A COMPASS FOR THE GOLDEN COMPASS
The Golden Compass opens in over 3,000 theaters this weekend. It is based on the trilogy of novels called “His Dark Materials” written by self proclaimed agnostic Philip Pullman. I call Pullman an agnostic because of his own words:
Pullman told the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, "Atheism suggests a degree of certainty that I'm not quite willing to accede. I suppose technically, you'd have to put me down as an agnostic. But if there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against. As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it's a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny. How they have the bloody nerve to go on Thought for the Day and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they'd be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches."
Pullman has not hidden his feelings about the church (as skewed as they are), nor his reason for writing the trilogy. Although this is fantasy literature Pullman believes stories are vehicles for truth. … “All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts or instructions.”
I believe that it is important that you understand what the author’s intent is when you consider these books or this film. Pullman said “My books are about killing God.” Though it appears the story never really addresses the existence of God. What the story does do, however, is paint a picture of the church as an evil and repressive entity.
Of course, we must not respond to such statements with undue concern. After all Pullman’s stories have no ability to kill God! And he would not be the first person nor will he be the last to attack the Christian faith. What is of concern is that his stories are directed toward an adolescent audience and his message is clearly anti-Christian. His writings have parallels to the Chronicles of Narnia series written by Christian author C.S. Lewis, but are intended to counter Lewis: Pullman said "I hate the Narnia books, and I hate them with a deep and bitter passion," he told one interviewer, "with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling-away.”
It comes out clearly in his stories that Pullman believes Christianity robs children/adolescents of certain “freedoms” that they would otherwise experience as “normal” growing up. My intention here is not to give you an in-depth review of the books or film partly because you can get them elsewhere and partly because my research does not include reading the books or watching the film to date. Rather, my purpose is to provide a “heads up” and then ask the question “what should we do with this as Christians and as Christian parents?”
I do not have an “alarmist” mentality when it comes to books or movies like this because I think they can provide us with an opportunity to engage our culture on the spiritual level and be available as they ask questions like “is there a God?”, “is Jesus the only way to God?”, “is the Bible reliable?” The movie is here and we should exploit the opportunity.
All of us will be faced with those who disagree with or even hate the Christian faith. If we interact with people at all (and we should) we are going to meet “atheists” and “agnostics.” We need to be able to make a cogent argument (1 Peter 3:15) for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Well-grounded Christians should not be afraid of those who oppose the God of the Bible, the historical Jesus, the resurrection, etc. We should know what we believe and why we believe it and challenges to our faith can be good because they can motivate us to “study up” on evidences for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, the truth of the resurrection, etc. The evidence and answers to these questions are there and they are compelling. If you have not studied these subjects you need to get equipped so you can effectively communicate with people who have legitimate questions as you try to reach them for Christ.
However, I am concerned about children and teens who may see this movie and then desire to read Pullman’s books. My understanding is that the movie is a “watered down” version of the book and that the book is much more blatant in its attacks on the church. There are clear warnings in the Bible to beware of false teachers and false prophets (Matthew 7:15, 1 Peter 2:1) and “men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). In the book of Acts Luke tells us about Elymas the magician who opposed Barnabas and Saul “seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts 13:8). It is clear that Pullman has a similar agenda. His greatest impact will be on those who are unsaved or immature.
Our children have a precious and developing faith. As a pastor and father I would caution you to proceed with prayer regarding your children seeing the film and especially reading the books. If they do see the film, watch it with them so you can hear what they have to say and help them think through what all of this means to their faith. Whether you spend money on the film to me is a matter of conscience before the Lord (Romans 14). Some may want to go purely for entertainment and others to get equipped (some both). However, Hollywood seems to be listening to the sounds of our pocket books (“we vote with our pocket books”) and on what movies we spend our money. This is a consideration.
Ultimately it all comes down to a battle of world-views. And we must remember that ideas have consequences (for example evolution) and they can negatively impact the culture and even the church for years to come. This book/film promotes a world-view that can potentially sway and stumble. Jesus said “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
In service of The King,
Pastor Michael Lantz