Tuesday, November 06, 2007

'The Golden Compass'-- Does Not Point toTrue North

I am not a person that is much in favor of banning things. For one thing it usually backfires (although the banning of the 'Da Vinci Code' movie after a brief release in China, seems to have accomplished some of the government's aims to avoid religious upheaval). Plus I do indeed believe in those amendments, including free speech.

However I continue to get red alerts from persons on both sides of the Atlantic pond that Phillip Pullman is not an author you want young Christian children to read or spend time with.
Www.snopes.com/ reports that Pullman, in an interview with the Aussie paper The Sydney Morning Herald in 2003 said that his books are about "killing God".

Peter Hitchens, a British commentator, (no relation to the atheist of the same name) calls Pullman the most dangerous author in Britain. Whether dangerous or not, he is certainly popular, and his novels have won various awards. The first in the trilogy we are concerned with, called 'Northern Lights' has now been made into a movie entitled 'Golden Compass' and released just in time for the Christmas rush season. Hollywood can of course do what it wants, but Christians have no obligation to support films with an atheistic, or better said strongly anti-theist point of view. Below you will find what the Catholic League says about the matter:

"Watch a video of the Catholic League's Bill Donohue discussing this issue here.

A film called "The Golden Compass" opens December 7. It is based on the first book of a trilogy titled His Dark Materials. The author of this children's fantasy is Philip Pullman, a noted English atheist. It is his objective to bash Christianity and promote atheism. To kids. "The Golden Compass" is a film version of the book by that name, and it is being toned down so that Catholics, as well as Protestants, are not enraged.

The second book of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is more overt in its hatred of Christianity than the first book, and the third entry, The Amber Spyglass, is even more blatant. Because "The Golden Compass" is based on the least offensive of the three books, and because it is being further watered down for the big screen, some might wonder why parents should be wary of the film.

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

"The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked" is the Catholic League's response. It provides information about the film, "The Golden Compass," and details what book reviewers have said about Pullman's books; a synopsis of his trilogy is also included.

If you would like to order copies, you can do so by sending $5 (includes shipping and handling) to:

Catholic League
Publications Dept.
450 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10123

Here is the link to the Catholic League discussion

If you want more check out the Snopes link----


In short, avoid this movie like the plague this Christmas. It appears to be a Trojan horse for its sequels, and you will remember what happened to Troy when that horse was allowed entrance into the city and lives of the Trojans. Forewarned is forearmed.


omakase said...

just a minor correction.. Peter Hitchens is in fact related to Christopher Hitchens, if thats what you meant. thanks for the post!

Tom Gilson said...

Here is further information you might want to be aware of.

The Scholastic publishing company is partnering with New Line Cinema and promoting "The Golden Compass," and the related Phillip Pullman trilogy, heavily in public schools. There is more information here.

They are offering it as a curriculum resource, but considering the money they're putting into promotion, it's more than that. It's a cash cow. And it's also an astonishing insertion of a very vocal atheist's anti-God, anti-church agenda into schools.

The church needs to be made widely aware of this--and parents need to be watching what happens in their children's schools.

Scott said...

Hey Ben,

well, I've read the series and I can understand to some degree why there might be concern. Have you read the books? They're quite well-written and very compelling. I think that if you read the Golden Compass trilogy, you might enjoy them and feel differently about your advice to parents and readers.

Pullman is a superb story-teller and he is also not a Christian (as far as I can tell). In that respect, he's like a lot of other great readers and moviemakers I enjoy. He may take issue with certain aspects of the institutional church--its history of religious warfare and its reputation of heavy-handedness toward civil liberties and education--but this does not distinguish him from many other artists who pointedly express these themes. I think that most believers are also horrified by these aspects of church history, and we shouldn't feel threatened by others who are also grieved by its past abuses. It does Christ no dishonor to acknowledge that the institutional church has done its fair share of damage to the world and to its own reputation.

If Pullman attacks the church in the Golden Compass, he does so by appealing heavily to secular humanism. If Christian parents feel threatened by the attractions of this philosophy, then they would do well not only to suppress this book but also to suppress just about everything taught to children through television and public schools. Most of these agents of the world attack Biblical Christianity in more subtle and inimical ways, and I think they are far more dangerous on account of that.

