Friday, November 9, 2007

The Golden Compass: Conspiracy Theory Du Jour

I was expecting to receive email alerts about the anti-Christian message of the new movie The Golden Compass, and sure enough, one landed in my in-box today.

I’m not going to reprint the entire email here, but the short version is this: The movie is based on a book by atheist Philip Pullman, and many people of faith are disturbed that the movie and books seem to be targeted to children and intended to turn them away from God.

The email alarmed, “The movie is a watered down version of the first book and is designed to be very attractive in the hope unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie and that the children will want the books for Christmas.”

There are so many problems with this statement that it makes me want to drink gin from a soup tureen. First of all, this: “The movie is a watered-down version of the first book.” With few exceptions, every movie I’ve ever seen that was based on a book has diluted the message and story-lines of the source material. By definition, movies and books tell stories in different ways—so the movie will always be different than the book.

Then there’s this: the movie “is designed to be very attractive.” Unlike those other inoffensive movies that are just blips of celluloid with ugly actors and childish production values.

“In the hope (that)…” In whose hope? What nefarious pagan multinational conspiracy is plotting, hoping, to trick me? Who’s behind it all? Could it be… SATAN?

“Unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie.” What, exactly, are they supposed to suspect? That there is a conspiracy afloat to convert their Sunday School charges to ACLU card-holders? That the author of the book is—gasp!—an atheist? That it is his mission to “kill God”?

And the best part of all is this: “the children will want the books for Christmas.” I…I…I got nothing. Children. Wanting books. For Christmas. Oh, for crying in a bucket. If you’re going to be an alarmist, then don’t phone in your Big Finish. Make it a little juicier than children wanting books for Christmas.

Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, categorically enjoined parents to boycott the movie: “No parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.”

I haven’t read the books myself, so I’m just as ignorant as most of the rest of you. (My husband and my 12-year-old son have, though.) But I do plan to read them, in spite of the dire warnings, and I do not expect to be sending in my membership dues to American Atheists anytime soon. I wonder if Bill Donohue and the email alarmists have read the books. Hmmmm.

I am also wondering

Why do they think that The Golden Compass is more dangerous or evil than other books and movies written by atheists, agnostics, or others who have an other-than-Christian worldview?

Why do they believe that this story/book/movie has that much power over our minds, and over the minds of our children?

What do we think is going to happen if our kids read these stories or watch the movie? That we might—ACK!—have to talk to our kids about it? That it might raise some questions in their minds?

Should we not read books and listen to music and watch movies made by people with a different world view than our own? And to a certain extent, shouldn’t we also teach our children how to do so? Isn’t it a great opportunity to talk and think and learn?

Maybe if more Christians watched and read them, we could have more dialogue with people like Pullman and those who agree with his views. Maybe we could engage our friends and neighbors in discussions about what parts of the book we liked, and why, and what parts we didn’t like, and why.

For a Christian, any encounter in this world needs to be viewed through the lens of faith and sifted through the colander of Scripture—even sermons that we hear at church or on the radio. Nothing is exempt from this scrutiny, except the Bible—and even that often requires that we seek help to interpret and apply it.

I think the message this blog wants to put out there is: think for yourself. Before you warn other people about it, read the book(s) and/or see the movie. Then decide if it’s bad for your kids or not. And let other people decide if it’s bad for their kids.

Or, if you prefer, wait until I read the book and post my review and tell you what to think.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

FIRST OFF, WE THAT ARE OF THE FAITH OF ONE GOD WHO MADE EVERYTHING HAS ANSWER FROM GOD SO WE THEN HAVING GOD WHO IS ALL KNOWING WHETHER EVIL OR GOOD. GIVES HIS CHILDREN THOSE WHO BELIEVE ON JESUS AS LORD. GIVES US INSIGHT OF WHAT IS GOOD AND WHAT IS EVIL THIS IS HOW WE THE RIGHTEOUS WILL JUDGE THE WORLD WITH OUR CHRIST THE HOLY LAMB SO WE DON'T HAVE TO READ ANYTHING BUT THE WORD OF GOD HEAVEN AND EARTH WILL PASS AWAY BUT THE WORD OF GOD WILL STAND FOREVER WHY WOULD I WANT TO READ SOMETHING THAT TAKES AWAY MY ATTENTION TOWARD MY CREATOR WHO I WILL LIVE WITH FOR ETERNITY CHOSE TODAY WHO SIDE ARE WE GOING TO BE ON. WE ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD. GOD HAS FRAMED THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD THAT THE THINGS THAT DO APPEAR DO PAST AWAY.. BUT ETERNAL LIFE IS FOREVER. THE SOUL CAN'T DIE NOR SLEEP. BELIEVE ONLY.

