The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Book Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman, Canongate Publishers, 2010

Pullman’s retelling of the Christian story is inevitably a controversial work. The author’s creative twist is to provide “a story about a story” in which Jesus has acquired a twin brother Christos

The literary conceit permits a mythic tale in which Jesus is presented as the radical charismatic, with Christos offering the benefits of setting up a formal institution to carry the words and work of Jesus forward. It is not difficult to see how the basic idea permits a creative writer to explore deep theological and philosophical issues. Which is what Pullman does, in a deceptively lucid style. Sally Vickers, noted that

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was bound to become something of a hornet’s nest. Known for his dislike of organised religion and the unflattering portrait of God..Pullman has been branded as a latter-day anti-Christ. [This book] was written at the prompting of one of Pullman’s admirers, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – who asked Pullman during a public debate why having tackled God he had neglected to write about the figure of Jesus – the Pullman version of the Gospel stories is inevitably, well, unchristian. What it is certainly not, however, is anti-Jesus – which is the book’s main point.

Pullman says of the work: “The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories.”

The way myths work

Pullman is a supreme storyteller who knows better than anyone that a myth needs no justification. Myths give us the facts. They are not the “facts” of testable evidence but of a different order of reality… The truths which myth deals in are more like the fundamental data of human consciousness; we have always played with them in an attempt to adumbrate life’s ambiguities and discover meaning

Another story?

Some weeks after reading the book I came across another tale of enormous potential consequences.

“Artificial life breakthrough announced by scientists” announced the headline. The story told of the most recent advance of Craig Ventner and his team of scientists in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. Dr Helen Wallace from Genewatch UK accused Dr Ventner of unethical motives: “He isn’t God,” she said, “he’s actually being very human; trying to get money invested in his technology and avoid regulation that would restrict its use.”

Now where did I come across that idea recently?

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