I received the following email from my sister asking for my 'expert opinion'.
You may already know about this, but I just learned about a kids movie coming out in December starring Nicole Kidman. I believe it's called The Golden Compass, and while it will be a watered down version, it is based on a series of children's books about killing God (it is anti-Narnia).
Please follow this link, and then pass it on. From what I understand, the hope is to get a lot of kids to see the movie - which won't seem too bad - and then get the parents to buy the books for their kids for Christmas. The quotes from the author sum it all up. I'm going to tell everyone about this movie. I hope it totally bombs because we were all paying attention!
It's a quote from the Snopes.com page on the Golden Compass, replying to the allegation that "The 2007 film Golden Compass is based on a series of books with anti-religious themes". Snopes has ascertained that this is true. Sheer genius, this post. "I hope it totally bombs because we're all paying attention." The battle cry of the sign waving Christian. And after years of creating media storms through their own self-inflicted controversy, these people still don't understand that "telling EVERYONE about ANYTHING" simply raises its profile. Ever since the release of the film version of The Last Temptation of Christ I've been aware that this sort of protest results in the very opposite of what these people are hoping to achieve.
I'll let you all know right off, that unlike the complete waste-of-time I opted not to watch in its inglorious entirety (see my Zeitgeist post), I have read all of Pullman's trilogy of which Golden Compass is the first book. In truth, I've read them twice; once by myself, and then again to my wife. I then read Golden Compass a third time in a close reading for an English course on Children's literature. That was during the height of the Evangelical Christian backlash against Harry Potter, and all I could think was, "It's a clear indication that Pullman's books don't have near the success of Rowling's, or Harry's evils would be yesterday's news." The attitude towards the Christian church is clear in these books. And its not a positive one.
That said, I don't think the books are evil. I don't think they pose a threat to my faith. Or anyone else's faith for that matter, unless their faith is the glass house type, that shatters at the first challenge given it.
My approach to ministry when I was a pastor was to encourage my students to think for themselves; most of the students at Holyrood have read the His Dark Materials series, and we had some good discussions about elements in the books over coffee.
My literary background is in Comparative Literature. One of the ways we approached texts in my coursework was to ignore who the author was, or what the author had stated was supposed to be the point of the text. For example, Tolkien said he hated allegory, but many readers find allegorical elements in his works. Or, Lewis was a Christian writer, but his books contain a good deal of pagan elements. Or, to the point at hand, Pullman is an atheist who writes about the death of God. But which God?
The God of the secondary world(s) of His Dark Materials is the God of first century gnosticism. It is a God who is no god at all, but an angel with a superiority complex who has fooled angelic hosts into thinking he's God. So we're not dealing with the God of Christianity, or Judaism or Islam. We're dealing with the God of gnosticism, a false God, whether you be a believer or not. Further, Lyra, the heroine of the series effectively defeats (with the aid of many heroic companions) this God after a death and rebirth scenario. As Gotthammer visitor 'Sapience' commented in my earlier post on Pullman, "I think Pullman actually ends up self-defeating in his polemic. Lyra ends up as a Christ figure; the conspicuous absence of the Son in novels based on Paradise Lost makes us look for Christ in her (did you notice that Jesus is only mentioned once in more than a thousand pages?). She harrows hell, her end choice is one of self-sacrificial love, etc. She's not Christ, but Pullman makes us think of Christ when we see her--and I don't think it's intentional either." There's a Christ story in the final book, albeit a generically mythic death-and-rebirth one, overlapping with Christianity where it contains shared mythic elements. So whatever Pullman says off the page about Christianity and organized religion, there are some very worthwhile themes in His Dark Materials for Christians and atheists alike to engage with. It is, as Cathy McSporran suggests in her excellent article on both Lewis' and Pullman's works, " a space 'where two worldviews collide'."
That's the strength of the books. While there is an overtly corrupt organized Church in Lyra's world, there is also a clear storyline of spiritual growth, of a redeemer figure, and of concepts of the afterlife. The book handles both sides with complex characters (although as I've noted in my paper, Pullman is sadly one-sided in his handling of the Church - those characters are all bad, whereas the rest of his cast has multi-faceted depth), and allows for an ambiguity that permits the reader to continue to choose their path. It leaves us with the option to join and help build the "Republic of Heaven". And when you read what Jesus says about his "Kingdom" of servants and love, I'd say the Kingdom and the Republic are less at odds and more in common than the Evangelical watchdogs would give credit for.
We always tell people we want them to make a choice for Christ. Choices cannot be made if the other options are suppressed. That's the sort of authoritarian religious activity Pullman is railing against. All the protesting will do is confirm his belief about Christianity.
On a final note, I'm looking forward to seeing it. And if I had kids old enough to comprehend it, I'd be taking them. All this philosophical musing aside, I'm all about armored polar bears.