Tuesday, March 9, 2010



On April 1st in time for Easter, Scotland’s Canongate Press is publishing flamboyant atheist, Philip Pullman’s, inevitably controversial and controversially titled, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. The novel’s supposedly original theory (but in scholarly terms as old fashioned as the nineteenth century and the Tubingen School) is that St Paul created belief in Jesus’ divinity and invented Christianity as we know it. For Pullman, Paul is the most influential person in history at the same time as the religion he founded is essentially a delusion. As Western Christians are super tolerant or just weak, that there won’t be protests even faintly reminiscent of the Mohammed Cartoons crisis is a forecast safely made, just as we can also predict it’s only Christians, not Muslims, that modern publishing, presuming on a Christian sweetness, will continue to offend.

But there are many ironies to this April Fool’s Day publication not least that Pullman, the militant atheist, may finish serving less his familiar hoped for secularist, anti-Christian aims than some increasingly popularized Islamic ones. After all, it’s Islam deems Christianity to be mainly invented by Paul - inevitably so since the apostle’s theology, strongly influenced by death and resurrection themes, is fantasy if you maintain Jesus never even died on the cross which is basically the Islamic position.


It’s another irony for me personally as someone who controversially maintains I possess the true data of Christ’s birth, that against the natal chart I can “see” this latest bit of public sensation. Jesus' birth data register for controversies around him across history to this day (they were even very notable for Elton John’s recent gay Jesus statements). Accordingly, the negativity Philip Pullman is issuing is exquisitely reflected in especially four unmissable factors for April’s Fool’s Day …..These are:

Jupiter (traditionally any issues of religion, “truth” or publishing) strong that day on a “critical” degree in exact opposition to, of all things, the asteroid, Paul in Jesus’ natus (likewise on a critical degree),
Restrictive Saturn, arrived at the world point at O Libra, conjuncts the gospel asteroid
The Church asteroid is nearly conjunct a sensitive degree in Jesus’ pattern, namely the degree of Lucifer
There’s that factor continental astrologers emphasize and I was always taught turns up whenever something unfortunate or negative is afoot. It's a point in the heavens called Dark Moon Lilith, which will be degree exact on Christ’s destiny/reputation Midheaven angle.

Such data may sound a bit specialized but the message is clear enough. Paul is getting presented as purveyor of supposedly false teachings and (depending how you use and interpret Saturn traditionally seen by astrologers as a devil figure), Pullman and his enthusiastic publisher, Jamie Byng, whether they realize it or not, are engaged in a negative work, restrictive of truth and real spirituality and challenging to the meaning of the Church itself. In harmony with the darkness of Lilith expect the spiritual pollution of all the easy profane references (since the book's title is such a mouthful) to publication of "Scoundrel Christ". Jamie B nonetheless trendily describes himself as “a spiritual person”, a declaration which in his case tends to mean little more than a periodic disposition to question deep issues briefly and rather opportunistically. Pullman’s latest book is major in Byng’s view because it “strips Christianity bare, exposes the Gospels to a new light……[his book] throws down a challenge and does what all great books do, make the reader ask questions”….


….This is publishing spin nonsense. What great books including the Bible chiefly do is teach, inform and inspire. Of course it’s good and legitimate, with or without books, to ask questions - where there’s some basis to ask and answer them. The reality in cases like this is that society has rarely been so biblically illiterate and so doesn’t know how to deal with many of the “questions” experts throw at them.

That’s if the experts are even experts and/or reasonably objective with the facts they deal in. Thus, as regards the divinity Pullman has Paul inventing, even where this is not explicitly claimed in the gospels it is often implied. We find it in such as Jesus’ forgiveness of sins which was a divine prerogative or even in statements like “Peace be Still, I AM, an evocation of the divine name. Granted many rationalist scholars do assume that belief in the divinity evolved late because the assumed first gospel, Mark, has little about divinity in comparison to the assumed last gospel, John. But again there is no longer universal agreement among scholars that Mark was first and John last written - it has even been suggested John had priority. However the average person knows next to nothing about this.

