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Commentary: The Golden Compass

The Golden CompassI wanted to start this week off with controversy. What, infant salvation isn’t enough controversy for this blog? Apparently not. Instead, I decided I wanted to talk about the upcoming movie and the book that it is based on, The Golden Compass.

Initially, I was excited to hear that a movie would be made of this absolutely excellent book. I absolutely devoured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy when I initially discovered it about four or five years ago. But then the author decided to do something that, in my mind, was astoundingly stupid.

In February 2001, before I discovered these books, Pullman explicitly told the Washington Post that he was “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” This statement went largely unnoticed; indeed I did not know such a statement had ever been made. And then the Chronicles of Narnia movie came out. Not long after, it was revealed that Pullman’s books were going to be made into movies as well, and then he made the astoundingly stupid move mentioned above.

He came out by first stating, “I loathe the ‘Narnia’ books. I hate them with a deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling away.” Not only that, he claimed that his books were written to directly refute the Narnia books; indeed he stated that Narnia is “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.” Here’s a more extensive quote from Pullman:

“I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak. I’m a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”

And with that, the floodgates opened for Pullman.

<i>His Dark Materials</i> Trilogy

I’ll be the first one to admit it: there’s a very, very strong anti-God sentiment in Pullman’s books. In fact, one of his characters explicitly says that Christianity is a “mistake.” Here’s the thing, though — if not for Pullman opening his mouth and inserting his foot, one would not have been able to tell any different. Much of science fiction and fantasy has an anti-God streak in it; so much so, in fact, that for there to not be an agnostic or even atheistic character or group in such novels would actually be an anomaly these days. Star Trek is a good example of such agnosticism or atheism; it’s there, it’s a part of the “world” created by the author, and no one really gives a flying fiddle dee dee about it. Therein lies the problem with Pullman’s stupid move — no one would have cared if he hadn’t opened his mouth. In fact, the majority of his readers would have done exactly what I did. They would have enjoyed the books and moved on with their lives. I felt no need whatsoever to deal with the books as if there were a challenge to faith that had to be addressed; it was fiction. But unfortunately, now we have to deal with Pullman’s statements.

What will happen now? Undoubtedly, if any of us out there who are parents actually practice discernment and wisdom rather than do whatever you’re told by a “Christian” authority like a brainless lemming, you will check the books out before letting your children read them. Hopefully you will read them yourselves. But now, with Pullman’s remarks, you will not be able to evaluate these books without looking at them through the “anti-God” lens of Pullman. And in doing so, you will lose the ability to objectively evaluate the books. And likely many of you will decide not to allow your children to read the books as a result.

Philip PullmanI’m reminded greatly of all the furor that rose up over the Harry Potter novels. That tempest was silly and unwarranted. But with Philip Pullman, we have a different challenge. The challenge we face is that of an openly hostile opponent to the faith who just happens to have written what I personally believe is one of the most brilliant works of fiction ever. But does that mean we don’t allow our children nor ourselves to engage his work? Do we just succumb to the bunker mentality and surround ourselves with a “Christian-only” culture?

Given the utter bankruptness of the “Christian” culture (I have said quite emphatically in the past that it is nothing more than fluff), I have to flatly say no. Just being a Christian does not mean I reject the culture I find myself in. Just being a Christian does not mean that I cannot enjoy aspects of the culture I am in. While I am still working out in my mind what it means to be “missional,” I do believe that part of being missional involves enjoying what the culture has to offer as a direct testimony to the glory of God, while at the same time recognizing that some aspects of the things I am enjoying have no “redeeming value.”

The Golden CompassDon’t we already do this? Don’t we enjoy many of the classics of literature, many of which have very questionable themes? Don’t we enjoy some of those ancient Greco-Roman classics that are quite contrary to Christianity? Don’t we even watch–and thoroughly enjoy–movies and television shows that contain elements directly contrary to or even expressly condemned by Scripture?

The real question here is how often do we interact with such things in a redemptive manner. Or do we even get to that point?

Here’s my suggestion: go out and get the books, all three of them. Deliberately set aside, as much as you can, everything you’ve heard about them, including this post. Enjoy them as fiction. Then, and only then, make your decision about whether your kids can handle the novels.

Then, if you want, read through them again. This time read it with an eye to the Gospel. Let the Gospel speak to the novels. Make note of where the Gospel explicitly addresses the themes of the novels. You’d be surprised how much you get out of such interaction. Then use these new insights as an evangelistic tool. I have already been able to do so with several of my UPS co-workers I have observed with copies of The Golden Compass and had a lot of great discussions about the nature of God and the nature of faith — but only after spending a lot of time talking about the book and how much we enjoyed it!

