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More about The Golden Compass (book and movie)

     This material is taken from the Feb., 2008, issue of my free e-mail homeschool newsletter, Biblical Homeschooling ( biblicalhomeschooling-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling ). I have had other items on this blog previously about this subject but wanted to share this information.

     In an article Adam R. Holz wrote:

     "The 1995 book The Golden Compass is the entry point to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—a series of fantasy novels aimed at children that loosely draws inspiration from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. This time around, however, "God" gets overthrown and the "Fall" becomes the source of humankind’s redemption, not failure.

     These three books, along with at least one (and presumably two more) movies, constitute British agnostic Philip Pullman’s deliberate attempt to foist his viciously anti-God beliefs upon his audience."

     He then quotes Beliefnet’s Rod Dreher writes that that’s exactly why he intends to protect his children from Pullman’s poisonous influence. "One expects that religious parents will keep their children away from the [Golden Compass] film. ‘But why?’ the question arises from liberals. ‘What are you afraid of?’ My children losing God, especially before they have a firm hold on Him, that’s what. At some point they will question the existence of God. I did. It’s normal to do so. I want more than anything else I want for my children, even their own happiness in this life, for them to believe in God, who is their salvation. If you believe in God, and that the loss of God is the worst thing that can happen to a person, then you would sooner give your child a rattlesnake to play with than expose him or her at an early age to the work of a man who openly says he wishes to destroy God in the minds of his audience."

     Holz concludes: Pullman tries desperately to convince us that this vision of annihilation after death is a hopeful one. One of the dead contemplating this fate says, "This child has come offering us a way out, and I’m going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing. We’ll be alive again in thousands of blades of grass and a million leaves; we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was."

     If that doesn’t sound much like happily ever after, that’s because, well, it isn’t. In the final analysis, Pullman has nothing of substance to offer when it comes to concocting an alternative to the Christian faith he detests so venomously. Which is why, perhaps, flowery-but-empty passages and promises like the one above seem to echo those of a well-known serpent.

     And lest that comparison sound too harsh, the author himself seems quite comfortable with the association. "[English poet William] Blake said that Milton was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it," Pullman has said. "I am of the Devil’s party and know it."

     Note:  I tend to agree with this. However, The Golden Compass has its promoters and supporters, and among those who claim to be "Christians" those who at least tend to be apologetic for it. In response to someone’s request, Scholastic gave the following response:

     We are aware that Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, contends that even though The Golden Compass film and book contain no reference to any organized religion, by seeing the movie, children will then read the books and be lured away from their faith. We offer for your consideration the following review of The Golden Compass film by Harry Forbes and John Mulderig for the Catholic News Service which was published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

     In this review for Catholic News Service Harry Forbes and John Mulderig wrote:

     The good news is that the first book’s explicit references to this church have been completely excised with only the term Magisterium retained. The choice is still a bit unfortunate, however, as the word refers so specifically to the church’s teaching authority. Yet the film’s only clue that the Magisterium is a religious body comes in the form of the icons which decorate one of their local headquarters.

     Will seeing this film inspire teens to read the books, which many have found problematic? Rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens.

     The religious themes of the later books may be more prominent in the follow-up films which Weitz has vowed will be less watered down. For now, this film — altered, as it is, from its source material – rates as intelligent and well-crafted entertainment.

     They also say "Even if Pullman’s fanciful universe has a patchwork feel, with elements culled from other fantasy-adventure stories — most especially "The Chronicles of Narnia" (a work Pullman disdains) — there’s hardly a dull moment, and the effects are beautifully realized, including the anthropomorphized creatures like the polar bears whose climactic fight is superbly done." Note: So what if it "superbly done"? I recall director Cecil B. DeMille’s adage that if it is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well!

     Note: I am not a Catholic, so I really do not care what the Roman Catholic Church, or any representative of it, thinks about the film, one way or the other. I am more concerned about whether the film and the book are in harmony with God’s will as revealed in His word. Just as in any other religious organization, there are those Catholics who are conservative, approaching things from a general Biblical worldview, and those who are more liberal, having been influenced by humanism and modernism. At the same time, the fact is that the Catholic Church officially does embrace some universal truth that all Bible believers accept. These apologists admit that the books are openly and militantly atheistic but that this has been "watered down" in the movie. Is "watered down" atheism any better than "in your face" atheism? It always bothers me when someone endorses something bad and says, "Rather than banning…." Would they be willing to say, "Rather than banning Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, parents might take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens"? If that seems extreme, I think that from what I have heard it might be quite close to the mark to say that The Golden Compass is theological pornography. Oh yes, we need to warn our children against pornography and explain to them why it is wrong, but we do not have to let them "experience" it directly to accomplish this aim. I believe the same thing is true with this book and movie. My response to this article is that I am not surprised that New Line Cinema and Scholastic Inc. have found some "Religious Catholics" who will endorse the movie. After all, Adolph Hitler used Norwegian Vidkun Qvisling in his attempt to convince the people of Norway that they should accept Nazi rule.

