Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Golden Compass - A Warning, Not a Review

Anyone who has been paying attention to children's culture over the past few decades has noticed that there are many authors of children's books, some of them with considerable talent, who have undertaken the mission of attacking Christianity, Christian morality and, in particular, the Catholic Church. Some of them admit it, others dissemble, and others may not be fully aware of the extent to which their New Age, materialistic, or other nonchristian or anticatholic beliefs permeate their work.

It should not be surprising that many, including the authors of books, should take issue with our faith. Our savior plainly told us that the world would hate us. What is surprising, to me at least, is the extent to which many Catholics and other Christians are appear to be in denial about this conflict. Every time some new covert, or not so covert, attack on the faith is unleashed by the worldly media, we seem to see two camps emerge, one saying that the book, movie, or other work in question is to be shunned, and the other saying that they can see no harm in it or that it is a positive good.

The latest example of this is the Golden Compass, a big-budget movie from Newline Cinema that is due to open in theaters this week. The Golden Compass is based on the first book of a trilogy by Philip Pullman, a crusading atheist who said in one interview that "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief" (Washington Post, February 19, 2001) and in another that "[m]y books are about killing God." (Sidney Morning Post, December 13, 2003). While I have not read the books, by all accounts the villains in the story are all religious figures associated with a falsified parody of the Catholic church and, in the end, God is in fact killed. No matter, He is a fraud, anyway, according to the Mr Pullman. The director of the movie, Chris Weitz, told that New York Times in an article published on December 2, 2007 that he was motivated to take the assignment in part because he is "one of those people who think of them not just as fantasy novels but as exceptional works of the intellect.”

In spite of all this evidence of the author's and the filmmakers' hostile intent, and the unhealthy thrust of the series, it was depressingly predictable that the usual two camps have emerged among Catholics, one of which, exemplified by the William Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, strongly condemns the movie, and the other, apparently including the film office of the United States Catholic Bishops, in a review co-authored by Harry Forbes, the head of the office, approving of it (with a rating of A-II, for "adolescents and up").

I have mixed feelings about Mr Donahue. On the one hand, I am glad that someone is prepared to cry "foul" when the need arises, but on the other, he sometimes appears to have a greater supply of heat than light. Yet, Mr Donahue's light seems positively blinding compared with the cimmerian darkness where Mr Forbes and his film office seem to dwell. Mr Forbes was the man who published the favorable review and rating on behalf of the bishops' film office of Brokeback Mountain that had to be withdrawn after it drew a storm of protest. Why he hasn't been replaced with a first rate Catholic film reviewer like Steven Greydanus is beyond me.

In his apologium for the film, Mr Forbes argues that, considered apart from the books upon which it is based, it is possible to put an innocent interpretation on at least some of its elements. Even if that were so (and I don't intend to give the price of my admission to the makers to find out for sure), critics like Mr Donahue would argue that Mr Forbes' review missed the point that the movie, like the first book in the series, is bait for the rest, in which the true thrust of the trilogy is revealed.

I am generally sceptical of such claims of malicious plots. However, in this case, the movie's director, Mr Weitz, when asked whether the antireligious elements of the books had been deliberately toned down in the first movie, said that "[t]he aim is to put in the elements we need to make this movie a hit, so that we can be much less compromising in how the second and third books are shot.” Can't say we weren't warned. I got a letter several weeks ago from a Catholic mother I know and respect that amplifies the grounds for concern, part of which I have pasted below.

So, there you have it, a film by an author and director whose avowed intent is to undermine the faith, being both attacked and defended by people claiming to represent Catholic opinion. It seems to me that to support this film financially, or to expose our children to it, is morally wrong, though I suspect that the numbers of people who decide whether or not to go based on moral grounds unfortunately will be few. However, I am hopeful that, like other movies that have attempted to ape Christian fantasy like that of C.S. Lewis, but without the christianity that is at the heart of the appeal of such works, this movie will prove to be an empty shell that has them staying away in droves simply because it proves to be a big, expensive, bore.


Fwd: The Golden Compass
From: [sender]
To: Vincent DiCarlo
Date: 10/27/07 08:33 am

Dear Friends,

...I typically don't just dismiss books without having at least some first-hand knowledge of them. Also, I may be a bit more "liberal" than many Christian parents in terms of what I tolerate & allow my children to be exposed to (e.g., we're huge Harry Potter fans - I trust my kid's foundation in the faith is solid enough that they are able to discern for themselves what is consistent with Christianity and what is "chaff").

Anyway....[w]e went on a long road trip about five years ago & in an effort to make the ride bearable, we checked out The Golden Compass on tape from the public library. It was an incredibly well crafted story; the author is especially talented and we were easily drawn into the his intriguing tale - the whole family was caught up in this story, from our then 10 year-old to my husband & I. One could even say we were seduced by this story, it was so well done.

However, we started to detect some very disturbing themes as the plot unfolded; it's not only the veiled attacks against Christianity but against ALL adult authority (religion, the state, parents) that is cleverly woven into this tale. Any immature person, including "adults" who are not solidly grounded in their beliefs can easily be led into grave, soul- killing error by this VERY seductive tale.

Fortunately, we have the kind of family relationship that allowed us to discuss & "debrief" our children after we realized how evil this story really is; it actually became a great teaching tool, not only about why the messages in the book are at odds with our beliefs but also about how crafty and seductive evil can be - even when one has a strong faith and "knows" better!

Please understand, I am not a "book banner"; I whole-heartedly support freedom of expression - BUT this one is beyond the pale and I can't urge caring parents enough to approach this with extreme caution.

[a Catholic Mom]

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