By G VENKATESH
I just finished reading Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ [Canongate]. The terms ‘Scoundrel Christ’ would make many devout Christians recoil in anger, as they did when Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the book and not the movie, was launched in India.
Hoax, No Less?
The world has seen many ‘purported blasphemies’ over the years — religious sentiments being challenged and sensitivities being provoked by mindless acts with the pen, pencil or brush. As many readers who have pondered long and hard over such occurrences and dared to see beyond the obvious would agree, it is humans with little Faith who get easily provoked. The winds of provocation, slander or defamation, label it what you may, will keep blowing, and the strong-in-faith will stay rooted like unbendable oaks. Pullman more or less convinces readers to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a hoax. That, however, is clearly not his intention — he is far from a reckless iconoclast.
Pullman uses words from the Bible. He exhorts readers, without appearing to do so, to separate the chaff from the grain. The truth always lies concealed and is not easily deciphered. It lies hidden beneath and behind embellishments which distract instead of helping one to focus on understanding the truth. By creating a fictitious character — contradicting the truths revealed in the Holy Bible — by the name of Christ, a twin brother, according to Pullman, of Jesus, he has effectively tried to portray a Bhagavad Gita-like narrative — if I may say so, in the interest of religious harmony.
Christ can be considered to be Jesus’ conscience or vice versa — imagine the mind-heart tussle, which is waged inside each of us when we wish to make a decision. Impulsive decisions goaded by passion and studied, rational choices made after protracted deliberations and cognition. Which of these trumps the other? Well, this is a question which can never be answered. Gut feeling sometimes gets one further than calculated and cautious moves, as we all know. But, it could also land one in situations one would never have wanted to be in. Jesus is sacrificed and Christ keeps the legacy on for posterity. Kind of saying that passions need to be renounced or controlled in order to make them yield rich dividends for the now and the hereafter. Emotions and feelings are necessary; by themselves, they can achieve a lot, but the rewards are not long-lasting if a higher control — the mind and the intellect — does not pitch in now and then.
There are numerous other messages besides the need for and the difficulty to generate independent and unshakeable faith, and the heart-mind dissonance, brought out by Pullman in the book. Places of worship, spiritual gurus, mutts and ashrams have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Pullman’s criticism of men in power [religious heads] not practising what they preach will go down well with one and all [save the religious heads, of course]. There have been religious people who all of a sudden have declared themselves atheists and/or agnostics – one should read the soliloquy of Jesus in the Garden of Olives in the said book — where Jesus, in exasperation, questions the existence of God, when news of defilement of places of worship were made public. This is where Faith as a higher power should override an obsession with religious places or spiritual gurus and priests mediating between God and man.
Hobbes’ Leviathan is okay for maintaining law and order in the political and social spheres, but as far as religion and spirituality goes, as Pullman says, history as written by humans and passed on, and edited en route, should not obfuscate truth.
Communicate The Truth
Mythology is to be looked upon as a tool to communicate the Truth — in other words, the fact that it is natural to be good and kind to all around us. In the book, Jesus refers to ‘philosophers’ who dwell in a world of drivel, believing that the more they confuse innocents with garbled nonsense, the higher will be their position in society and for posterity.
‘Plain and simple’ must not be martyred for the ‘sophisticated and abstract’ to survive. Yet, as Pullman brings out effectively, it is naive to believe that all humans react in a similar manner to similar stimuli. This is where unbridled passion needs to be held back by reason for the greater good. It goes without saying that the agents responsible for holding back and controlling must be pure at heart.