The Golden Compass

In recent weeks, a number of you have asked my opinion about “The Golden Compass,” particularly the movie based on the first installment of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by writer Philip Pullman. For those of you who don’t know, Pullman has professed a very “anti-religious” bias. In 2003 he said that his books were “about killing God.” In 2001 he said that one of the goals of his writing was “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” He is an outspoken critic of C.S. Lewis, particularly his “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Is there really anything left to be said about the movie? It’s received so much attention already, and I feel a little bit behind in talking about it. If you really want to read some insightful stuff about it after you’ve read my thoughts, click here and read Kim Fabricius’ blog entry about it. I’m about to say something very similar.

Before I get started I should clarify what I have and haven’t seen: I’ve seen the movie, and I’ve read the first two books of the “Dark Materials” trilogy.

As for the movie, I have to admit that I liked it very much. (If you’re not interested in a review just skip ahead.) As you may know, the anti-Christian rhetoric has been toned down considerably, a decision that angered many fans of the books. It is largely devoid of religious talk. What’s left is a fine movie. It’s beautiful to watch. The look of the movie is wonderful. The acting is solid. Nicole Kidman is perfect as the villainous Ms. Coulter. And I loved Dakota Blue Richards as the hero, Lyra. On top of all that, this movie has what is hands down the COOLEST polar bear smackdown I’ve ever seen. (Actually, it’s the only one I’ve seen, but I doubt anyone will top it.) I’m probably in the minority in regretting that the film’s poor showing at the box office has put its sequels in jeopardy.

So should you see it? Should you let your kids see it? My answer (as usual) is “It depends.” If, after screening it for yourself, you feel that your children might be unreasonably swayed by any hidden atheistic agenda, I would encourage you to protect them from it. Further, if you yourself fear that the same might happen to you, I would advise that you do the same. I’m basically taking the same approach to it that Paul takes to the issue of meat in his letter to Corinth. (Go read 1 Corinthians 8, or listen to my sermon from 01.07.07)

My opinion is that the film gives no such cause for alarm. For that matter, neither do the books. The god that the book is taking aim at bears no resemblance to the living, powerful, merciful, dynamic God whom I worship. And Pullman’s church is merely a shadow of the historic body of Christ. Pullman does what many do, he doesn’t present an accurate picture of faith or of the church. He presents caricatures and precedes to destroy them. Rhetorically speaking, Pullman’s God and Pullman’s church (called the Magisterium) would qualify as “straw men.” As Fabricius says, “…the death of this God would actually do the church a great service.” This is the problem that I have with much of what the “New Atheists” are doing, but that’s another blog entry.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is this: Pullman’s books actually hold forth some very Christian virtues. No doubt, Pullman would object to my use of that label, but there it is. The heroes of his books display selflessness, courage, creativity, and an openness to spirit (I would say, Spirit). In fact, I fail to see how you can talk about any of these virtues or talk about anything that transcends the natural world without appealing to the Creator who gives us these values.

So to repeat: you’ll have to draw your own conclusions on this movie depending upon your own faith or the ability of your children to think critically. My guess is that most of our kids won’t come away questioning their faith. They’ll probably just say the same thing I did: “That polar bear fight was AWESOME!”

Anyone else seen the movie or read the books? I’d love to hear your take.