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A reader of my review of The Golden Compass found it “baffling.” I had written that “neither the film nor the book is likely to make any converts to atheism. Just as most children walked away from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with religious convictions unchanged, so will they leave The Golden Compass as they were when they came.” In response our reader wrote:

First of all, how does he know that children walked away from the Lewis story unchanged? C.S. Lewis has helped to form the minds of many as a teacher and a writer. Some, like Sheldon Vanauken ( A Severe Mercy ), have written about the direct impact of Lewis on their beliefs. That being the case, why should one not expect to find the same thing happening with an atheist
like Pullman.

Secondly, the reviewer seems to be saying that what we read and view does not affect us and, in fact, leaves us unchanged presumably for either good or evil. Really? If that’s the case then why should anyone read First Things instead of Playboy ?

A feisty response to be sure, but one with two questions demanding an answer. In response to the first query, I base my assessment that The Chronicles of Narnia have not converted many children on the testimony of people I know—Christian and non—who read the Chronicles as children. Many have commented on how they did not notice the religious imagery as children, and that only after they were told of it did they see it leaping off the page. As a Christian child, I noticed some of Narnia ‘s symbolism, but the full beauty of Lewis’ depiction of Christianity moves me much more as an adult.

We should indeed expect that the same thing would happen with Philip Pullman: Children may get a glimpse, a glimpse that will not influence them much one way or another, while adults will see more to ponder. Certainly Christian parents whose children will read Pullman’s books will want to talk to their children about the messages contained therein, but parents should be helping their children hone their skills of intellectual discernment anyway, whether atheism or Christianity undergirds the works they read.

Having said this, my response to the second point becomes rather obvious. I am not arguing that what we read has no effect on who we are; to do so would be in flat denial of my own experience. I am simply arguing that children do not notice the deeper elements in a story to the same extent as adults, and that they are not destined to become atheists if they read The Golden Compass .

As for the comparison between First Things and Playboy , I’m afraid that my ignorance of the latter will prevent me from serving as a good judge. However, I believe I am correct in thinking that Playboy would not have published an article as fine as Jason Byassee’s ” Not Your Father’s Pornography ” (subscription required).



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