The Republic of Heaven

…we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are,
because for us there is no elsewhere.
— from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass

In an interview, Pullman explains:

What are the key values in the Republic, rather than the Kingdom, of Heaven?

Firstly, a sense that this world where we live is our home. Our home is not somewhere else. There is no elsewhere. This is a physical universe and we are physical beings made of material stuff. This is where we live.

Secondly, a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a real and important story, a sense of being connected to other people, to people who are not here any more, to those who have gone before us. And a sense of being connected to the universe itself.

All those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things. We can’t live without those things because it’s too bleak, it’s too bare and we don’t need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of Heaven.

This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with – and this is the important thing – responsibilities.

With the responsibility to make this place into a Republic of Heaven for everyone. Not to live in it in a state of perpetual self-indulgence, but to work hard to make this place as good as we possibly can.

If that isn’t the shining essence of humanism, I don’t know what is.

And, from a very excellent article for The Horn Book:

We have to realize that our human nature demands meaning and joy just as Jane Eyre demanded love and kindness (“You think we can live without them, but we cannot live so”); to accept that this meaning and joy will involve a passionate love of the physical world, this world, of food and drink and sex and music and laughter, and not a suspicion and hatred of it; to understand that it will both grow out of and add to the achievements of the human mind such as science and art. Finally, we must find a way of believing that we are not subservient creatures dependent on the whim of some celestial monarch, but free citizens of the republic of Heaven.

[…] part of the sense of wider meaningfulness that we need comes from seeing that we have a connection with nature and the universe around us, with everything that is not human as well. So the republic of Heaven is also characterized by another quality: it enables us to see this real world, our world, as a place of infinite delight, so intensely beautiful and intoxicating that if we saw it clearly then we would want nothing more, ever. We would know that this earth is our true home, and nowhere else is. In the words of William Blake, one of the founding fathers of the republic of Heaven,

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?

There’s so much more: on the death of God (and of Satan), on the utterly human origin of evil, on purpose and morality, on imagination and joy, and perhaps most of all, on the importance of stories — how children’s literature provides glimpses into the Republic of Heaven, and how we need not just reason and science and humanism but a narrative to bring it all to life: a myth, if you will, which the old religions did so well; but one based on truths not falsehoods, to help us find our way.

Read the whole thing.

(Image by Heather from Ink and Augury. Isn’t it great? Visit her site for more.)

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