The title could hardly be more provocative. Philip Pullman's new book, set for release next week, is called “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.” As a result, Pullman has told the British press, he has received scores of angry letters, some threatening him and condemning him to “eternal hell” and “damnation by fire.”
Pullman, who is best known for his children's books, particularly the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which includes "The Golden Compass," has long been open about the fact that he is an atheist. His new book posits that Jesus existed, but simply as a man who lived 2,000 years ago. The idea of Jesus as the son of God, says Pullman, was an invention of the apostle Paul.
Pullman's books have long provoked controversy, with some parents arguing that children should be protected from Pullman's beliefs, of which they find evidence in his fiction. But now Pullman says, angry letter writers are telling him that he is “a wicked man, who deserves to be punished in hell" and should be subject to “damnation by fire.”
When Pullman appears at next week’s Oxford Literary Festival, he is expected to have special security.
Some of those commenting on Pullman's story of wrathful letters have invoked the name of Salman Rushdie and even used the term fatwa. Some have also expressed dismay that self-proclaimed religious people would use such angry and threatening language. " 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' " quoted one blogger, who also asked, "Goodness me, haven't these people actually read the Bible?"
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.