It follows that in real terms the great literary “questioning” experience may amount to little more than skeptics accorded heyday to confuse the undecided or minimally informed about what a given faith claims to be about. (Byng himself according to one of many interviews doesn’t know “however many bloody books there are in the Bible”). And if the writer’s purpose is simply to demolish faith at will and for entertainment (as there is some reason to assume in Pullman’s case it is - one thinks of the strongly atheist messages aimed at youth in the His Dark Materials trilogy), then this belongs to what Christ in one of his severest sayings would have regarded as one of the most heinous and unpardonable of sins, a profoundly spiritual one.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). And needless to say anyone who makes themselves party to such agendas, especially if they do it for what St Paul would have called (in the old translation) “filthy lucre”, is truly despicable.


It’s pretty clear Jamie Byng, publishing’s new Richard Branson, is not bothering about Truth where Pullman’s theories are concerned any more than in all preceding cases where religion has been centre stage. For him, profundity begins and ends with “questions” or maybe just shocks and surprises. It first began seriously in 1998 with the Pocket Canons series, individual books of the Bible commented by a variety of persons almost all of them apart from rock star, Bono (who introduced the Psalms), non Christians, some of them atheists. Blake Morrison took on John’s gospel and found Jesus “self-assured, pushy and somewhat dislikeable”. Will Self commented Revelation and dismissed it as a “sick text” and atheist Louis de Bernieres, lacking the subtlety of a Jung in approaching Job, almost predictably decides God is “a mad, bloodthirsty and capricious despot”. The Dalai Lama was more serene treating the book of Proverbs. As Jamie Byng described things, it was “exciting for the Bible to be published in this way” though he decided once started not to cover Leviticus and all 60 books or “however many bloody books in the Bible there are”. All this was undoubtedly postmodern and countercultural in line with JB’s initial Red Ink series in the realm of fiction, and this is about the best one could say for it though he might add it was profitable.

Like Branson, Byng is a Cancerian, a mostly energetic, restless, “cardinal” sign - Byng is said to work 18 hours a day. Making cash and promoting vigorously (JB began at Canongate as an unpaid publicity agent) is what Cancerian people and nations (Scotland where Byng resides and America, whose president Byng is publishing, belong to the sign) seem best at. Byng is not totally materialistic and success driven, he describes himself as “evangelical” in his desire to find writers their audiences, and he experiences delight in being “original”.


Where Jamie B (born 27.6.1969) is concerned, a trine of Venus to Jupiter/Pluto says it all for fame and fortune (Jupiter/Pluto is the easiest way in Who’s Who). Likewise a Sun/ Uranus affliction square says much for “originality” taken to the point of eccentricity or perhaps in-your-face offence. Uranus is, besides, on the 0 Libra world point - more fame - the same point Saturn reaches for publication of Good Man Jesus. Even so, in Byng’s horoscope I see none of the more obvious signs of opposition to God, Christ, Church etc that one can usually see rather clearly in people for whom God, faith and religion are their Aunt Sally, people like Dawkins. Or even Pullman who shows an odd struggle of the Lucifer and Christ asteroids in spectacular Leo conjunct fame giving Regulus, a signature that leaves one unsurprised his spiritual contentions get worked out before the world. The most suspect note in Jamie’s birth is the easy trine between Lucifer and Jupiter (the latter deemed symbolic of anything to do with religion and publishing and at Canongate Jamie is into both with a vengeance). So perhaps….but let’s not jump to conclusions…. Give the poor Scot-by-adoption laddie a chance!)

But not too much so as he doesn’t give God much chance and as second son of the 8th Earl of Stafford and son in law of Sir Christopher Bland, a former director of the BBC and of British Telecom who helped fund his original publishing ventures when he bought out certain houses for an itself failing Canongate, he’s always had plenty of chances himself. Being Christianly “born again” is what Jamie’s brother is supposed to be, but Jamie himself has his own re-birth, reinvention capacities. Born and raised in quiet Hampshire, England, and originally wanting to be a tennis star, Edinburgh and its university where he took Eng Lit brought out the long haired rebel Jamie has remained, the player of Funk and Reggae. If Jamie weren’t into books he’d be in music, but the way of books is paved with gold even while his publishing house is said to be run like a smoke filled anarchist’s commune. Once upon a time there was talk of drugs but what’s more certain is that it was puffing on a conventional cigarette that Jamie came up with the idea of the new Myths series within which Philip Pullman’s novel is the latest offering.

