“Remember, too, it's in the second and third books that Pullman revs up the blasphemy. Those film adaptations would have to be either offensive or unrecognizable”. [Richard Corliss. What Would Jesus See? Time Magazine. Dec. 08, 2007 ]
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The Golden Compass.. A New Challenge For Christians
The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism
The Golden Compass.. A New Challenge For Christians
Albert Mohler [www.albertmohler.com]
The release of The Golden Compass as a major motion picture represents a new challenge for Christians -- especially parents. The release of a popular film with major actors that presents a message directly subversive of Christianity is something new. It is not likely to be the last.
Having seen the movie at an advance viewing and having read all three books of His Dark Materials, I can assure Christians that we face a real challenge -- one that will require careful thinking and intellectual engagement.
Why is this movie such a challenge?
First of all, The Golden Compass is an extremely attractive movie. Like the book on which it is based, the movie is a very sophisticated story that is very well told. The casting was excellent. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond actor) are joined by others including Sam Elliott and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the central role of 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua. Kidman is chilling as the beautiful but evil Marisa Coulter and Craig is perfect as Lord Asriel. Actor Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear.
The movie is very well done and will be very attractive to audiences of all ages. The special effects are superior to any previous movie of the type, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy (also released by New Line Cinema). Everything is in place for this to be a blockbuster at the box office.
Second, the movie is based in a story that is captivating, sophisticated, and truly interesting. Philip Pullman is a skilled writer and teller of tales. His invented worlds of The Golden Compass and the entire His Dark Materials trilogy are about as good as the fantasy genre can offer. His characters are believable and the dialogue is constant -- largely due to Pullman's brilliant invention of a companion for each character -- a "daemon."
The bottom line is that these books and this movie will attract a lot of attention and will captivate many readers and viewers.
So, what's the problem?
This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project. Philip Pullman has an agenda -- an agenda about as subtle as an army tank. His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church. His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear. He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.
The great enemy of humanity in the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (together known as His Dark Materials) is the Christian church, identified as the evil Magisterium. The Magisterium, representing church authority, is afraid of human freedom and seeks to repress human sexuality.
The Magisterium uses the biblical narrative of the Fall and the doctrine of original sin to repress humanity. It is both violent and vile and it will stop at nothing to protect its own interests and to preserve its power.
Pullman's attack on biblical Christianity is direct and undeniable. He once questioned why his books attracted little controversy even as the Harry Potter books attracted so much. He told an Australian newspaper that what he is "saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."
Will viewers of the movie see all this?
The direct attack on Christianity and God is toned down in the movie. But any informed person will recognize the Magisterium as representing the Church and Christianity. Of course, in our world the Magisterium is the authoritative leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In Pullman's world it represents Christianity as a whole.
Indeed, Pullman's tale tells of John Calvin assuming the papacy and moving the headquarters to Geneva, thus combining the Catholic and Reformation traditions into one. In the movie, the Magisterium appears to be located in London. In any event, the point is not subtle.
The most direct attacks upon Christianity and God do not appear until the last book, The Amber Spyglass, in which Lyra and Will (a boy her age who first appears in the second book) eventually kill God, who turns out to be a decrepit and feeble old impostor who was hardly worth the killing.
Is Pullman's attack on Christianity exaggerated by his critics?
No -- his attack is neither hidden nor subtle. The entire premise of the trilogy is that Lyra is the child foretold by prophecy who will reverse the curse of the Fall and free humanity from the lie of original sin. Whereas in Christian theology it is Jesus Christ who reverses the curse through His work of atonement on the Cross, Pullman presents his own theology of sorts in which the Fall is reversed through the defiance of these children. As Pullman insists, Eve and Adam were right to eat the forbidden fruit and God was a tyrant to forbid them the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The supernatural element of Pullman's story is "Dust," which is seen by the Magisterium as original sin but is presented by Pullman as the essence of life itself. In The Golden Compass, Lyra is given an "alethiometer" or "golden compass" which is filled with Dust and tells the truth to one qualified to operate it. Readers are told that a great battle is coming in which forces fighting for human freedom and happiness will confront (and destroy) the Magisterium and God.
