A Press Release for Pullman

When I stumbled across this story, I'll admit my first thought was -- "Just in time for Holy Week!":

Pullman Risks Christian Anger With Jesus Novel

Now I'll admit that despite the annoying trend of "contrarian" Christian stories around the time of Holy Week, I'm not entirely sure that's what is going on here. The Pullman in question is Philip Pullman, author of the controversial His Dark Materials series of children's books. Despite the controversy over the books' anti-Christian themes, they sold lots and lots of copies. So if Pullman has a new book coming out, it's news. Also, perhaps Pullman himself is launching the book near Holy Week to generate maximum controversy. In any event, it sounds like this book will also be controversial:

Bestselling British author Philip Pullman risks offending Christians with his latest book, a fictional account of the "good man Jesus" and the "scoundrel Christ."

The 63-year-old, an outspoken atheist, angered some members of the Catholic Church with a thinly veiled attack on organized religion in his hugely successful "His Dark Materials" trilogy, the first of which was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster.

But "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ" is a far more direct exploration of the foundations of Christianity and the church as well as an examination of the fascination and power of storytelling.

In the novel, Jesus has a twin brother called Christ who secretly records and embellishes his brother's teachings.

Speaking about the book to an audience in Oxford on Sunday, Pullman acknowledged that it was likely to cause offence.

I have to say in an era of Dawkins, Harris, et al., this sort of thing doesn't make me outraged so much as tempted to yawn, though I can see where this might be catnip to journalists. However, the supposition that Pullman "risks Christian anger" and "risks offending Christians" in the headline and the lede is, well, an awfully leading thing thing to hang the article on. Pullman doesn't risk offense -- he's aiming for it. Or at least that's what he says:

When one man said Christians would be upset to hear Christ referred to as a "scoundrel," Pullman replied:

"I knew it was a shocking thing to say, but no one has the right to live without being shocked. Nobody has to read this book ... and no one has the right to stop me writing this book."

In fairness, the article does report this:

Pullman, who has received angry letters from people accusing him of blasphemy even before the short novel hits the shelves, was accompanied by security guards to the Oxford event to publicize his book.

It isn't exactly surprising that Pullman would receive angry letters or that they'd accuse him of impiety or irreverence. But it's also an undocumented assertion from Pullman and a far cry from a Rushdie-esque fatwa. It's a bit much to be putting this all on supposedly angry Christians without producing any of them or explaining the need for security. Or, for that matter, balancing the story by talking to some Christian leaders or scholars and asking them what they think about Pullman's work. In fact, the only outside perspective in the entire article is the "one man [in the Oxford audience that] said Christians would be upset to hear Christ referred to as a 'scoundrel.'"

Without any outside perspective and the loaded language about allegedly offended and angry Christians, the article simply reads far too much like a "just in time for Holy Week" press release.

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