     In an article entitled, "Who’s Afraid of The Golden Compass?" Paul Edwards wrote:

     The preemptive strike from the conservative Christian community, led by William Donahue of The Catholic League and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, has become more of a story than the release of the film itself. Donahue views the movie as an attack on Roman Catholicism, denouncing as "pro-atheist" both the movie and the book upon which it is based. He’s calling for a boycott of the film. In a recent press release The Catholic League warned their constituents that His Dark Materials was "written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism" (a charge Pullman denied in various interviews even before it was leveled).

     It seems to me the proper response from those who are convinced of the truth ought to be to engage error, not run from it. Rather than fearing our children might read a book or see a film that challenges their faith, such a scenario presents us with an opportunity to teach them to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

     We should be willing to read the books and see the movie with our children (of the appropriate age and level of maturity), engaging the difficult issues raised by Pullman, and allowing the True Compass, the Word of God, to guide us into all truth—to bring to light the hidden things of darkness. If true followers of Jesus Christ boycott The Golden Compass we run the risk of validating Pullman’s thesis that Christians suppress and control, rather than engage in open and honest debate in a vibrant, passionate and intelligent defense of the faith.

     Note: I see a difference in "running from it" in the sense of just pretending it is not there or hiding our heads in the sand, and the idea of opposing it in the sense of choosing to abstain from polluting our minds with its poison and to warn others against it. While there is a lot of material in these articles with which I agree and which I think is helpful, explaining why I decided to share it, my gut reaction to them is, "Yeah, kick the people who are opposing evil and give comfort to those who are promoting the evil." Pullman may have denied that the books were "written to promote atheism denigrate Christianity" but that conflicts with other documented statements that he has made. So let us cut the equivocation. I know that "a being calling himself God is killed" and that "there are only angelic beings who try to set themselves up as God and are defeated." However, that is Pullman’s whole point. He does not believe that there is a real "God" to begin with, that "God" is just a figment of people’s imagination, and that when people "learn better" they "kill God." Do we really want our children to be entertained by this kind of philosophy?

      Our friend Joan Elder sent me the following note: "This is a commentary on The Golden Compass that is lengthy, but worth reading. I found the questions at the end worth consideration. I do not agree with everything that Jeffrey Overstreet discusses (he is a movie critic), but he does have some thought provoking things to consider. The idea of being able to ‘defend the truth’ is part of his reasoning. I do believe we (King and I) need to be teaching our girls how to defend what they believe with grace and dignity, not a harsh judgmental attitude."

     This article, "Fear Not the Compass" by Jeffrey Overstreet begins:

     Should Christians be afraid of The Golden Compass?

     Mercy, no. Let’s not be afraid. Discerning, yes. But not afraid.

     God is not threatened by Philip Pullman. And people who stop to think through Pullman’s story, and how he "refutes" Christianity, will see what a feeble "attack" against Christian belief it really is.

     (Of course, God Himself is not threatened by anyone, but people’s faith in God can be and sometimes is threatened by subtle attacks through popular literature.)

     Overstreet continues:

     The best way to make Pullman’s stories look like gospel truth is to respond by acting like the villainous Christians in his stories. The best way to expose Pullman’s lie is to respond like Christ himself: With grace and truth, not wrath and condemnation.

     I’m not saying we shouldn’t point out where he is wrong. His story is deeply flawed, and his religious bigotry is shameful. We should not ignore that. But we also should not ignore the excellence of his artistry. [Editor’s note: That Cecil B. DeMille quote keeps popping up in my mind, WSW.]

     Okay, maybe we shouldn’t boycott and complain. But what should Christians do?

     These recommendations come from my humble opinion, and you’re welcome to disagree.

     Essentially, don’t behave in ways that the Magisterium in Pullman’s books would behave. You’ll just make his stories more persuasive, by confirming for the culture around us that Christians only really get excited when they’re condemning something.

     Instead, respond with grace and love. And truth. Admit that, yes, Christians have committed grave sins in the name of Christ, and that those shameful misrepresentations of the gospel have made many people fearful of, and even repulsed by, the church. But Christians have been called to serve the oppressed, proclaim freedom for the captives, bring healing to the sick, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, and to bring good news of "great joy." And by God’s grace, many are living out that calling. They paint quite a different picture than what Pullman has painted.

     Finally, educate yourselves and equip your kids with questions—lenses, so to speak—that will expose the problems in these stories. (Worried about padding Pullman’s pockets by investigating the books? Fair enough. But there’s always the library.)