In the last volume of the trilogy, a character known as Dr. Mary Malone explains her discovery to Lyra and Will: "I used to be a nun, you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn't any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all."
Is there more to the larger story?
Yes, and it has to do with sex. Surprisingly graphic and explicit sex. Pullman believes that the Christian church is horribly repressive about sex and that this is rooted in the idea of the Fall. As he told Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic Monthly, "Why the Christian Church has spent 2,000 years condemning this glorious moment, well, that's a mystery. I want to confront that, I suppose, by telling a story that the so-called original sin is anything but. It's the thing that makes us fully human."
Puberty is a big part of Pullman's concern. Coming-of-age stories are one of the most common forms of fiction, but Pullman's packs a punch that readers cannot miss. He wants to celebrate the adolescent's arrival at sexual awareness. Remember that the child's daemon can change forms until puberty. At that point it is fixed as a single creature that reflects the personality and character of the young adult.
Puberty means the coming of sexual feelings. The Magisterium would prefer that children grow up without experiencing sexual temptation, so it is conducting an experiment in order to separate children from their daemons before puberty, when their daemon can no longer change. This procedure, known as "intercision" makes the child a "severed child" who has no daemon -- and thus no soul. The Magisterium has assigned Mrs. Coulter the job of abducting the children and taking them to the North for this experiment.
As Mrs. Coulter explains to Lyra (who is revealed to be her own daughter) in the first book: "All that happens is a little cut, and then everything's peaceful. Forever! You see, your daemon's a wonderful friend and companion when you are young, but at the age we call puberty, the age you're coming to very soon, darling, daemons bring all sorts of troublesome thoughts and feelings, and that's what lets Dust in. A quick little operation before that, and you're never troubled again."
In The Golden Compass, Lyra and her companions free the children held at this experimental station in the North and destroy it. In The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will reverse the story of the Edenic Fall by consummating a sexual act in the garden.
Again, Pullman is not subtle. Keep in mind that this is a series of books marketed to children and adolescents. Lyra puts a red fruit to Will's lips and Will "knew at once what she meant, and that he was too joyful to speak." Within moments, the 13-year olds are involved in some kind of unspecified sexual act.
"The word love set his nerves ablaze," Pullman writes of Will. "All his body thrilled with it, and he answered her in the same words, kissing her hot face over and over again, drinking in with adoration the scent of her body and her warm, honey-fragrant hair and her sweet, moist mouth that tasted of the little red fruit."
Just a few pages later, Will and Lyra will dare to touch each other's daemon. That passage is even more sexually charged and explicit than the first. The adolescents now know "that neither daemon would change now, having felt a lover's hands on them. These were their shapes for life: they would want no other."
What is it about Pullman and C. S. Lewis?
Put simply, Pullman hates C. S. Lewis's work The Chronicles of Narnia. He told Hannah Rosin that Lewis's famous work is "morally loathsome" and "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I ever read." Narnia, he said, "is the Christian one - And mine is the non-Christian."
When the first Narnia film was released in 2005, Pullman described the books as "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice."
Indeed, Pullman's His Dark Materials is intended as an answer to Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. What Lewis (and J. R. R. Tolkein) did for Christianity, Pullman wants to do for atheism.
IPS Note: Unfortunately In spite of the arguably traditional Christian themes, the Chronicles of Narnia draw as much from pagan mythology as it does the Bible. The magical world of Narnia is inhabited almost exclusively by minotaurs, centaurs and unicorns. Satyrs, fauns, and nymphs cavort among the pages accompanied by cyclopes, dwarfs, griffins and giants. Add tree-spirits and river-gods to this curious mixture and you have quite a wide spectrum of mythological creatures derived from Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. For example Centaurs originated in Greek myth, and dwarfs have origins in Norse myth.
All of which does not trouble me unduly. However there are a couple of areas which do.
While I do understand that C.S. Lewis did not set out to write a ‘Christian Book’. When this Christian “element pushed itself in of its own accord”, he did not modify some of the characters [in particular the Greek god Bacchus, the Maenads and Mr. Tumnus], not only allowing them to peacefully co-exist with Aslan (The figure of Christ), but actually portraying them in a positive light. DETAILS
So, what should Christians do?
