So the bishops want the positive review of The Golden Compass taken off their website.
Look, here’s the thing. The movie may be harmless in itself. Frankly, it could be Mary Poppins on ice. But I wouldn’t pay one red cent to see it or take any child I know to see it. What matters here is context, and the film’s context is the phenomenal success of a trilogy of tales intended to instill in children a red-hot hate for religion in general and in Christianity in particular. It should be noted that Philip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials, from which The Golden Compass is culled, has denied having an “agenda,” a demurral for which the word “disingenuous” was invented.
Generally, I avoid kid lit. Even when I was a kid, I avoided kid lit. Talking animals, dwarves frolicking in the heath—please. I’ve never read the Narnia tales, despite my deep debt to C.S. Lewis. I’ve never read Tolkein, despite the fact that the film adaptations of LOTR are nothing less than stunning achievements. I much preferred—and still prefer—science fiction, even by that old atheist H.G. Wells.
Nevertheless, I decided to give His Dark Materials a go a couple of months ago because of all the chin music. It is typical to give Pullman high marks for some of his more inventive gimmicks, like the daemons. Frankly, they wore thin by the second book. Just more talking animals. The author’s inversion of, and therefore dependence on, C.S. Lewis is as subtle as a colonoscopy, but he also owes a debt to Madeleine L’Engle, it seems to me. And then there are all those witches, the single most boring group of preternatural creatures ever concocted. In the second book, they just go on and on until you realize why the Puritans finally burned them at the stake—it was the only way to make them stop talking.
I couldn’t stomach the whole trilogy, frankly, because Pullman’s muse is fueled by one thing and one thing only: hate. And the object of that hate is not just obscurantism or authoritarianism or clericalism. EVERY LAST CHRISTIAN, EVERY LAST PERSON CONNECTED WITH THE CHURCH, IS EVIL. When Pullman was called on this in an interview, he replied that it probably bespoke a lack of art on his part. No, it bespoke the focused intention of the author: To vilify Christians and Christianity.
Yes, the movie has bowdlerized the book. But read director Chris Weitz’s admission: “I realized that the overt stating of some of the themes in . . . “The Golden Compass” would never—this is important to make clear—never EVER get across the goal line. There isn’t a wide enough audience for that—yet.” Weitz denies that the books are anti-religion or anti-Christian—so what’s to hide? What isn’t a “wide” audience ready for yet? A message about self-actualization? Has he never seen Oprah? A “don’t tread on me” individualism? Hasn’t the atheist Ayn Rand enough fans—even among Christians? Here is what I consider a more realistic interpretation of Weitz’s PR spin: “If I was explicit about the anti-Christian animus in the book, the movie would never make enough money to justify two sequels.”
While it’s not my place to tell you where to plop your loose change, I nevertheless must disagree with my colleague Nathaniel and say do not fund Pullman’s and the filmmakers’ dark intentions—despite the benign reviews originally appearing under the American bishops’ aegis (which they have now thought better of), on this website, and in a certain evangelical Christian magazine that has apparently drunk deep the dregs of the emerging-church Kool-Aid. (Message to the editors of said magazine: So long as every Sunday morning you repeat the part of the Creed that goes “born of the Virgin Mary”—the pop-culture overlords are still going to hate you.)
And spare me the blather about how it’s an opportunity for dialogue. What isn’t an opportunity for dialogue? A bank robbery can be an opportunity for dialogue about the meaning of the Seventh Commandment. An orgy can be an opportunity for dialogue about inappropriate sharing. A suicide-bombing can be an opportunity for dialogue about fire-safety codes—what in the name of Rufus T. Firefly are we talking about here?
So if little Robespierre comes up to you with his little mopey face and pleads, “But the Hitlers next door let their kids see The Golden Compass,” you just reply, “And that’s because Arthur and Eva are horrible parents with a penchant for movies about blonde-haired, blue-eyed people trampling northern lands by aid of the occult and gimcrack science. Now go back to your alcove and finish reading The Gulag Archipelago and learn what a real atheist alternative universe is all about. And stop using italics when you talk to me.”
I thank you.