     Editor’s note: Can’t we condemn AND explain? Why does it have to be either/or?   I used to take Christianity Today, but I dropped my subscription many years ago, partly because I needed to save some money and partly because at the time I felt as if the magazine was drifting from the "conservative" stance that it formerly had. There are many things in the above article with which I agree, and I too found some of Overstreet’s challenges thought-provoking. However, like Joan, I also do not agree with everything that he discusses, and I certainly have to agree with Joan’s observation that we need to be teaching our children how to defend what they believe with grace and dignity, not a harsh judgmental attitude, although that does not mean that we cannot and should not still openly oppose that which is in contradiction to God’s will. I have three questions. First, Overstreet said, "Shouldn’t I be praying for him instead of condemning him?" Well, can’t we be praying for him and at the same time condemning the error that he teaches? Second, why is it that some people who claim to be Bible believers feel it incumbent on themselves to apologize for and even endorse (however tepidly) books and movies which are plainly anti-Biblical yet, at the same time, to criticize other sincere Bible believers who have rationally examined the evidence and decided that those books or movies are not for them but should be opposed as being a bunch of paranoid, ignorant bigots who are always bashing and condemning others? And, third, is it really a good idea to take something that is plainly of the devil, make excuses for it, and expose ourselves (and our children) to it to see how much "good" we can obtain from it? Or would it not be better simply to do as Paul says and "abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22)?

     By the way, about the suggestions to rent the video rather than supporting the theaters, or get it from the library or borrow it from friends–uhh, some of the money from the video rentals as well as sales to libraries and for that matter anyone who buys it also goes to support the producers and the author too.

     Then, an article "Truth without Direction: A Review of The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials Trilogy" by Stacia McKeever, of AiG–U. S. begins by citing an opponent of the books and film:

     Conservative columnist Rod Dreher fears what Pullman’s books could do to his children:

     One expects that religious parents will keep their children away from the film.

     "But why?" the question arises from liberals. "What are you afraid of?"

     My children losing God, especially before they have a firm hold on Him, that’s what. At some point they will question the existence of God. I did. It’s normal to do so. I want more than anything else I want for my children, even their own happiness in this life, for them to believe in God, Who is their salvation. If you believe in God, and that the loss of God is the worst thing that can happen to a person, then you would sooner give your child a rattlesnake to play with than expose him or her at an early age to the work of a man who openly says he wishes to destroy God in the minds of his audience. (2)

     McKeever then says:

     The Bible has a specific term for one who denies God’s existence: fool ( Psalm 14:1). His Dark Materials provides an excellent example of well-written foolishness. Make no mistake—Pullman is a good writer; his stories are gripping and engaging (although I’ll agree with others that the first book is the best and that he leaves several plot holes hanging wide open). His characters are intriguing. However, in his attempt to explain why the world is the way it is without invoking God, he has written foolishness.

     Foolishness is not something that the prepared Christian needs to fear. Nor is it something that he needs to shelter his children from. After all, if they don’t get it from this book, they’ll certainly pick up the no-God-in-the-picture worldview promoted by cartoons, television programs, and other books, not to mention the stuff they can look at on the sides of cereal boxes, read on packets of oatmeal ("dinosaurs lived millions of years ago"), hear over the loudspeaker in grocery stores ("people have been using grains to make bread for over 10,000 years" [3]), or glean from their friends (even Christian friends).

     So what’s a Christian to do with Philip Pullman and his books and movies? First, let’s respond graciously to this latest atheistic offering as a testimony to Pullman. Rather than taking offense, let’s take the offensive. Why not check out the books from the library and read them along with your older children? (Note: The material in his books isn’t appropriate for children under 12.) In addition, or if you don’t have children, use these books as topics of discussion with the unsaved around you. Discuss the themes with them. Compare the foolishness to the one true standard: the Bible.

     If you don’t want to support Pullman financially by purchasing his books, then check them out from your library or borrow them from a friend. Read them and be prepared to discuss them with your non-Christian friends. Use them for good, rather than for evil (in the true sense of those definitions)—Genesis 50:20—as a springboard for conversations leading to evangelism. (Although please don’t misinterpret these suggestions as my advocating all Christians must read the books and watch the movie—that’s an individual choice for you to make.)

     Let’s be informed about what we’re up against, rather than cowering in a corner. We are the ones that have truth, and we have been given direction in the Word of God.

     Note: This article from Answers in Genesis is somewhat like the others in that it encourages Bible believers to read and be familiar with Pullman’s books and the movie rather than being "afraid" of them, but it also does include some more serious warnings which need to be taken into consideration. However, I must admit that I do get bone-weary of all these "Christian" people who seem to want to make fun, or at least cast doubt upon the faith, of other sincere Bible believers who decide, based upon their own honest convictions, that they do not want to expose their families to Pullman’s philosophical worldview, as necessarily "cowering in a corner." It seems to me that we can teach our children to be discerning and give them a Biblical worldview without reading and/or having them read all the junk, no matter how popular it is, that the world has to offer. Is there nothing that godly parents should seek to "shelter" their children from?

     I think I understand what these authors are saying. On the one hand, for true Bible believers, there is nothing about this world that should cause us to shake in our boots with fear because He who is with us is stronger than him who is with the world. On the other hand, given the subtle nature of evil, especially on impressionable young children, there are many things about which we should definitely be concerned, and I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s warning, "Therefore, let him who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall" in 1 Corinthians 10:12.

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