In his speech, Pullman contended that the literary School of Morals is inherently ambiguous, dynamic, and democratic: a “conversation.” Opposed to this ideal is “theocracy,” which he defined as encompassing everything from Khomeini’s Iran to explicitly atheistic states such as Stalin’s Soviet Union. He listed some characteristics of such states—among them, “a scripture whose word is inerrant,” a priesthood whose authority “tends to concentrate in the hands of elderly men,” and “a secret police force with the powers of an Inquisition.” Theocracies, he said, demonstrate “the tendency of human beings to gather power to themselves in the name of something that may not be questioned.”
This impulse toward theocracy, he announced at the end of his speech, “will defeat the School of Morals in the end.” He sounded oddly cheerful making this prediction; in his books, Pullman enjoys striking a tone of melancholy resolve. He continued, “But that doesn’t mean we should give up and surrender. . . . I think we should act as if. I think we should read books, and tell children stories, and take them to the theatre, and learn poems, and play music, as if it would make a difference. . . . We should act as if the universe were listening to us and responding. We should act as if life were going to win. . . . That’s what I think they do, in the School of Morals.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
A good article on Phillip Pullman's lecture on the Secular School for Morals in the The New Yorker.