A good first step would be to take a deep breath. The Christian faith is not about to be toppled by a film, nor by a series of fantasy books. Pullman has an agenda that is clear, and Christians need to inform themselves of what this agenda is and what it means. At the same time, nothing would serve his agenda better than to have Christians speaking recklessly or unintelligently about the film or the books.
This is about the battle of ideas and worldviews. While Christians will not celebrate the release of this film, we should recognize the mixture of challenge and opportunity that comes with millions of persons watching this film and talking about the issues it raises. When the movie is mentioned in the workplace, in school, on the playground, or in the college campus, this is a great opportunity to show that Christians are not afraid of the battle of ideas.
We should recognize that the Christian Church has some very embarrassing moments in its history - moments when it has failed to represent the truth of the Gospel and the love of Christ. Authors like Philip Pullman take advantage of these failures in order to paint the entire Christian Church as a conspiracy against human happiness and freedom. Of course, that charge will not stand close scrutiny, and we can face it head-on with a thoughtful response.
Some Christians have also held very unhelpful views of human sexuality. These, we must admit, would include figures as great and influential as Augustine and, alas, C. S. Lewis. But these figures, rightly influential in other areas of the faith, are not representative in this case of biblical sexuality. We can set the record straight.
Should we be concerned that people, young and old, will be confused by this movie? Of course. But I do not believe that a boycott will dissuade the general public from seeing the film. I am very concerned when I think of so many people being entertained by such a subversive message delivered by such a seductive medium. We are responsible to show them, in so far as we are able, that the Magisterium of The Golden Compass is not a fair or accurate representation of the Christian Church.
I can only wonder how many parents and grandparents will allow children and young people to see the movie and then buy them the books -- blissfully unaware of what is coming in books two and three.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has enemies; this we know. Christian parents must be informed about His Dark Materials and inform others. We must take the responsibility to use interest in this film to teach our own children to think biblically and to be discerning in their engagement with the media in all forms. We should arm our children to be able to talk about this project with their classmates without fear or rancor.
Philip Pullman has an agenda, but so do we. Our agenda is the Gospel of Christ -- a message infinitely more powerful than that of The Golden Compass. Pullman's world view of unrestricted human autonomy would be nightmarish if ever achieved. His story promises liberation but would enslave human beings to themselves and destroy all transcendent value.
The biblical story of the Fall is true, after all, and our only rescue is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The curse of sin was not reversed by adolescents playing at sex in a garden, but by the Son of God shedding His blood on a cross.
So let's get our bearings straight as we think and talk about The Golden Compass. This movie does represent a great challenge, but a challenge that Christians should always be ready to meet.
The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism
Author: Russ Wise [Christian Information Ministries]
Date: 11/12/2007 12:01:20 PM
Atheism has always been a “hot topic”. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, who wrote The End of Faith, represent the current freethinkers who have made an impact on so many Americans recently.
For the most part their writing and influence has been confined to an adult audience. However, there are others who desire to influence the minds of our children. C.S. Lewis influenced a generation of young people with The Chronicles of Narnia. Now there is a new Pied Piper making inroads into the minds of children through the writing of fantasy. Unlike Lewis, however, this author seeks to destroy his reader’s belief in a loving God who cares for him and desires a relationship for their mutual benefit.
The author of The Golden Compass seeks to paint God as a tyrant – not a sovereign Creator. At best he is an oppressive senile deity who evolved over time.  Philip Pullman is a creative writer and has won numerous awards for his work. These awards have offered him prestige and notoriety among his peers and his work has been recognized by film makers. His book Northern Lights has been made into a movie, renamed The Golden Compass. The film is an attempt to seduce young children and tweens (11-12 year olds) into a dark world of despair and loss of faith in a Holy God.
Pullman declares himself to be an avowed atheist and offers no apology for his attempt to capture the minds of children who do not have the capacity to correctly discern his message. He is an apologist for Atheism! He says that he does not profess any religion and that he does not think it possible that there is a God. 2 Further, in a 2003 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald he commented, my books are about killing God. 3 Actually, in the third book of his trilogy (The Amber Spyglass) Pullman does, in fact, use his heroine Lyra Belacqua to bring about the end of his nefarious god.
