What is so scary about a little girl and a compass?

08 Dec


It has been interesting to hear friends and family on both sides of the current discussion about whether or not The Golden Compass is anti-God, anti-religion, anti-Christian, or perhaps just, taking a clue from something the author actually said, anit-Narnia.  The discussion was made more interesting because none of those talking about it had seen the movie and only half of those talking about it had read any of the books in the series.  My own analysis is that the theme of the books is primarily anti-authoritarian rather than explicitly anti-religion.  That being said, it is clear that the author views various manifestations of religion as the worst kind of authoritarianism. But anyone who can’t accept that premise is ignoring 2000 years of Christian history as well as thousands more years of human history. History is saturated with individuals and groups that were convinced that they had the truth and were therefore obligated to force it on those around them. Christians may not like it,  but historically there are many more examples of the church as abusers of power than of the church explicitly following the teachings of Jesus.

Now that the movie is being released we have even more confusion sorting out what people are really objecting to: the novels? the movie? the comments of the author? As a librarian I have a built-in, deeply-held bias against those who see themselves as self-appointed censors.  I was disturbed but not surprised when the pastor at my church repeated without hesitation many of the distortions of truth that are being circulated in conservative Christian circles.

 An interesting analysis of the books come from Catholic theologian,  Donna Freitas, who writes in the Boston Globe:

These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of “His Dark Materials” is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings — the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now. This is a rejection of the more classical notion of a detached, transcendent God, but I am a Catholic theologian, and reading this fantasy trilogy enhanced my sense of the divine, of virtue, of the soul, of my faith in God.

The book’s concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman’s work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman’s work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman’s work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.

 In an era which has recently witnessed film versions of other fantastical worlds, (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter), comparisons are inevitable.  I like the reviewer from the Dallas Morning News who says if Tolkien is like a symphony, Pullman’s work is “more like hip-hop: spiky, violent and angry.” The reviewer goes on to say

. . . here’s what you’ll find in Mr. Pullman’s creation: A transcendent, universal, omniscient intelligence is somehow concerned with the way people live their lives. It takes an active role in human history and seems to want to encourage particular values: loyalty, courage and love. There is something immortal about people that survives physical death and reintegrates with the larger universe. The origin of the universe, and of that cosmic intelligence, is either inexplicable or not explained.  And if you want to believe this all fits together, you’ll have to take some of it on faith.  That isn’t Christianity. But it sure sounds like a religion.

–How does faith fit into film version of ‘The Golden Compass’? By: Weiss, Jeffrey, Dallas Morning News, The (TX), Dec 06, 2007

I can think of a lot more to say, but not much more that would really add anything substantial to the discussion. Just let me end by paraphrasing a review from the Christian Science Monitor–You can boycott and protest all you want, just don’t pretend you are doing it in the name of religion.


Posted by on 8 December 2007 in Cheek


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10 responses to “What is so scary about a little girl and a compass?

  1. abby

    15 March 2008 at 3:53 pm

    i think this movie is very bad and i will never watch it and cuz is that thy kill god and that is not good

  2. cheekfam

    15 March 2008 at 8:23 pm

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand why people have such a problem with a fantasy. This is a story, nothing more. That said, you obviously you have not seen the movie or read the books. They DO NOT kill God. They kill an imitation of God that has been oppressing the people of the worlds represented in the books. Please don’t believe everything people tell you. Find out for yourself.

  3. Jeff

    24 June 2008 at 6:31 pm

    I agree completely! I nearly lost my mind this last summer over this concept of people not recognizing fantasy. I actually walked out of the sermon in my parent’s church because their narrow-minded pastor went on a typically, overzealous evangelical “this is evil” rant. Really, why do people get so worked up about these things?

  4. cheekfam

    25 June 2008 at 3:14 pm

    So you’re one of those library liberals I keep hearing about. James Dobson warned us about people like you taking over our libraries. ;->

    Seriously, I don’t know what to say about the sheep (lemming) mentality of many evangelical Christians. All it takes is one negative comment and they’re on a crusade. I guess if you keep telling people that they are sheep and you are the shepherd, sooner or later they are going to act like it.

  5. rolacola

    24 July 2008 at 10:42 am

    The churches are so hypocritical.
    This is a fictional story about what could have happened.
    Same with the bible.
    They should think about what is a fact and what is fiction.
    The bible’s facts and ‘jesus’ mircles arn’t fact, they could simply be made up, just like the golden compass.

  6. cheekfam

    28 July 2008 at 9:14 am

    I agree that churches are hypocritical, but then who isn’t?

    There is, however, a difference between the stories about the golden compass and the stories in the Bible. We know the intent of the author of the former was to tell stories, clearly fiction. We don’t know the same thing about the stories in the Bible. You are certainly free to believe that they are just “made up.” But we do not know that with the same degree of certainty that we have about the golden compass stories.

    Of course, all that being said, it is still a little ridiculous for people in the churches to get so upset about a little girl with a compass.

  7. kody

    22 September 2008 at 11:25 am

    i dont understand you people God is God and there is no reason that you should think its ok to kill a imitation of God i mean why not just sasy your killing the real one cause its practicully the same thing . i read and artical about philip pullman the man who wrote it and i was simply apcured he is an athiust and want to get rid of any sign of God in childrens minds so believe wat you want to but i believe in the only GOD there is JESUS CHRIST and the bible is real

  8. cheekfam

    25 September 2008 at 11:18 am

    Thank you for you comments. You may be right about Pullman being an atheist but his fight is against the organized heirarchical church and the version of god that they present. I, along with many others, also question that traditional view of god. Church history is filled with examples of the “church” using the concept of god to achieve some vey ungodly ends. Since that is the view of god that I believe Pullman is trying to get rid of, I have no problem with it. I too believe in Jesus Christ and believe that the Bible is real.

  9. Will

    23 February 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Everyone makes such a big deal out of it. I am an ex. Catholic, and this is one of the reasons. Not the story itself, but how they have so many rules, and how they get so worked up about Philip Pullman’s imagination. This is one of my favorite books/movies.

  10. Will

    23 February 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Oh ya, and Philip Pullman stated that he thinks God may exist (I on the other hand, think that God is there, and he always has been, and he always will be.) I think he’s a Deist.


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