The Designer’s Drugs: Phillip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Phillip Pullman – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Anno: 2010

It’s difficult to view this book as anything beyond a Jesus Christ-themed version of Fight Club. While there are subtleties and nuances to Phillip Pullman’s reimagining of the New Testament, the book’s title pretty much sums up what the tale is about. The only questions to answer relate to how Jesus is good, how Christ is bad. The answer: an evil twin!

Through what can be inferred to as angelic intercourse, Mary gives birth to two boys, the hardy Jesus and the sickly Christ. Jesus is the outgoing, well-liked, and troublesome member of the duo. Christ is more of a nerd. He’s the one with the encyclopedic rabbinical knowledge, and as his name implies he’s the one who was acknowledged as the Messiah by the three wise men. Ultimately, however, he becomes Satan, Judas, and St. Paul in one, watching his more exceptional brother from the shadows and with the best of intentions corrupting the “history” of Jesus’ acts and teachings into the dogmatic “truth” of a new Church.

Though this story is an interesting retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, its greatest flaw comes in the Patterson-short chapters which run through the high points of the Lord’s career as a checklist. The fact that Christ alters his brother’s adventures into their commonly known forms feels awfully like a brief, vestigial disclaimer. It’s far from the literary plagiarism of books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but Pullman’s work doesn’t make the tale of Jesus Christ his own, either.

Thus, the book’s allure is not in the story but the ideas behind it. Christ’s doubt and flaws make him the story’s most compelling character, but the main source of ideas is a mysterious stranger who occasionally visits and steers him toward dogmatism. This Satanic character is the person who advocates propaganda over reality and who leads Christ to betray his brother, both philosophically and physically, for the good of the whole. And after that, Christ completes the con job, and Christianity is born.

From its arresting title to the heretical ideas contained within, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ will certainly not win acclaim from the Christian hierarchies. Yet it casts a bright light upon the human responsibility for religion and the lengths humanity will go to create order. And how’s a Savior supposed to stand up to that?

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