The Archbishop of Canterbury has said books by campaigning atheist, Philip Pullman, are among his favourites, despite the author being a renowned critic of the Christian church.
Mr Pullman has said in the past that his books, predominantly aimed at children, aim to “undermine the basis of Christian belief” and are about “killing God”.
But the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, said he liked Mr Pullman’s work because he took the church “seriously” at a time when it appeared to be “drifting out” of mainstream intellectual debate.
Dr Williams said: “First of all he takes the Christian myth, or a version of it, seriously enough to want to disagree passionately with it.
“It’s not just dull or remote, it’s dangerous. You’ve got to tussle with it. It’s still alive.”
Although emphasising he did not agree with Mr Pullman’s atheism, the Archbishop defended the author during a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales.
The Archbishop praised Mr Pullman’s “search for some way of talking about human value, human depth and three-dimensionality, that doesn’t depend on God”.
A film of Mr Pullman’s book ‘The Golden Compass’ was deemed a box office failure when it was released in 2007.
Two further films completing the trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’, in which Director Chris Weitz hoped to develop the anti-Christian themes more fully, have been shelved.
President of the Catholic League in the United States, Bill Donohue, has described Pullman’s books as “atheism for kids”.
In the past Mr Pullman has said “if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.
“As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it’s a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny.
“How they have the [swear word] nerve to go on Thought for the Day and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they’d be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches.”
Columnist Melanie McDonagh has described the trilogy as “a rather blatant and exceptionally offensive anti-Christian polemic” in a radio discussion programme.
She added: “He is actually setting up a parody of Christianity as a thing itself. Now, that’s fair enough as Mr Philip Pullman’s own belief but I think it is something that readers should be alerted to because it is a proselytising agenda.”
The former Chief Executive of the Association of Christian Teachers’, Rupert Kaye, has said that the fictional deity in Pullman’s novels is given biblical titles including ‘Almighty’, ‘Ancient of Days’, ‘Father’ and ‘Yahweh’, yet is “malevolent, deceitful and powerless”.
Mr Kaye says: “My key concern is that many young people (and adults) who read Philip Pullman’s trilogy will be left with an extremely distorted understanding of what Christians actually believe and what the Bible really says about the person of God.”