The Golden Compass, A Film to Boycott?

Once again a film is about to be released which many Christians will find offensive. Some are calling Christians to boycott the soon to be released children’s movie, The Golden Compass starring Nicole Kidman.

Should we boycott it? What do I think? First, we need to understand what all the fuss is about.

The 2007 film The Golden Compass is based on a series of books with anti-religious themes. The name of the film comes from the title of the book, in Britain called Northern Lights, but in the USA called The Golden Compass.
Plogger Image‘Northern Lights’ (or ‘The Golden Compass’) is the first book in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy of children’s books, in which the reader follows the adventures of a vary capable girl who travels through multiple worlds in a parallel universe where there are witches, armour-plated bears, and sinister ecclesiastical assassins and she must defeat the dark oppressive forces of a senile God represented by a Church known as the Magisterium.

The series’ author, Philip Pullman, is an a militant atheist who has said “I don’t profess any religion; I don’t think it’s possible that there is a God; I have the greatest difficulty in understanding what is meant by the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality.'” Pullman left little doubt about how his work should be interpreted when he said in a 2003 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that “My books are about killing God.” Peter Hitchens said of Pullman “The Most Dangerous Author in Britain” and described him as the writer “the atheists would have been praying for, if atheists prayed.”

The following headlines give you a flavour of reactions to the book and the film:

Hoyle, Ben. “Pullman Writes a Book That Will Shed Light on Darkness of His Beliefs.” The London Times. 1 August 2007.

Meacham, Steve. “The Shed Where God Died.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 13 December 2003.

Miller, Laura. “Far from Narnia.” The New Yorker. 26 December 2005.

Sunday Mirror. “Kidman Movie Is ‘Atheist.'” 21 October 2007.

Those who would have Christians boycott the film tell us that Pullman hates The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and has written his trilogy known as ‘His Dark Materials’ in retaliation and to show the other side.

The film is a very much watered down rendering of the book and omits some of the books features such as castration and female circumcision. The motive of the film, it is claimed, is to seduce children and their parents into buying his trilogy as Christmas presents, so increasing revenue and the opportunity to market additional merchandise. I suppose the timing of the release will be to enable it to hit the Christmas holiday market.

The children who do buy the book or receive it for Christmas can read the end of the story in which the children kill God and, freed from God, everyone can do as they please.

Bill Donohue , president of The Catholic League in the USA, wants to persuade parents not to buy the book. He has condemned The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights) as a “pernicious” effort to indoctrinate children into anti-Christian beliefs. He has produced a 23 page pamphlet titled ‘The Golden Compass: Unmasked’ in which he maintains that Pullman “sells atheism for kids.”

I am often unconvinced by people claiming to be atheist (see my previous post on Richard Dawkins) and am again unconvinced by Pullman’s claims of unbelief. Surely someone who hates God with a passion can not be an atheist. I think that if such people truly denied the existence of God they could not be hating Him as much. I think a true atheist would simply get over it and move on.

In “His Dark Materials,” Pullman’s criticises organized religion too. Perhaps he is not atheist then? Perhaps he just hates his idea church. As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, “Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

Books of the trilogy are certainly popular. They have sold more than 15 million copies around the world, with Northern Lights winning the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature in 1995 and in 2007 being awarded the ‘Carnegie of Carnegies’ for the best children’s book of the past 70 years. The Amber Spyglass, the final book of the series, won The Whitbread Prize in 2001, making it the first children’s book to do so.

A literary devise Pullman has used which particularly interests me is that of using daemons. The film describes these creatures as the external expression of a person’s soul. In fact this is almost indistinguishable from the ancient belief in paganism of a ‘familiar’, better known as the black cat of witchcraft folklore. This is just old-fashioned occultism dressed up!

What do I think then? I think we should be slower to be fearful of the attacks on Truth. Christians are not on the winning side but on the side that has already won. After the fall of Communism in various states at the end of the twentieth century we discovered that even in countries where Christians were persecuted and every effort made to obliterate the church, it continued to survive. The moment freedom came people started turning to Jesus. The anti-God brigade can rage, but they can never win.

We read aloud to our daughters when they were young. We benefited from The Read-Aloud Handbook which I highly recommend. We read to them often, not just at bed time. All research tells us of the amazing benefits of reading aloud to our children.

We read all sorts of books (within limits of course). That way we exposed our children to all sorts of world views from an early age. In a place of security they could ask their questions and we could speak of the difference between fiction, and the truth of Jesus and the Bible. Perhaps we could call this to be infant training in apologetics? Rather than protecting our children from hearing other views, we wanted them to know there were other views but that nothing compared to Jesus and His Way.