The Myths series follow on from the Pocket Canons. Ancient stories get retold, like the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view in the Penelopiaid by Margaret Atwood, or the Atlas and Hercules myths in Weight by Jeanette Winterson. Then in 2008 there was the legend of Prometheus re-told as The Fire Gospel by JB’s favourite author, the stateless, Dutch born, Australian educated, Scotland resident and altogether himself mythic Michel Faber. In the course of this re-telling a Greek academic discovers a manuscript which turns out to be a fifth gospel. Its author, Malchus, attends the crucifixion at which Jesus’ last words are “Please, somebody, finish me off” before he urinates on Malchus’ head. It emerges Jesus was no Messiah but a potent symbol for some difficult perhaps drug taking disciples. The book is a satire on Da Vinci Code type fiction. One blurb assures us this is “Wickedly provocative, hilarious and shocking by turns, it is a revelation of storytelling”…. which is a bookseller’s way of saying it’s a revelation of nothing but profanity as entertainment.


It’s been said of much journalism “if it bleeds it leads”. It could be increasingly said of much in publishing especially on religion that “if it smells it sells”. …..I became interested in Byng and his spiritual mindset partly because almost any man in publishing is interesting (over more than two decades I seem mostly to have had dealings with women) and because of the larger problem of publishing Truth, Religion and Spirituality at all today. When I read of the Pullman publication I vaguely recalled how years ago in my extreme naivety I had made a proposal to Canongate about a book on the Creed that hadn’t received the courtesy of a reply. While that was hardly surprising and I’d know better another time, questions are raised all the same. What’s involved in “trendy” religious publishing when it occurs is two factors, a measure of greed and an unacknowledged agenda. I can illustrate the first point from an almost absurd recent experience.

A writer very successful with a work on religion which, however, had been excessively difficult to place due to the sometimes extreme prejudice today among houses and agents (especially in Australia) against even looking at religion and spirituality manuscripts, recommended me to an agent. She agreed to read me. When I made contact to ask how to send the material and how much, I was abruptly informed I needn’t send anything as she only wished to deal with books that would sell widely. But as at that stage she knew nothing about me or the book beyond my name and the book’s title, it was too painfully apparent this individual, apart from being unreliable in keeping her word, possessed some greed for gain which she assumed no book with any religious title would quickly satisfy. Yet in reality, at least in America, some of the biggest sellers are precisely religious. And an agent is supposed to be generally well informed about the business. If she or he isn’t then perhaps, as some maintain, they exist mainly to collect whatever they can from authors. Be that as it may, anyone appreciates honesty and reliability. And from experience I know how much it can lack in the publishing world. One publisher had to be reminded of his contract several times before paying me once - the only time he ever did so - another publisher I had to take legal advice to break from due to failure to keep to contract. I am weary and wary of the whole shoddy treatments of which I could tell more.

But even where reliability is minimal, agenda appears to be at the max in at least the more ideological end of publishing I’ve had to deal with over the years. It’s no accident that amid all the fiction, satire and spoof about “fifth gospels”, regular publishing isn’t too interested in anything of the kind. Even to mention you dispose of something original in relation to Christ is to invite another dismissal (“Oh, not that subject [Christ] again” as one bored and cynical publisher said to me). Even as a doctor of religious studies I suffered the rude or indifferent dismissals of publishing for years and I’m not just speaking from sour grapes but in light of an acknowledged and real problem where ideas, religion and publishing are concerned.