I've been anticipating this movie with a lot of excitement, and I hope you all won't be afraid to see it. I see nothing to be afraid of. It's a rich story that reflects the world we live in, and I hope that we who enjoy it can be reminded that the lost in this world desire hope and need the grace of God to heal them of deficient philosophy.

Drew Tatusko said...

I am wondering how much of Donahue's rhetoric is merely alarmist in nature. For instance, a film such as Dogma is about as overtly offensive as a move can get, yet it makes some rather important points about the relationship between the durable and unchanging nature of God and the fragile and ever-changing nature of humanity.

It is hard for me to agree with any opinion that asserts a fantasy film is essentially a Trojan horse for established to brainwash our children into hating Christianity - no doubt especially Catholics as far as Donahue is likely concerned.

After all while Lord of the Rings was written largely based on Revelation by a Catholic, Tolkein nevertheless was the inspiration behind Dungeons & Dragons which was about as overtly non-Christian in its entire world of demons various gods.

With any media matter, within obvious levels of appropriateness (Family Guy is assuredly not for children and I would venture that Rugrats is not great for children either), it is important for parents to direct and shape how their children consume the media. They will find a way around the protective walls of piety we may eagerly and naturally desire to construct to protect them. But some day milk will not satiate their hunger for more media and we have to be ready to guide that process of emergence into adulthood - even if they happen to question their faith after watching what looks to be an innocuous fantasy flick - perhaps a bit edgier than Bridge to Terabithia (which my nephews love by the way).

Protection lasts for so long. Teaching lends itself to a more permanent solution so that our kids can critically engage media and be empowered. The alternative is rather to be so sequestered from it that they are not able to build up the proper immunities against that which would harm them otherwise.

Amy Welborn said...

Yes on Peter Hitchens - he and Christopher are brothers.

Bluebird said...

I have never read "Northern Lights" nor seen "The Golden Compass". For all I know these may be as toxic as you say they are.

But I'm very disappointed to see you quoting Bill Donohue or the Catholic League approvingly on any topic whatsoever. Donohue is well-known in Catholic circles for his readiness to complain loudly to further his own agenda or that of his conservative fundamentalist friends - even to the detriment of his fellow Catholics. But when it comes to social justice, the war in Iraq, or any issue that might cost his friends money, his silence is deafening. In short, he blames others of being "cafeteria catholics" while being the epitome of one himself.

You've never been a Catholic nor can you know much of Catholic culture. But next time, please check the backgrounds of the persons you quote!

Ben Witherington said...

First of all I did not quote Mr. Donohue. That's the quote on the Catholic League website! Secondly, I provided a link to what Donohue said without comment. So your comments about Donohue on other matters is irrelevant. Each issues should be evaluated on their own merits, and each person's comments on a particular issue should be evaluated on their own merits, otherwise it becomes an ad hominem discussion, not a discussion on the basis of the actual issues and their merits.



yuckabuck said...

Is Dr. Ben advocating censorship?

Some seem to think so.

To me, it just sounds as if he is trying to be wise about things we don't know yet.
It is a fact that Pullman is an atheist. He freely admits it. It is a fact that his trilogy is written as a response to Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, which Pullman says is "one of the most ugly and poisonous things" he's ever read.
Since Dr. Witherington frequently reviews a whole range of films here, I don't believe that he thinks that Christians should not see movies that may cause one to struggle with the harder aspects of their faith.
But it seems to me that he is saying, "Look, we know the point of the books, but we don't know how the movies will pan out, so perhaps it would be wise to not let your kids become engrossed in something that you won't be able to explain adequately later on when the other movies come out."
I let my kids fall for Harry Potter. I had a hunch that the books were ultimately Christian-themed, but I didn't know for sure until book 7 came out. I could have been very wrong, and would have some serious explaining to do for a couple of children who may or may not be old enough to grasp the issues. Why would I knowingly walk into the same thing with a trilogy I KNOW is atheistic?
When they are teens, they can read the books. If the trilogy of movies are made without the anti-Christian bias, perhaps we'll see them then. But for now, I think it is wise for my family to pass on this movie. And I think that is what Dr. Witherington is saying here when he refers to a Trojan horse.
Is New Line purposely trying to bait kids into atheism? Probably not. They are getting flak from Christians for making the movie, and flak from atheists for trying to tone down the atheism. Is Pullman trying to bait kids into atheism? It sure sounds like it, but I wouldn't keep my kids from reading it for that reason when they are old enough to recognize bias and not fall for it.

