The Christian Mistake and the Golden Compass

I cannot get over the outcry against The Golden Compass.  Who cares if the movie promotes atheism.  Or if it critiques the Catholic Church.  Religion, all religion, ought to be wide open to criticism.  It is startling the realize how much this is not true in the current state of affairs.  It is by no means just Christianity.  I considered the Muhammad bear to largely be a smoke screen, but a quote from the article bothered me:

Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he was appalled by the news. “This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense. There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith.”

And so what if there was?  Why can’t we insult and critique and push up against organized religion of any flavor?  Why are we so damned afraid of taking on the problems with religion?  It is clear why so many religious figures are terrified of open critique and rationality popping by for a visit.  It is always refreshing to see the exceptions, those who are secure enough in their beliefs to invite the critical and the skeptical in for tea.  But for the cowering censors I have no sympathy.

So it is with the Golden Compass.  There is censorship of Pullman’s works, and as podblack observes:

It is interesting to note that criticism of the Christian message in the Narnia series didn’t end up with atheists or other religions decrying the release of the films, the regular reprinting of the books, or even the earlier-released TV series (which I liked better than the film, by the way)

Why is atheism drawing such heat?  Why not books and movies that promote any religion other than Catholicism?  Why are movies promote Christianity fine, but those that promote atheism are not?  The hypocrisy doesn’t end there:

is it perhaps because these are distinctly children’s books?

I’d hope not, since pushing religion on children is a time honored tradition across every faith.  Heck, its even making inroads at your local public school.

In any case this is generating some serious opposition from Christian Groups (Huffington Post):

In early October, the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a boycott of the film, calling it “selling atheism to kids” at Christmastime in stealth fashion.

For them the movie is a critique of their most dearly held beliefs, and they just want it all to go away:

But Miesel isn’t a believer in protests.

“That only gives it more publicity,” she said. “I merely suggest that if you look at what the material is about, you might find it advisable to stay home, go to another movie, or read a good book.”

And that’s the answer to a movie that challenges your faith:  Shut your eyes and ears and make believe.  At least people like Miesel have had plenty of practice.

Holding religion above critique, above alternatives, is contemptible.  To suggest authors of books and scripts need to avoid saying anything bad about religion is to call back to the days where blasphemy was a crime.  However history was meant to march forwards, not crawl backwards.  And atheism, reason, and freedom of expression are on the march.  Rather than boycott the film and hide under biblical covers, US Christians should embrace the challenge and use it to explore their own beliefs, and their relationship with organized religion.  Far more than a critique of religion, the His Dark Materials trilogy of Pullman is a critique of organized religion.  Specifically, of its tendency to quash independent and critical thought.  I wonder if any of his critics can see the irony of their objections.

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10 Responses

  1. Faith
    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.”
    {Hebrews 11 v 1}.

    For faith is believing in things that we cannot see. Now we must believe that what we have prayed for will soon manifest in our lives, for by faith we will truly receive. Yet some people say, “ but it’s not easy and you don’t know what I am going through,” well, that is true, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Jesus said, “ All things are possible to them that believe,” and we must live by faith. It is worth hoping and believing for things in our lives to change, it really does not matter what people say, or what we feel, for God said, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”. {1 Corinthians 3 v 19}.

    Well, you may say Billy these things that you have written seem to be very foolish, and contrary to civilized people of today, but the Bible says, “That the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”. {1 Corinthians 1 v 25}.

    Dear saints never underestimate the power of our Lord’s gospel. Many people would like to know what you and I know, and see the things that you and I see, surely we are so blessed because we have the Holy Scriptures to tell us who and what we are in Christ.

    Yes, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. May we always have the faith to believe for a better life, for ourselves and our loved ones, for Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and life more abundantly”. My prayer is that you may indeed have an abundant life in Christ Jesus”.

    It’was a glad day when Jesus found me, When His strong arms were thrown around me, When my sins He buried in the deepest sea, And my soul He filled with joy and victory, It’was a glad day, oh, hallelujah! It’was a glad day He claimed His own! I will shout a glad hosanna in glory, When I see Him upon His throne.

  2. I wonder if any of the Christians screeching about the film have even read the novel(s), if they have, they’ll find quite a few things which can be read as a different take on Christian themes.

    Of course, the Christians who take to the trenches every time there is “criticism” of their religion aren’t the ones terribly interested in any examination or exploration of their faith.

  3. And the thing is Christian themes are amazing food for literary expression. Redemption. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Not to mention the whole “why have you forsaken me” piece. When you add in the conflicted and often violent history of the Church, no wonder writers are inspired to take the whole of it and create a work that explores and questions.

    Of course, the Christians who take to the trenches every time there is “criticism” of their religion aren’t the ones terribly interested in any examination or exploration of their faith.

    And I think that’s a problem. I think faith and religion ought to be fully open to criticism.

  4. I think that as followers of Christ we should engage the culture and be thoughtful in our criticism and not just reactionary.

    I posted some thoughts about the Golden Compass on my blog here:

    http://provocativechurch.blogspot.com/2007/11/power-of-story.html

    Also, ChristianityToday posted a helpful piece by Jeffery Overstreet that give a balanced view and addresses questions and concerns Christians have about the books and movie.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/fearnotthecompass.html

  5. Thanks Bill.
    Your post is heartening to see (and I love the lead in quote). Jeffrey’s article, in contrast, is a mixed bag. Yes, the book is mostly an attack on the church and its abuse of power. However sections like this are rather offputting:

    Pullman has painted a picture of the church—represented by “The Magisterium” in his stories—that basically reflects only those ways in which the church has abused power. And he has used that selective reflection as an excuse to write off Christianity as a whole. That’s sort of like condemning the entire produce section in a grocery store because a few of the apples were bad.

    That’s a terrible analogy. Still a very worthwhile read. Gracias for the links.

  6. evangelistbillybolitho,
    (Sorry, that got lost in akismet and had to be recovered).
    Ok…. So you cited scripture. What for? Are you trying to say anything in particular about this post?

  7. Its far and beyond time that the “church” of any faith was held up to some examnation. Our persitant failure to do so, has allowed the domanate faiths to have pretty much free rein, with, in many cases, dreadful results. Faiths of all sorts have committed grave offences, in the name of the “faith” and its well and high time that got called into challenge.

    If they cannot take a disenting voice, and feel they must attack all opposeing viewpoints, then they have, and have had, a serious problem. The movie is about abuses of power, and how those below that power combat that abuse, is the “church” afraid of the anology ? If so, then perhaps its time they took a good long hard look at themselves.

  8. Esta,
    Right on. The Church is terrified of the analogy. They have scandal after scandal involving abuse of power, and their history is clogged with such abuses. Yet at the same time they claim an infallibility that is a direct contradiction to their abuse.

    I think we need to invite faith back into the public discourse, not as a means of passing laws to restrict, but to engage and challenge each other.

  9. Hello! Thanks also for the link, how gratifying! 🙂 I’ll pop you into my blogroll, you have some great reading here yourself!

  10. […] fear is drastically sharper when aimed at atheists, at least in the US.  One need only look at the criticism of the Golden Compass for reference.  We share a common goal:  moving beyond the stranglehold of […]

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