Christian doctrine (or contradiction of it) doesn’t get much direct mention in this opening volume of the Dark Materials trilogy. Readers begin to learn, however, that the Church is a feared organization, known also as the Magisterium (which is the name of the evil organization used in the movie adaptation), the Church is further divided into competing subgroups with names such as the College of Bishops, the Consistorial Court of Discipline and the General Oblation Board.
At the center of the story is the Church’s determination to discover the origins and significance of Dust. One of the few, clear theological statements in the book comes from a minor character who tells another, “The Holy Church teaches that there are two worlds: the world of everything we can hear and touch, and another world, the spiritual world of heaven and hell.” The same characters comment on theologians who were considered heretical and silenced for their theory that alternate worlds exist.
Lord Asriel has contempt for the Church — he sides with those who believe that there are other worlds and that Dust is somehow connected to finding them. He also says of the “dust to dust” passage in Genesis 3, “Church scholars have always puzzled over the translation of that verse. Some say it should read not ‘unto dust shalt thou return’ but ‘thou shalt be subject to dust,’ and others say the whole verse is a kind of pun on the words ‘ground’ and ‘dust,’ and it really means that God’s admitting his own nature to be partly sinful. No one agrees. No one can, because the text is corrupt. But it was too good a word to waste, and that’s why the particles became known as Dust.”
Mrs. Coulter is a cold-blooded, ruthless agent of the Church who is willing to torture children — cutting them apart from their dæmons, or souls, as this book understands it — in her quest for “truth.”