Hpaul said...

As usual Ms Peevie, the all caps of the first comment do not come close to covering up the ignorance of the commentator and the weakness of the commentator's argument. Can you say "Good Grief?"

E. Peevie said...

Maybe he was put off by the truly lame "colander" metaphor. In retrospect, I can't blame him.

Anonymous said...

There's a fantastic article on this in the December issue of the Atlantic. Certainly worth reading.

-Moses Butcher

E. Peevie said...

Thanks, Rev. Butcher. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

This movie that will come out in December is a means to promote atheism. December is the birth of Christ...perfect timing too. Symbolically this movie will corrupt the minds of children and others. They will witness the accounts of the movie and slowly begin to believe that God is absent and religion is a means to corrupt the lives of people

Anonymous said...

ok, wait. If our faith is the truth, can't it stand up to some athiest's fictional kids' book? And if it's not the truth, huh, why is it our faith?

Roland said...

I tend to roll my eyes at "Christian" campaigns against fantasy books and movies. But in this case I cannot dismiss it so lightly.

It's not just that Pullman is an avowed atheist - many atheists have written great works of fiction. The problem is that Pullman has quite purposefully written these novels as anti-religious propaganda, with the intention of predisposing children to reject religion and embrace atheism and hedonism. You don't have to take my word for it - it's all here on Snopes.com.

Pullman's propaganda effort is similar to Dan Brown's in The Da Vinci Code. But it is more insidious than Brown's because 1) Pullman is a better writer, and therefore he can infuse his lies more subtly than the heavy-handed Brown, and 2) it is aimed at children, who do not yet have the critical abilities to evaluate what he has produced and separate the truth from the lies.

E. Peevie said...

Roland,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you that Pullman's motivation puts his books in a different category than other atheists. I have read the snopes article, as well as the article in The Atlantic that Moses Butcher referred me to. They raise some real issues for believers to deal with.

I still haven't read the Pullman books, but I'm glad to hear he's a better writer than "the heavy-handed Brown"--I think that's an apt description. (Have you read any of the posts about his writing on Language Log? Hilarious. Here's a link in case you're interested: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog )

Your point about Pullman's purpose begs the question, does the author's motive matter? Does it change the book's effect on the reader, or somehow make it more powerful than the stories of an atheist who's purpose was less directly evangelistic?

I think it doesn't. No matter the author's purpose, I still have a responsibility to think about the message of the book (not to mention the quality of the writing) and decide for myself whether it's true or partly true or false.

Your point about the books being targeted to children is a good one, too. I guess that's where parents have to be involved and discriminating. My son, who is a very bright, thoughtful, and faithful 12-year-old, read the books long before Pullman's motives and the whole faith controversy erupted. I asked him recently about the faith questions--did he think the stories were against God or disrespectful to his Christian faith, and he said no. I think Pullman's perspective on religion, and on Christianity in particular, is so skewed from what Jesus intended, that it's unrecognizable, at least to this young believer.

I also wonder if there are ANY books that we should "ban" because they contain lies about God. I think if we started doing this, the list would get pretty long pretty quick.

I remember a board book by Tomie Di Paola called I Love You Sun that I used to read to my kids when they were little. He's definitely not anti-religion, but from what I can tell, not specifically Christian. There was one line at the end of the book that I could not bring myself to read out loud to my kids because it was just too pantheistic. The character said to the world, "I love you, and you love me." When I read it to my kids, I changed it to "I love you, and God loves me."

I tell you the story because it illustrates that as parents we need to think about everything we expose our kids to, not just books from atheists with an agenda. Maybe for some parents, it will be the right decision to keep their children away from the Dark Materials trilogy because their kids are going to get the wrong message and be influenced by it.

I guess my point is, let's all be thoughtful about it, and not let some conspiracy theorists tell us what to do.

Thanks again for taking the time to make a thoughtful argument. Happy Thanksgiving.

E. Peevie

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Anonymous said...

The movie was Brilliant! It points out that the church, feeling itself to "be-as" God, may rule over people's mind's and assumes it has "the right" to do what it can, to keep that control going!! That is all the book was cleaverly depicting, nothing more. God Bless Mr. Pullman, for having the insight, and the integrity, to point that out. We are not sheep! We are Divine beings of God's Light. Hoepfully that will "wake us-up" to its entirity one day! Imagine what we could accomplish on this beautiful planet 'if' we could take responsibility for what we say, feel, think, and do~