Who is Philip Pullman?
Pullman was born in Norwich, England. During his early years his grandfather served as an Anglican Priest at Drayton in Norfolk. His grandfather had great influence on him in his formative years and Philip viewed him as the sun at the centre of my life.  Pullman’s father served in the Royal Air Force, and when Philip was six he was posted to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. A year or so later word came that his father had lost his life in the war. Pullman makes this comment in his blog regarding his father’s death:
I suppose that my brother and I cried, though I didn't really feel sad. The fact was that we hadn't seen my father for a long time, and apart from the glamour surrounding him, he was a figure who hadn't played much part in our lives. So my brother and I went back out to the sunny wall, where we'd been picking off the moss and throwing it at each other, and carried on. 
After his father’s death his mother remarried and he then moved from England to Australia and back again. It was during this time in his life that he realized the power of telling a good story and his ability to capture an audience. As a young man he entered Oxford to study English and develop his writing skills. Ultimately he realized that he was more of a story-teller than he was a writer – although he later became quite skillful at both.
He was once asked why he became an atheist since he had such a wonderful experience as a child with his grandfather. His response was that he simply fell away from God somewhere between his early childhood and now. It seems that Pullman experienced the same phenomenon as many others who have embraced atheism: he was denied (through war) a close relationship with his father and, as a result, he could not trust the affections of a caring and loving Father.
It seems to this author that perhaps Pullman’s lack of a relationship with his father caused him to become overly critical of the portrayal offered by Lewis. In my view, one could make such an observation without being too far off target.
Chronicles of Fantasy
Pullman despises C.S. Lewis! He once commented, I loathe the ‘Narnia’ books. I hate them with a deep passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age . . . He has referred to the series as one of the most ugly and poisonous things he has ever read. Pullman makes the following comment regarding the Narnia books, saying they contained "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice" and "not a trace" of Christian charity. 
Pullman continues by saying,
"I realised that what he was up to was propaganda in the cause of the religion he believed in. It is monumentally disparaging of girls and women. It is blatantly racist." 
Peter Hitchens (no relation to the atheist) makes this observation regarding Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis:
Philip Pullman is the man who may succeed in destroying a country that the liberal intelligentsia loathe even more than they despise Britain. That country is Narnia, discovered long ago by millions of English-speaking children, and still beloved by many of them. Narnia is a conservative sort of place . . . 8 – a place that cannot be consumed by the licentiousness of our day. On the other hand, Pullman’s world is a place that embraces the supernatural and the mystical, and takes place mainly in alternative worlds, most captivatingly of all in an Oxford recognisably the same place while utterly different. But while Narnia is under the care of a benevolent, kindly creator, Pullman’s chaotic universe has no ultimate good authority, controlling and redeeming all. God, or someone claiming to be God, dies meaninglessly in the third volume of his trilogy. There is life after death, but it is a dark, squalid misery from which oblivion is a welcome release.  [See The Chronicles of Narnia]
Mapping the Future
The movie has been positioned as a must-see in the pre-holiday season. Its early December (7th) release is engineered to create the most buzz for the newly repackaged trilogy and influence its sales potential among young people during the holiday season. The movie has been sanitized of its “hate God” theme and is being portrayed as another in a long line of fantasy movies that tell a wonderful tale. However, this story is a pernicious tale that will cause a large degree of spiritual disillusionment within the hearts of those who view it and later read the books.
Although Pullman seems quite confident that God doesn’t exist, he does, however, seem to be less sure of his belief. He comments,
I know full well that the total amount of the things I know is a tiny little pinprick of light compared with the vast unlimited darkness that surrounds it – which is all the things I don't know. I don't know more than a tiny fragment of what it's possible to know about this world. As for what goes on outside it in the rest of the universe, it's a vast darkness full of things that I don't know. Now, somewhere in the things that I don't know, there may be a God.
I can see no evidence in that circle of things I do know, in history, or in science or anywhere else, no evidence of the existence of God.
So I'm caught between the words 'atheistic' and 'agnostic'. I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth.
But going further than that, I would say that those people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly. 