It is my belief that the Gospel utterly annihilates what Pullman is trying to accomplish with His Dark Materials. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean the novels are not profitable. They will stretch you and your children’s intellects. They will deepen you and your children’s ability to think critically. They will, indeed, cause you and your children to question your faith. But if your faith is rooted firmly on the fertile soil, if it is established on the rock and not on sand; you will have a more mature faith. And where our hope is in the God of Wonders — the one who gave Pullman the ability to write this astoundingly excellent trilogy — we have nothing to fear from the writings of atheistic bigots.

Enjoy The Golden Compass. Then send me a 5-page book report. 😉

  1. Steve D
    November 5, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I have been given warnings not to let my children watch this movie as well. I was told the same thing about Harry Potter but we specifically told our kids that this stuff isnt real and that we need to remember that. Just as with the Golden Compass movie, we just need to prepare our kids to realize that things in the movies arent real unless they are a true story or something. I think back to the DaVinci Code movie, alot of people were against that movie. After watching it with my wife, I could not imagine how bothering that movie would be for a Christian with faith that wasnt as strong as mine or maybe a non-Christian person. Movies have some pull on people’s imaginations, decisions, and life applying decisions as well. I do agree with the fact taht if we arent so sure about a movie, there are tons of sites where we can look up reviews. I will allow my kids to see the Golden Compass but they WILL know that its not real and the only thing to really beleive in is that we are Christians living in a world that will continue to make movies like these, we can’t expect the world to fit our Christian belief systems.

  2. November 5, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Indeed. Many of us who claim to be believers instantly forget something incredibly important when something like this comes along: it’s all fake, folks! It’s not real! It’s fiction!

    It says much more about how immature in their faith a person is to oppose a work of fiction than it does about how holy they are. I’m actually tempted to use the word “hypocrite,” but I won’t. A person who truly has a mature faith feels no threat, and teaches their children not to be threatened as well.

    May your tribe increase.

  3. November 16, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    i wouldn’t pay the 9 bucks a head to support something overtly against God, but then again, aren’t all God-less movies against God on the most basic level? notice how pullman tried to resist God so now people are talking more about God. whoops!

  4. Chet
    November 28, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Amazing how the trilogy is only as good as it rips off of Christian themes and imagery….just a few examples will suffice:

    1. In SPYGLASS, Lyra and Will overturn Hades and set the dead free. After their trip to Hades and back, death no longer has it’s sting. Sound like anything you’ve heard before?

    2. In SPYGLASS, Lord Asriel dies for Lyra’s sake by dragging Metatron into the abyss. Self-sacrifice brings victory over that enemy and deliverance of beneficiary? Never saw that coming.

    3. Throughout the Trilogy but mostly in COMPASS, Iorek Brynison is pictured as devoted, fair, courageous, a keeper of his word, almost (perish the reprehensible thought) righteous. An go figure, he is also a king of a rather utopian monarchy (by the author’s glowing appraisal.) But hey, Pullman is all about having a Republic in Heaven in replacement of that dastardly Kingdom. Sounds like all they need is the Christ-figure – Iroek Brynison – to rule it like the way he rules his own bear kingdom and all would be happy as clams.

    You gotta love these “aniti-Christian” artists and how, despite their best efforts, they can’t get away from what makes a story amazing…namely, the way that it reflects The Greatest Story.

    December 9, 2008 at 1:35 am

    first of all listening to christians talk about telling their kids what is REAL and what is not is the most ironic thing i have ever heard
    its almost as ironic as reading these books without taking into account the underlying themes such as antichristian and nosticism, did you read animal farm and pretend it wasnt about communism!!!!

    please respond please

    • December 9, 2008 at 2:21 am

      When you have something coherent to respond to that actually interacts with the content of this post, I’ll make time to respond to you. Until then, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  6. fher
    December 12, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    like ive always said.. and now proven by reading this comments, people is so poor on criteria… anyway religion is the most powerful virus, but the best transmision vehicle is human stupidity, dont blame anyone

  7. fher
    December 12, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    by the way gdsnotreal, your comment made me laugh a lot, hehehe talk about ironic things huh

  8. jordan
    October 14, 2009 at 12:52 am

    fuck god….the fact that you adults still believe in a fairy tail, and i, a mere 15 year old, can destinguish the difference between fact and fiction is just sad.

    christianity has been supressing people and their beleifs for thousands of years, and it dosnt seem like they feel like stopping. so, i repeat; fuck god

  9. jordan
    October 14, 2009 at 12:55 am

    BTW, i agree with godsnotreal, christians can go to hell….lol, get it: go to hell

  1. November 14, 2007 at 1:58 pm

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