The Churches should learn from arch-critic Phillip Pullman

The seven bishops were surely right to support Shirley Chaplin’s challenge to the ludicrous and oppressive ban on her wearing a small necklace cross to work (not a “crucifix” as some heathen reporters describe it). Trouble is, this gets confused with far less worthy causes like “Christian” objections to basic sex education. Pressure from the churches at election time makes the point- that they are in fact marginal to life in GB, diminished by indifference and now scandal and have been reduced to behaving as, just that, a largeish pressure group, chief spokepersons, the Church of England. If they were the force they were even in the 1950s, a quiet word to Downing St about the operation of new equality laws would have sufficed. For all that, the sea of faith even at ebb tide is still able to make a roar and create an echo from a position of relative privilege within the State. Typically the Church of England is dragging its feet over a wholly elected Upper House which would exclude the bishops and bring formal disestablishment one giant step nearer. Faced with institutional retreat, it came to pass that Christianity has received a gift from God in the unlikely corporeal form of the literally fabulous atheist, author Phillip Pullman, who takes the Gospel seriously enough to rework the Jesus accounts into new fable with two characters, “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. He certainly knows his New Testament. The lesson that influential traditionalists have yet to learn is that a high quality assault with integrity like Pullman’s is testimony to the power of the story. It should encourage them finally to abandon the remnants of State privilege and rely entirely on faith and good works.

In Pullman’s work, Jesus is a charismatic, honest speaker, who believes that the kingdom of God is imminent. Christ, on the other hand, has an eye to posterity, to the need for an organised church and to the requirements of history. “He knows that human beings, being what they are, need structures, they fall into bureaucracy. He knew that the kingdom never was going to come,”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London