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The Golden Compass and the Threat to Faith (& DUMB Christians)

December 10, 2007

Went to see the ‘Golden Compass’ yesterday with Ade and our two children, and CJ reckons it’s the best film he’s ever seen. I’m not sure I agree with him (his qualifications as a film critic amount to being nine, and anything with cute animals and armoured bears counts as high-culture).

Not a bad film, though I think it suffered from being the first part of a trilogy, introducing too many characters too quickly and establishing story lines that the book takes almost 400 pages to establish). Iornik Bjarnesan is undoubtedly a spectacular character and Serafina, the witch is just too cool.

CompassI read the books years ago and found them an unexpected delight. To me they represented a much more literary Harry Potter, which whilst being exciting, are not all that well written. I remember preaching in a Belfast church, mentioning them tangentially, and spending a
n hour after the service with concerned parents, mostly mothers.

My kids are now old enough to read them. My older daughter didn’t much fancy the first book and didn’t carry on. But my son is riveted.

So here’s my take. Yes, I know Pullman has an agenda. Something to do with criticising the controlling tendencies of and the abuse of power in religion. Hurrah for him. if I could write like Pullman, I might choose the same approach and make loadsa money in the process. And in doing so, I wouldn’t be too far behind the footsteps of Jesus, who did something similar in his day.

But hold your horses just a minute! The religious criticised Jesus too…and killed him, did they not.

These books, and these films will NOT destroy the church. Nor will they destroy the faith of my children? Assuming my wife and I take responsibility for their formation. And this is the real issue for me.

Far too many Christians have ceded responsibility to the church, to Sunday School and to the school forThgc_087_ar
the faith formation of their children. It seems to me, however, that the primary locus of formation is the family, the wider family certainly, but it begins in the home, and from there out into the faith community

The near hysterical reaction of some faith groups therefore represents an intuitive understanding that the world catechises their kids far more effectively than the faith.

We watched the movie, and on the way home discussed the issue of the soul/spirit as represented by the animal characters in the movie. How these animals mirrored the internal character or nature of the person. (The explanation given at the start of the movie which intrigued my kids was that in some worlds the soul is outside the body and in some it is inside. Nice idea.) We tried to identify an animal that would stand for our companions. And what we would like it to be.

The companions of the children in the story are able to change shape constantly, dictated by mood, emotion, location etc., because the character, nature and spirituality of children is still in flux. Adults have a fixed dæmon reflecting their more fixed nature and role in life. So, all the servants have dogs as their companion, and the ‘superior’ servants have ‘superior’ dogs. Lord Asriel’s cool but violent character is represented by a snow leopard.

How I wish we lived in Lyra’s world during disputes like this, then I could get a hold of the dumb rothweilers of some of these idiot church people and have them neutered.

The movie is fine, but not life changing (unless you’re my CJ). And if you take your kids to see it, TALK to them about the issues raised. While they’re young, you’re still one of the most powerful shaping influences in their life.

[no animals were harmed in the writing of this post, neither in actuality nor in virtual forms].

Some web reading:

kester brewin blogs about it, saying
‘It’s clearly powerful stuff, but no more cutting than Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees as ‘white-washed tombs’"
so does Scott Kennedy on Transformatum

CT has a go at it here and here.

And in the interest of balance read this. Not that I’d be afforded the same space.

From → Film, Musings, Rant

  1. Haven’t seen it yet, but several people came into work this morning saying that Golden Compass has been denounced from pulpits on Sunday morning – warning parents not to take their kids to see it.

    I quite enjoyed the books too – and look forward to checking our the religious-lite film!

    And I liked the Hollywood Jesus review which suggested “… as believers we should side with Pullman on his disdain for the type of religion and organization that the Magisterium portrays in The Golden Compass … [Pullman] is not alone, however, as there are many who look ill upon religion in general and Christianity in particular based on bad experiences. We should be just as passionate about our disdain for the false religiosity and pious arrogance represented by the Magisterium that has pushed so many away from the church.

    The only difference is that while Pullman and others may imagine a world without God, there are many more who imagine a world with a better representation of true religion: one that does not oppress free-thinking, intelligence, or individualism. Personally, if the church was at all like the Magisterium I would not want to be a part of it. If Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and the so-called “religious leaders” of his day is any indication, I have a feeling that Jesus wouldn’t want to be a part of it either.”

  2. I occasionally listen to Christian radio for the worship songs, but whenever those guys/gals start talking, I want to puke. KLOVE was all over denouncing Pullman and making a huge thing of it, like it was something really serious. Seriously! I don’t get it…the more uncomfy the chuch gets, the more I think the secular critique is in some way hitting closer to home than church folks consciously realize.

    Are we afraid Christianity or God is going to pop like a balloon?

  3. Pistol Pete permalink

    I agree with you on the parents’ primary responsibility for their children’s spiritual development. I would only differ with you on approach. My wife and I have found it best to limit our children’s exposure to much of popular entertainment (no TV, only Family Films, no Video Games, only monitored computer use). Growing up addicted to pop culture, I know too well the lure it has on young minds. Some say my kids won’t be able to face the “real” world. But I think they’ll be better equipped, knowing more what reality really is.

  4. Thanks all for entering the debate. For me I take a stance of engagement towards the world, not withdrawal, and I know that is characteristic of you guys too. I don’t get our fear of these things. It seems to me that the church operates on the basis of ‘if you touch it, you’ll be unclean/sinning/pulled into some secular conspiracy/etc.’ Whereas Jesus encounters the unclean with an attitude of ‘if I touch you, I’ll make you clean’.

    I’m not claiming I’m Jesus, I just despair of our inability to respond intelligently, or to choose the right debates. And in the last few weeks in the US, how come the church is getting its knickers twisted over a movie, and not over the abundance of weapons? Or here in Northern Ireland, no-one is raising the issue of the current Programme for Government which privileges the rich over the poor.

    And as for raising kids, all you guys know how difficult that is. We’ve chosen, like Pete to impose some limits. But we are also likely to engage in a ‘risk’ or two, so long as Mum and/or dad are there to help interpret.

    I pray for each of us that we strike the right balance with family.

    be good.

  5. My daughter picked up the book and after reading a good portion of it put it down explaining to me and her mom how it really bothered her as far as how it treated faith in God. So, teaching critical thinking to a 13 year old works. The film looks like a rip off of Narnia to me but looks cool enough for rental rather than $10.25 movie tickets.

  6. Marti permalink

    I couldn’t agree more that we should strive to strike the right balance. Our kids have happily read Harry Potter (I couldn’t get into it myself) and it has helped foster a love of children’s literature for them – that’s invaluable!

    We’ll watch The Golden Compass as a family at some point and I’ll look forward to their questions – I love how they challenge me the way I never felt I was able to with my own parents. We trust them – we’re open and honest about the dangers lurking on the internet, in their local community, in violence on TV and in video games – and they are developing a healthy cynicism with regard to the media.

    And if we should have faith like a child – then to me that means asking a LOT of questions – I know the kids in my life are never done asking questions! I feel that we shouldn’t shy away from their questions and try to help them make sense of the world we have brought them into. And I’m never afraid to admit to them when I just don’t know!

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