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Hitchens on Pullman on Jesus.

Party time!

It’s a great opening graf, anyway:

“Belief in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and belief in the virtue of his teachings are not at all the same thing. Writing to John Adams in 1813, having taken his razor blade to the books of the New Testament and removed all ‘the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests,’ Thomas Jefferson said the 46-page residue contained ‘the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.’ Ernest Renan, in his pathbreaking “Life of Jesus” in 1863, also repudiated the idea that Jesus was the son of God while affirming the beauty of his teachings. In rather striking contrast, C. S. Lewis maintained in his classic statement ‘Mere Christianity’: ‘That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.’ As an admirer of Jefferson and Renan and a strong nonadmirer of Lewis, I am bound to say that Lewis is more honest here.”

After that, I’m afraid, it gets a bit muddy, and from the sound of things, it’s more Pullman’s fault than Hitchens’. (The latter, I believe, just wants to have done with Pullman’s complicated conspiracy-mongering and get to the end, where he can talk about “those of us who can never forgive the emperor Constantine, not just for making Christianity a state dogma, but for making humanity hostage to the boring village quarrels and Bronze Age fables that were drawn from what remains the world’s most benighted region.”)

But I mention all this only because Pullman, in attempting to explain away Jesus’ divinity, actually falls back on the hoariest of hoary bits of revisionist interpretation, one which you may well have heard from the pulpit:

“Christ goes on to witness and write up a non-miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand (everyone simply shares the extra food they have brought).”

Oh, snap.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    It would make more sense to deny the historicity of the entire New Testament. Like string theory, the explanations are more unlikely than the miracles

  2. Dorian Speed says

    I think it was Mark Shea who said something along the lines of that interpretation being basically "the Jews were being selfish until Jesus got them to change their minds and share." Which seems problematic.

  3. It takes a madman to recognize someone who may or mayn't have been.

    Vide: Danny Boyle's "Millions." Faux-Peter's explanation is exactly that when it comes to the Multiplicaton of the Loaves. It soured, fatally so, an otherwise potentially great film.

    Also, don't be surprised if Hitchens begins to reconsider his positions – like Aquinas says, if someone with a death sentence on his head doesn't start to consider the Last Things in a new light, then he never will. Hitchens has cancer, of course.

    It's a race to the end: human will or human nature – which will win out?

    Prayer will give grace the nose he needs at the finish line, perhaps.

  4. Dorian Speed says

    Fatally so? Really? I rather liked "Millions." Showed it to my students, actually, with a few strategically placed coughs to cover colorful language, and a pedantic "THIS EXPLANATION IS LAME" lecture re: Faux-Peter's explanation.

  5. Dorian,

    Well, to this extent – rather than increasing the value of mystery in the movie – the "vision" seems to dispense with it, leaving us with a rather sophistical account of mystery.

    This deconstruction of mystery, in turn, sheds an off-puttng sidelight on all of the youngster's motives. We realize we are no longer dealing with a youngster, in fact, but Danny Boyle's understanding of a youngster – or his reimagining of a youngster with his own sophisticated interpretation of miracles thrown in as an altogether artificial element.

    It poisons the well, it seems.

    On the other hand, I'm willing to admit I'm a bit too cranky – with the ghosts of Spinoza swirling too much around my own brain….


  6. Rufus McCain says

    I have indeed heard it from the pulpit, both Catholic and Protestant, at least two or three times and possibly more. That's when you need to pull a Hemingway and give the preacher a good drubbing.

  7. Dorian Speed says

    Isn't "Millions" based on a book? I will have to investigate further. I see what you are saying, though. I am not used to the role of Person Who Ruins What Seemed Like a Perfectly Good Movie Through Analysis of Its Many Flaws being played by someone other than myself. Kudos to you.

    And I've heard the "miracle of sharing" many times from the pulpit, too.

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