Which Direction to Go with “The Golden Compass” (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Patty Slack
September – December, 2007

“…A terrible, anti-Catholic & anti-Christian movie called the ‘Golden Compass’ will be coming out in early December, aimed at children and labeled as a family movie. This movie is based on a series of books by an atheist British author (Phillip Pullman) whose goal in writing the books is to be the ‘Anti-Narnia’ series and to lead children into atheism.”

When this email came through my inbox about a month ago—not once, but about 20 times—I rolled my eyes. Oh brother, another opportunity for Christians to get up in arms about something we know nothing about, I thought.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most mature response, but my first reaction to being told not to read these books was to order them from the library.

It seemed I had three choices: to boycott the movie and books as the email suggested, to buy the books and attend the movie for the pure enjoyment of it, or to read and watch cautiously, considering what impact the story would have on me, my children and my culture.
As Christ-followers, what should our reaction be?

Boycott!

A friend of mine is a sixth grade teacher. He’s considering reading His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass is Book One of this trilogy) in order to stay abreast of what the kids in his class are reading. He expressed his concern to me that his faith might not withstand the reading.

Another friend, who was twelve at the time, returned the series to the bookstore because they made her feel uncomfortable.

The Golden CompassI respect these two people for their willingness to assess their faith, yet refuse to put it to unnecessary tests. I respect the mother who wants to teach her children to put only what is pure and true, noble and right, lovely and admirable, into their minds.
What I have trouble respecting is the Christian who fears Satan’s power so much that he cloisters himself in a little Christian box and refuses to venture out and face the world.

It seems that the world sees Christians as ignorant, defensive and afraid. While we can’t change that perception overnight, we can at least do out best to make sure it isn’t true.

Embrace It!

In an effort to be less ignorant, should we wholeheartedly accept The Golden Compass? After all, the trailer is intriguing. The CGI is amazing. And even the email warnings say the dangerous message of the movie has been watered down.

Perhaps we should consider the intent of the author, Philip Pullman, “I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry [Potter] has said. My books are about killing God.”

While the movie director, Chris Weitz, admits to softening the message of the first movie in order to gain a financial footing in the U.S., he also states that he will not be involved in any “watering down” of the message of the second and third books.

Proceed With Caution!

So, it seems, we need to look into the later books to find out what their message is. What exactly can we expect to find down the line if we accept the first part of this trilogy?

While the movie itself does not explicitly present any anti-God propaganda, it certainly sets the stage for it. A theme running through the movie is the idea that free will is impeded by the authority of the Magesterium (a thinly disguised version of the Church). Both the book and the movie fail to offer hope or redemption for characters or observers.

The Golden Compass distorts good and evil. The Church is evil, as is the Authority behind it. Lyra, whose only useful skill is her ability to lie, is good. Dust (with a capital D) is the physical manifestation of original sin—or is it? The Golden Compass tells the truth, but only one child—the one who lies—can read it. Each person has a daemon (pronounced demon) that is, in essence, her soul living outside her body.

As the story progresses through Book Two, The Subtle Knife, the tone turns from anti-religious to anti-God. Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, sees the church as too weak to be worth fighting for, so he turns his sights on the Authority himself. Lest the reader miss the parallel, Pullman spells it out. The Authority is God.

The Third Book, The Amber Spyglass, offers the clearest picture of all. Consider this description from Balthamos, a rebel angel:

The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself…. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie.iii

Or these questions from Mrs. Coulter, Lyra’s mother and the Magesterium representative from the first book:

“Where is God,” said Mrs. Coulter, “if he’s alive? And why doesn’t he speak anymore? At the beginning of the world, God walked in the Garden and spoke with Adam and Eve. Then he began to withdraw, and he forbade Moses to look at his face. Later, in the time of Daniel, he was aged—he was the Ancient of Days. Where is he now? Is he still alive at some inconceivable old age, decrepit and demented, unable to think or act or speak and unable to die, a rotten hulk? And if that is his condition, wouldn’t it be the most merciful thing, the truest proof of our love for God, to seek him out and give him the gift of death?

When Lyra and her friend, Will, the new Adam and Eve of this story, finally find God, they see he is demented and suffering, whimpering and without a will of his own. When they release him from his crystal carriage, he is so frail that the wind dissolves him and carries him away.

What Now?

Pullman lost me when he turned from his attacks on the brutality of the church to attacking Creator God. After all, the church has not always lived up to her mission to take Good News to the world. Many atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christ through the centuries, things that God surely didn’t approve of.

But to deny God’s deity, to strip him of his power, to turn him into a frail and failing creature who could only find the release of death a mercy… them’s fightin’ words.

Still, with all the reasons Pullman gives to shout out against the heresy of his words, I find myself pitying him. If His Dark Materials gives me a window into Pullman’s heart, as I believe it must, I weep for him and for the children who will hear his stories and see them as truth.

We used to pat ourselves on the back that Satan had to be subtle in our country, that he couldn’t work in the open, as if we had anything to do with his demise. If The Golden Compass is any indication, we are stepping into a new era, one in which the father of lies can tell his lies out in the open and call them children’s stories.

i Meacham, Steve. The Shed Where God Died December 13, 2003. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html (accessed December 12, 2007)
ii Jacks, Brian. My Movie Blog “’Golden Compass’ Movie Director Answers Your Questions: Part I” November 14, 2007. http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2007/11/14/golden-compass-director-chris-weitz-answers-your-questions-part-i/ (accessed December 12, 2007)
iii Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass (New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, Random House, Inc., 2000) p. 28.
New Wineskins

Patty SlackPatty Slack is a graduate of Harding University. She and her family spent 7 years as part of a church planting mission in Togo, West Africa. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest where she home schools her 3 daughters.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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