, humanity exalts itself at the expense of God (49). What is called the “Kingdom of Heaven” in this trilogy shares nothing in common with the Kingdom of Heaven known to Christians to be already among us (Lk 11:20) and even within us (Lk 17:21), but only reaching its complete fulfillment at the end of the world (Mt 25:31-46; 1 Cor 15:22-28). The trilogy portrays the Kingdom of Heaven as a tyrannical regime and attacks the Church, in truth given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven by Christ (Mt 16:19, 18:18), as an oppressive force. God himself, who alone makes Heaven Heaven and who alone can satisfy the human person, is presented as the enemy of mankind.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the father of the child, Lyra, Lord Asriel, and his companions are attacking the Kingdom of Heaven, to create a world order in which the Church and earthly monarchies have no place, in short, to create a “republic,” instead of a kingdom, of heaven (AS, p. 211). To attempt to form such a republic is to put humanity on an equal footing with God, or even to reject God in order to aggrandize humanity. This is, in short, to make the mistake of Adam and Eve, who believed the lie of Satan that they would be “like God” (Who is good) by choosing evil (Gen 3:5), and who, although creatures utterly dependent upon God for their very existence and nature, set themselves up against their Creator as the sole arbiters of good and evil (50). It is imperative to recall that it is impossible to choose evil, to exceed the limit insuperable for a creature, to disregard the truth inscribed in one’s own being, and still to remain free (51). In fact, in the choice of evil, the rejection of God’s wisdom as the origin of the moral order (52), a person injures his very self, the self protected by that very moral order he is rejecting, and becomes a slave of sin (Jn 8:34-36; 2 Pet 2:19). In fact, it is precisely on account of original sin and its aftermath that no utopia can ever exist on earth.
Another important fact overlooked in the trilogy is the Catholic belief that God himself wills that we be divinized (1 Cor 6:17, 2 Pet 1:4), that we be like him (1 Jn 3:2). As St. John of the Cross explains, divinized souls come to possess by participation what God does by nature (53), since they have given themselves entirely to him, through cooperation with grace in the moral life, and he to them, in love.
In short, the requirements for theo-fiction are apparently less stringent than those for science fiction or historical fiction: in science fiction and historical fiction, readers expect accurate science and history at the basis of the fiction.
A last subject requiring treatment in the His Dark Materials trilogy are the scientific theories at its roots. In this trilogy, human decision is raised to the level of creation/annihilation: through the making of one particular decision, all other possible decisions cease to exist within that universe (AS, p. 13). Parallel universes, however, do exist for each of these other possible decisions: what did not occur in one universe, but might have, in fact did happen in another (GC, pp. 376-377).
Scientifically speaking, therefore, it would seem that the His Dark Materials trilogy grounds itself in multiworld theories. The use of these theories here is founded upon a misapplication of the Heisenberg Uncertainty (Indeterminacy) Principle of quantum physics, a principle stating, in one form, that it is impossible simultaneously to determine the exact momentum and position of a particle, and, in its other form, that it is impossible simultaneously to determine its exact energy and time interval, due to the fact that an act of observation affects the system being observed. Some scientists, however, attribute their own problem of measurement to the thing measured, claiming, employing equivocation, that uncertainty (indeterminateness) no longer describes their mental state but is, in fact, an essential characteristic of the thing measured (54). To continue, the results of an initial act of observation are then translated into a probability function, predicting the likelihood of finding the thing observed at a given point at a later time, and describing the whole ensemble of possible outcomes. Scientists supporting the equivocal interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle claim that only with a second measurement does the “possible” become “actual,” declaring that the thing being observed does not have being, but only a possibility for being, until it is observed. Erwin Schrödinger, the physicist who developed the Y-function expressing probabilities relative to the motion of sub-atomic particles, himself notes the absurdity of such a position. He gives the example of a cat in a box to be killed by the release of a poison triggered by the radioactive decay of an atom, the measurement of which is subject to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. At a given moment, the cat is either alive or dead, regardless of its description as simultaneously alive and dead by the Y-function, and apart from its observation by scientists (55).
In multiworld theories, when the misinterpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle just described is applied, not only to microscopic entities, but to the entire universe, the process of observation, in keeping with the above interpretation, is said to make the universe split into a sufficient number of copies of itself to take into account all of the possible outcomes of the observation. In short, there are as many worlds as observers, and each observer makes his own reality. In truth, though, philosophically speaking, if there were a world for every observer, the result is would be what is called, “solipsism,” the inability to get outside one’s own head. Scientifically speaking, if the physical world could not be known to have real existence, experimentation and observation, essential to science itself, would be meaningless pursuits (56). One set of theories linked with multiworld theory is the group of inflationary theories of cosmology, theories holding that the universe arose as a quantum fluctuation. In these inflationary theories, for a brief initial period, the universe (or part of it) passed through a phase of rapid expansion, after which it evolved as explained by the big bang.