Can you elaborate on the Lord of the Rings example? Are you trying to say that because a Christian novel inadvertently helped inspire an occultic game, that we shouldn't warn Christians against seeing a movie based on an openly atheistic series? Or am I missing something?

Shane Vander Hart said...

Thanks for the post. I wasn't aware of this.

wnpaul said...


I would also be more careful of telling anyone "you cannot know much of Catholic culture" just because that person never was a Catholic or disagrees with your take on Catholic culture.

You cannot know what another can know or not, and to assert otherwise borders on arrogance

Bluebird said...

wnpaul, you and Ben are both right, and I ask forgiveness for any offense.

Ben Witherington said...

No offense taken at all bluebird...



wnpaul said...


No offence taken either. I guess I am particularly sensitive to this issue since I move a lot among both Catholics and Evangelicals who tend to make just such assumptions about each other -- some truly in arrogance, others because they have never thought about it. So it sets off a red flag when I read such statements.

A. C. Mattern said...

I read the books a few years back and wondered what Pullman's belief system was. I remember finding some interviews in which he was pretty critical of religion as a whole, and Christianity in particular. The books themselves are a bit dark and God is presented as a gibbering senile old man on his death bed and Heaven is in control of a jealous, power-hungry Archangel (Metatron). I got the impression that Pullman was attempting to do for athiesm what C.S. Lewis' Chronicles did for Christianity. The ending itself is depressing and one has to wonder if this is the best that athiesm can come up with for a happy conclusion? At least he's being intellectually consistent?

If we Christians want to get worked up over a work of fiction, this deserves it far more than the Potter series. It even looks like the marketing is kicking into high gear with a book entitled The Science of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

Matt Akins said...

Ben, I would add that if parents take their children to see it, that they use it to as a discussion point.

I posted about this recently here as I just finished reading the first book on Sunday.

Also, I would recommend this post for additional reading.

My feelings about the book itself, aside from the anti-religious themes, are that as a piece of sci-fi / fantasy, some of the concepts are good, and the dialog between characters feels natural, but that Pullman uses some of the concepts as crutches for his writing. For example, the alethiometer becomes half deus ex machina and half literary device to speed up exposition of the plot.

Unknown said...

I find that if we (evangelicals)freak out and tell people not to see this movie it creates press. Consequently, it then creates buzz and everyone wants to see what the movie is about. I think the best thing to do for evangelical leaders is to ignore it until it comes out. If it is a huge success then address it. The Da-Vinci Code is a prime example of movie companies used evangelicals to create buzz and get millions of people to see a really crappy movie. If it were left alone no one would have cared at all.

Anonymous said...

Well I guess I'd like to weigh in on this topic.

While I don't "shelter" my kids (All teens), I am trying to teach them to make moral decisions. And i see this as an opportunity for learning and having an open dialog with them.

Used to be Catholic, now Methodist. Most of my family is Catholic, I hold no grudges nor ill-will (such as some folks do) towards them. There is no "perfect" denomination, and all we Christians need to work together to make this a better country.

N.W. said...

It always amazes me how the philosophy of utter hopelessness, the philosophy which inadvertently condones all of the injustices of the world both past and present, the philosophy which freely admits that all is vanity, can be dressed up in the ostentatious finery of progressivism and sold to people as a source of liberation. There is nothing more cruel than seeking to pull people into this bottomless pit of despair.

Glen Davis said...

Good thoughts. I remember being frustrated that so much of the church was going nuts over the innocuous Harry Potter when Pullman was actually doing significant harm to the spiritual health of his young readers.

Oh, and for a fascinating snapshot of the relationship between Peter and Christopher Hitchens, check Peter's review of God Is Not Great.

Dan Hutt said...

For an enlightening interview with Pullman check out this link:

It's published by 'Third Way' - a Christian magazine in England which attempts to view the 'Modern world through Christian eyes.'

As I read the interview I came away with the same feeling that I had when I read 'The Golden Compass' about six years ago: somewhat chilled by a world view comprised largely of hatred in general and contempt for Jesus Christ in particular.

Drew Tatusko said...

