Thursday, 13 September 2012
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Author Philip Pullman is a bit of an enigma to me. As an atheist, we share many a worldview; on paper it should be easy for us two to see eye to eye through his books. Alas, while I found his The Golden Compass to be a fantastic YA adventure story, its sequels – The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – were very disappointing. Not only did they disappoint in the plot department, their fixation on various forms of mumbo jumbo (I cite the questionable references to quantum physics as a fine example) was not what I would have expected from a look-at-the-world-with-eyes-wide-open atheist. I did wonder, though, whether things improve with Pullman’s adult material; The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ seemed like a perfect opportunity to test this hypothesis with.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ starts off like the conventional nativity tale. Through the use of simple language as well as reliance on miracles we are told pretty much the same story the New Testament tells. It very much feels like a one to one retelling of The Nativity Story. The main difference is that Pullman’s tale has Mary mothering two children: Jesus, the rough and tough one; and Christ, the feeble and smart favorite.
It takes a while for this relatively short book (2000 Kindle units) to reach the point where the matter of these two brothers starts to make a difference over the story we already know. Once it starts, the purpose of this deviation is clear and the rest of the story is pretty much foretold: Jesus grows to embody the ideal that Christians claim to follow today, while Christ turns into a representation of what organized religion grew to become – a far cry from that ideal.
Is this message worth the whole affair of reading the book and the establishment of the two brothers’ concept? That, in a nutshell, is the problem with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. It takes a book to raise a question that could have been raised in an essay or even an article. And more importantly, it doesn’t take us to realms we haven’t visited before. For example, if one wants a proper atheist’s bashing of religion, go to the source and read your God Delusion or God Is Not Great. If you want an alternate nativity story that actually packs a worthy punch, try The Book of Rachael. And if it i’s the real story of what took place with Jesus et al that you’re after then you just have to visit the real thing and watch Life of Brian again.
As it is, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is nothing special. It is definitely no page turner. the only niche I think it can serve is raising heretic thoughts in the mind of a believer who will never dare reading some of the proper books I’ve cited above. In other words, it is easy to digest atheism that's wrapped in enough cellophane to make it accessible and digestible to the moderate believer.
Overall: The Pullman mystery thickens as The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ receives 2.5 out of 5 stars.