One rule we had, which may be more difficult to get away with now, was, “No televisions in the bedrooms.” Instead we would watch stuff together. We would sometimes talk about what we were seeing and hearing. We would watch together what I think is the most dangerous stuff (adverts) and laugh and talk about their ridiculous claims.

In my sermons I often notice some surprise when I mention something I have been reading or reading about. It is not only how we treat our children, but I find that adult Christians can be fearful of ideas too. I am able to read a book which is anti-God rubbish and find it great fun and a good read at the same time – yet recognise it is anti-God rubbish.

Am I encouraging you to take your children to see this film? Am I encouraging you to let them read anything? Not if you are not part of their lives. But then, if you are not part of their lives, this film will probably not damage them any more than they already are!

If my children were still small (which they are not) I would want them to know about this film, and understand what it is about, so they could reply intelligently to their friends.

One more thing! In the light of recent incitement to religious hatred laws, is this film legal?

9 thoughts on “The Golden Compass, A Film to Boycott?

  1. What an excellent entry. Yes, we are on the side that has already won! I think that Christians who are encouraging others to boycott this film will just end up drawing more publicity to it. Reminds me of an episode of Father Ted where the publicity of the boycott prompts even more people to see the film!
    Ps I very much enjoyed being read-to as a child. Thank you Dad.

  2. I have read Pullman’s books (not just his atheist propaganda books, but his detective stories and tales of daring do as well) and I can’t help being impressed by his ability to write a ripping good yarn. He may have chosen an objectionable subject for his trilogy, but I can see how they made it to the cinema, the books are well written.

    After reading them carefully, I think I’ve realised what Pullman’s problem is. At some point he has met some of the more unusual members of the body of Christ, and he hasn’t been bright enough to realise, that we’re not all the same. He thinks that we are all nutters.

    I can’t help feeling that if we waste precious time protesting about the film it will only reinforce this opinion in him. Telling everyone to boycott it will make us look like crazies (and might even make people think that our faith isn’t built on strong enough ground to take a bit of fairly insubstantial criticism).

    Whereas, if we all shrug our shoulders and just carry on with preparing for HOPE 2008, or our next Alpha course or whatever, and remain ready to answer criticism from atheists if they offer it (and try our best not to look like nutters) then we’ll probably achieve far more in the heart of Mr Pullman than any boycott ever could.

  3. Here here! “At some point he has met some of the more unusual members of the body of Christ, and he hasn’t been bright enough to realise, that we’re not all the same. He thinks that we are all nutters.” I think this applies to Richard Dawkins as well.

  4. I think I can understand how you feel. At the same time I would recommend that you hear some of the words (or read at least) from his own mouth in addition to all the sites that really are trying to keep people away from him. Here is a like for an interview of him:

    http://www.thirdway.org.uk/past/showpage.asp?page=3949

    You can just copy and paste it in your address bar. He says in the interview that he does not hate C. S. Lewis:

    “But when he was talking about writing for children, and about literature in general, Lewis was very, very acute and said some very perceptive and wise things. As a critic… And as a psychologist – The Screwtape Letters, for example, is full of very shrewd stuff about what it’s like to be tempted. I rate him very highly…”

    He goes on to say that he doesn’t like Lewis’s fiction and Children’s literature and explains why. He also explains that his (Pullman’s) books are against “Monotheism,” not simply Christianity. He would include the Taliban, and for that matter the Soviet Union (because they worked off the “same kind of mindset.” He is opposed to the oppression and witch burnings, etc that come from what he would call “that kind of virtue.”

    Please don’t get me wrong. I am a follower of Jesus, and am currently in College majoring in Biblical and Theological Studies, so I am not trying to argue from the other side. I simply think that we need to be careful about talking about jumping to conclusions.

    I personally enjoy the books. I find them very thought provoking in a spiritual way. In my opinion they are going to theatre because they are highly successful, having achieved various awards, not because of some sort of agenda. If that is the case though, we are guilty of having an agenda with our ‘church Narnia kits’ two year ago too.

    As for concern for children, sure, I would agree that if they are too young you might want some of that information and story in their head before they are of an age to be able to work it out and discuss it with you.

    Hope this contributes.

    Ben

  5. I believe that the Golden Compass should not have been published. This is the stupidest movie that I have ever come acrossed, just because of the fact that god does not exsist in this movie.

  6. The same was said of the Harry Potter books and movies, and I have heard nor saw any evidence of their being harmful to children..If Pullman comes right outand declares in the movie that “there is no God” for children to hear, then it should be yanked from the theatres. As for now, on with the show.

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