To yuckabuck:

I am saying that you should not tell people what media to consume and deride it as anti-Christian when we can spin anything that is not overtly Christian as something that could be anti-Christian - like Lord of the Rings.

Don't focus on the author as much as the media itself since meaning is so fluid these days as it is. Donahue focuses too much on the author and tells us what not to do based on ad hominem. That's the problem.

Matt said...

I'll just say that good parenting is about wisdom and communication; about knowing your children well enough to know when, if and how they can deal with challenges like this.

Pullman's critiques are aimed squarely at religion for the most part, about its tendency towards power, oppression and usurpation. Although Pullman certainly claims that God is a lie, the real meat is in his religious critique. And I must say that, although I love the church, he's right on target in many cases. I know that I certainly want to teach my children to both love and criticize the church, and Pullman can help with the latter.

The most hilarious part is Pullman's critiques of the indoctrination present in Lewis' Narnia series, whereas he takes a much heavier-handed approach in his attempted indoctrination into secular materialism than Lewis ever managed in his stories!

Journeyman said...

There is some useful material relating to Pullman's work. Tony Watkins wrote a response to Pullman's 'Dark Materials' trilogy in Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Philip Pullman. It's available through Amazon or direct from Damaris Trust http://www.damaris.org/cm/church/pullman

Pullman was interviewed for the book, so I think it makes interesting reading for a Christian perspective on things.

Duke of Earl said...

Like Templeton we see another person who, although raised in a Christian home, embraced Darwin and rejected Christ. Consequently he sees no evidence for God's existence because the physical evidence of design is explained away with the "intellectually persuasive" doctrine of blind chance and time.

He claims that the mere fact of consciousness imbues his life with meaning. Maybe it would, if consciousness meant anything. There's no real difference between a sack of chemicals and a sack of chemicals that can think, except the thinking chemicals might be better able to contemplate its end and how little that end matters.

Once again the interview displays the normal atheistic equivocation. Stalin et al were not "atheists" they were "religious atheists" and so their crimes can be shuffled off onto the believers also. Never mind that Marxism was indeed the attempt to create an atheistic state without the opiate of the Church.

Of course the point Doug Wilson skewered Christopher Hitchens on remains. By what standard does the atheist claim that anything is wrong. One chemical sack can hardly say to another chemical sack "what I say is binding on you". Pullman's appeal to the popularity of certain moral principle merely begs the question. Does being popular make those principles right? If so would a larger group believing something opposite make that right?

I think the best thing to do with Pullman's work is simply ignore it. Don't feed the bad dog and it will starve. Without controversy His Dark Materials will simply decay into dust.

Falantedios said...

NT Wright tells a story about when he was a college chaplain at Oxford, that boils down to this:

When a student would tell him they don't believe in God, he would ask them which god they don't believe in.

When, after a moment of paradigm-rearrangement, they described the god they disavowed, Dr Wright would say, "Well, we have something in common. I don't believe in that god either."

Call it a straw man, call it propaganda, call it what you will... none of us believes in the God that Pullman wants to kill. None of us wants to be a part of the church that Pullman describes.

This story is not about us, but we can use it graciously to help people understand what we DO believe, the God we see in Jesus Christ.

I doubt the movies will promote anything but anti-authoritarian themes. I would not recommend the books to those whose critical reading skills have not yet matured.

in HIS love,

Rob Harrison said...

As a minor note, The Golden Compass actually is the title of the first book--in the U.S. Northern Lights is the British title.

Tom Gilson said...

Scott said, If Pullman attacks the church in the Golden Compass, he does so by appealing heavily to secular humanism.

No, he's not just appealing to an alternate belief system; he's pointedly attacking Christianity and the Church, throughout the trilogy.

Yes, there is a secular humanism pervading the story--exalting intellectual curiosity, human pleasure-seeking, independence, and so on. But there is also a relentless message that God and the Church are mortal foes of these values; when in fact, Christianity rightly understood champions true joy, true joy, true knowledge and growth in knowledge--in short all those things Pullman wants. All except for independence from God; but God is the source of love and joy. So on that account, I see Pullman as pursuing all the right things in all the wrong ways.

But he's not just pursuing all the right things in all the wrong ways. He has mounted a very intentional attack on right ways. So I don't think it's as benign as you think, Scott.