The situation has got even worse than when I and others were warned some years ago at a Society of Authors seminar that no author not a token Christian (like a TV bishop, Regius Professor of Theology at Oxford, Billy Graham etc) should attempt to write on Christ or Christianity. We shouldn’t because the agenda of publishing is skeptical or in relation to Christ, Gnostic/New Age. Because I assumed my information and perspectives were so original and, frankly, sellable, at the time I listened with half an ear but my experiences and what I hear from others mostly point to this conclusion. The son of even a quite celebrated theologian told me his father was heartbroken that he might die without having published what he considered his masterwork in the line of his lifelong expertise. It’s not just what sells or who has a name, important though these things are, but what the great modern Church of Publishing, wants today. What should be published in and about especially Christ and Christianity just isn’t being. Meanwhile there’s room for common blasphemers to help make some houses their profits in an industry quite often run by women whose worldviews often don’t reach much beyond Cosmo style values (I was told to expect nothing from one agent as she was too busy with love in the afternoon) and/or atheistic feminism…..or even just plain Luciferian “ideals”.

No kidding. Lynn Picknett, published with Simon and Schuster for The Masks of Christ: Behind the Lies and Cover-ups about the Life of Jesus, a book about theologies which concludes the Baptist was the true Messiah, in her The Secret History of Lucifer published by Constable and Robinson in UK, concludes her introduction with “Hail Lucifer and to hell with Satan”. She concludes the book itself with an invocation to the light of Lucifer. This is in line with her belief that Lucifer and Satan are not the same entity, (a point which incidentally my Christ data unexpectedly and rather clearly reveals to be mistaken) but that Lucifer represents the truth we all need.


When Jamie B’s Canons began appearing there was inevitably some sales-helpful controversy, people protested and one of Canongate’s staff felt morally obliged to quit the house when they finally learned what they hadn’t been let in on. Inevitably, too, the house was inundated with hate mail of a kind Jamie dismissed as unnecessarily “apocalyptic” and “fundamentalistic”. Doubtless some of nastiness was engendered by understandable frustration at being under-represented and denied voice about faith in Britian when such as the loopy Archbishop of Canterbury colludes in the secularist situation proposing atheism could be taught in schools via Pullman’s fantasy fiction. Even so, and though I can imagine that books like The Fire Gospel and its advocacy could encourage people to start saying it’s JB, not gospel writers, who needs the urinating over, abuse is never attractive. It’s not really appropriate from Christians either, though in some instances thoughtful condemnation could be. That’s if condemnation could serve any useful purpose - which in cases like the Canons or Good Man Jesus with so much profit and publicity involved it probably can’t.

Scripture might advise people to “answer a fool according to his folly” and so pass on. And yet I do wonder. It’s an interesting question how believers should react. For example, in a period of increasing natural disasters it could even be argued - and I fancy the prophetic tradition would do so - that the as good as satanic principles increasingly embraced by sections of publishing, the cynicism, the porn, the blasphemy, make for spiritual pollution and situations in which perhaps the very land begins to “vomit forth” the people. In astrology, since they are supposed to represent higher ideas and mind, both publishing and priesthood belong to same house issues. With that thought in mind and before an Easter that Byng and Pullman effectively profane, I suspect the prophetic words most nearly relevant would be given by Malachi addressing his society’s priests in almost scatological condemnation. (Malachi’s normally more Christmas associated ideas have been on my mind ever since I discovered how exactly, and almost amusingly, a distinct celestial pattern formed to “speak” them at Christ’s birth, Levi washing and all).

You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say “How have we spoken against you?”….
If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name I will send the curse upon you….I will rebuke your offspring and spread dung on your faces…. And I will cast you out of my presence….”

To which I don’t doubt protest immediately arises that God wouldn’t utter such words nor prophets mean them and it's all O.T. I deal with these tricky and important issues in Cosmic Father. However, given the principles and situations I’ve been describing, publishing isn’t interested in that no matter how remarkable some of my claims or my qualifications to make them might be. (The book is available on Amazon).

In the post-Big Byng universe people like me should step aside for Lynn Picknett to invoke Lucifer, or Mary Daly to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, or Michel Faber to portray a Jesus who wants "finishing off". This is the more ideological end of modern publishing I’ve had to deal with and which - in my own experience at least – is for the most part a hell’s kitchen of cheats, liars and thieves that exists in an atmosphere in which an honest person can scarcely breath, a godless gutter world of the curse… A happy and blessed Easter season to those who can accept it. Otherwise I fancy you’ll need to go sing with Byng.