At least in part, inflationary theories were proposed as an attempt to dispose of the need for initial conditions (criteria that must be met for the universe to evolve in the way it has). Some cosmologists believe that by getting rid of initial conditions, they get rid of a Creator as well. In reality, however, such an attempt is futile. Firstly, it is not within the competence of science to decide for or against the existence of God, because science is limited to the realm of that which is perceptible by the senses, to that which is measurable. Secondly, specificity, that which these cosmologists wish to escape, still remains in the universe, in, for example, Planck’s quantum (a feature of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) (57), and specificity, which is perceived by science, is a point of departure for philosophy, which sees in it one reflection of the contingency (ability to be or not to be or to be other than it is) of the universe, which, in turn points to a necessary being upon which its existence depends, namely, God. This proof of the existence of God, it must be stressed, is not a theory having as its basis that which the present state of the development of physical science cannot yet explain, but is, on the contrary, a philosophical demonstration standing apart from physical science.
It is important to observe that chance can be invoked as the cause of the universe neither by scientists nor by philosophers. It cannot be invoked by scientists, because absolute chaos cannot be studied by a branch of knowledge whose very existence depends on the presence of a certain regularity and specificity (58), and it cannot be invoked by philosophers, because something can only be attributed to chance (and calculations of probability can only be made concerning it) if a factor apart from chance is acknowledged to have prior existence and a certain uniformity of action (59).
String theory also is linked with multiworld theory. In string theory, the various subatomic particles are held to be vibrations of microscopic strings. The mathematics on which string theory is based uses a multi-dimensional manifold. It, like the inflationary theories, is remarkable for its specificity (60).
In conclusion, it is worth recalling that the His Dark Materials trilogy is found in the juvenile section of the local library, and its audience is children in grade school. Pope Benedict XVI, wisely noting that the media have a powerful effect on children in their formative years, has explicitly requested that children be exposed to excellence in literature that advances the values of the human person and the human family and promotes the achievement of the authentic ends of human life (61).
(Editor’s notes 1, 2, 3) For ease of reading, the following abbreviations will be used:
GC=Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials, Book 1: The Golden Compass. A Yearling Book. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 1995;
SK=Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials, Book 2: The Subtle Knife. A Yearling Book. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 1997;
AS=Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials, Book 3: The Amber Spyglass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
(1) John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 31, 1992).
(2) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Universal Prayer: Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness (March 12, 2000).
(3) Pontifical Council for Culture and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2003), p. 13.
(4) Ibid., p. 35.
(5) Ibid., pp. 28, 40.
(6) Ibid., p. 20.
(7) Ibid., p. 13.
(8) Ibid., p. 24.
(9) Ibid., p. 34.
(10) Ibid., p. 84.
(11) Ibid., p. 41.
(12) Ibid., p. 32. Dualism, strictly speaking, has its roots in the non-Christian system of thought, Manichæism, and proposes two equal but opposing principles in the universe, one good and one evil, often considering only what is spiritual to be good and connecting what is material with evil.
(13) Ibid., p. 47.
(14) Ibid., p. 96.
(15) Ibid., p. 47.
(16) Ibid., pp. 57-58.
(17) John Paul II, Letter to Families, n. 9.
(18) St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 2, a. 2.
(19) Ralph McInerny, St. Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), pp. 46-49.
(20) William Wallace, The Elements of Philosophy (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1977), pp. 69, 73-74.
(21) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I, q. 83, a. 1.
(22) John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 43.
(23) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I-II, q. 90, a. 4, ad 1, quoted in John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 43.
(24) Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1953), p. 623.
(25) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960), p. 21.
(26) Gaudium et Spes, n. 16, quoted in John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 43.
(27) John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 65.
(28) John Paul II, Letter to Artists, n. 1.
(29) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I-II, q. 1, a. 3, quoted in John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 71.
(30) John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 67.
(31) Ibid., n. 75.
(32) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I-II, q. 18, a. 6, quoted in John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 78, nn. 80-81.
(33) John Paul II, Address to the United States Bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska on Their “Ad Limina” Visit (May 28, 1993), quoted in Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, p. 87.
(34) Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, p. 74.
(35) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Homily at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff (April 18, 2005).
(36) Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, pp. 108-109.
(37) Ibid., p. 38, Footnote 34.
(38) Ibid., p. 107.
(39) Ibid., p. 41.
(40) Ibid., p. 28.
(41) John Paul II, Letter to Youth, n. 10.
(42) John Paul II, Letter to Families, n. 13.
(43) John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 37.
(44) John Paul II, Letter to Families, n. 5.
(45) John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 19.
(46) Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2347.
(47) John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, nn. 19, 24.
(48) Ibid., n. 30.
(49) Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, p. 41.
(50) John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 36.
(51) John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, nn. 40, 96.
(52) John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 36.
(53) St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, 39, 6.
(54) Stanley Jaki, The Only Chaos and Other Essays (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1990), pp. 104-105.
(55) Erwin Schrödinger, “Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik,” Naturwissenschaften 23 (November 29, 1935): 812.
(56) Stanley Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 126-127, 247-248.
(57) Stanley Jaki, God and the Cosmologists (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1989), p. 135.
(58) Stanley Jaki, Cosmos and Creator (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1980), pp. 42-43.
(59) Ruth Nanda Anshen, ed., World Perspectives (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1955), vol. 1, Approaches to God, by Jacques Maritain, p. 54.
(60) Stanley Jaki, God and the Cosmologists, p. 49.
(61) Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Social Communications (January 24, 2007).