It appears that Pullman has yet to fully convince himself that God doesn’t exist. At the very best he is a very confused man, but willing to inflict his agnosticism on the very young among us.
Pullman once told the Washington Post in an interview that his goal is
‘‘to undermine the basis of Christian belief.’ The history of the Christian Church is, Pullman intones, a ‘record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny.’" 
One of the greatest concerns in Pullman’s trilogy is his depiction of God. Although he uses many of the same names for God found in the scriptures, such as Yahweh, Adonai, the King, Father, and the Almighty, Pullman does not refer to God as the sovereign creator of the universe. He is merely the first angelic being who took it upon himself to lay claim to the title ‘God’. This is a catastrophic demotion. God, without any rights to call himself this, is unsurprisingly cast as a usurper, a tyrant, a despot. God is not a figure of love or mercy or grace. He is not a God of relationship, as he is absent from human affairs, except in that he opposes any freedom and individual thought because it is a threat to his power. Since he is not our creator, the giver of life, he prefers that humans are benign automatons. Since he is not the rightful judge of the universe, he is a tyrant.  [See Section on God]
Although Pullman takes great care to represent God as the God of the Bible he denies the biblical attributes of God as a loving merciful deity and characterizes him as one who evolved to the position of godhood and claimed the title. Moreover, he characterizes God as non-relational and unable to show compassion toward his creation – mankind. Even though Pullman uses biblical descriptions of God – the Ancient of Days, Lord, and Creator – his readers would never recognize his “God” as the One whom Christians worship. Once again we see the subtle (or not so subtle) attempt by the author to undermine the basis of Christian belief. 
The Critics Speak
One respondent to an on-line chat room about the movie put it this way.
I am not a religious person. I wouldn’t say I’m an atheist, but I’m seriously leaning toward agnosticism. However, this series made me feel not just uncomfortable, but downright unclean because of how it dealt with religion. This is not a series for young children, no matter how precocious they are. Religious issues aside, it’s just too dark. 
Another critic made these comments regarding Pullman’s trilogy:
My daughter read the first two, and I bought her the third before she'd finished the second. When she finished 'The Subtle Knife' (it took her an inordinate amount of time to finish -- it was becoming that unpleasant), she never picked up the third book.
After inquiring about it a few times, her answer was something along the lines of ''it just makes me feel so depressed. I don't even want to know what happens next.'' She's never read it. It's interesting how dismal the tone turns in the second volume.
Were it a stand-alone work (with likely conclusion),'The Golden Compass' would be worth recommending to fans of that genre. The plot direction and quality of the writing isn't really, in fact, that dissimilar from 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', with little to suggest the insidiousness that begins to pervade the second book. It seemed to have the requisite common themes of child-oriented fantasy. But as it turns out, it's apparently a malevolent practical joke played on the trusting.
One thing is certain, for what little it's worth, had any of Pullman's interviews been available at that time, I'd have NEVER bought the first book. 
It is noteworthy that Pullman openly allows his fellow travelers of fantasy to know of his deep-seated atheism. However, it is unsettling that he attempts to influence the most vulnerable among us – our children. His goal is to persuade these young minds with dark fantasy and unbiblical ideas about God and his nature. Pullman is a deceiver who presents God as the biblical deity, but then employs a bait-and-switch tactic to disillusion his reader.
His deity is, at best, a mere shadow of the One True God of Christianity. His deity is an imposter whom he uses to destroy his reader’s faith and leave him or her in acute despair and hopelessness. The greatest difficulty the Christian has regarding Pullman’s story-telling is that the reader is left without hope and without a right relationship with a Holy God who loves his creation.
As Christian parents and grandparents we need to be vigilant and stand for biblical values against the tide of secularism being promoted by atheists as entertainment. Let’s NOT allow its influence to manipulate the hearts and minds of our youth. It is imperative that we become the standard bearer of righteousness against such spiritual degradation.
- http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fa_fact - Pullman is one of England’s most outspoken atheists.
- op. cit. findarticles.com
- http://lucianne.com/threads2.asp?artnum=367547 (Quote on hand.)
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart. As parents and grandparents it is our responsibility to stand in the gap for our youth until they are capable to rightly discern the Truths of Scripture for themselves.