Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Beware the Golden Compass

Audio version here

There’s a new movie coming out just before Christmas called “The Golden Compass.” It’s a fantasy movie based on a best selling trilogy by the author, Philip Pullman. It’s the usual good vs. bad story, with the heroes winning the day. The only trouble with the book is this: the Church is perceived as being bad, whilst being a free spirit - without being encumbered by God – is the ultimate good.

In the first book, the clergy are portrayed as being kidnappers of children, who want to enslave their spirits to serve the Authority, which is God. The whole series is about rebelling against the Church and ultimately killing the Authority, in order to achieve true freedom. There’s a subtle message of atheism being glorified and religion being diminished in the book. Philip Pullman is aiming the series at children because he wants to mess up their relationship with God and lead them into the lonely wilderness of atheism and chaos.

You may decide to take your kids to the movie or read the books for yourselves. That is your own free choice. But don’t do it without evaluating your relationship with God and Christ’s Church first. If your faith is ambivalent and your notion of the Church is flimsy, you may put your beliefs on the line and end up disregarding God’s sovereignty. You may also be putting your kids in harm’s way and leaving them with more doubts about God, Christ, and the Church.

Whatever you decide, remember that Pullman has his own agenda, which certainly isn’t God’s. He wants God dead in the hearts and minds of people, so that we can live in a free-spirited world where anything goes. We had that once before, in the centuries preceding Christ. Human sacrifices, paganism, and dark forces ruled the hearts and minds of men during those times: are we sure that we want to regress back into those days, or do we instead choose to remember that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of Christ?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, grant us the rare gift of discernment in our lives, so that we will make better choices. Help us to know what to do about this movie and these books. Keep us from being persuaded by the hidden messages that we may encounter. Help us to deepen our faith in You by remembering that the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when we honor and glorify You. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway," as well as illustrating the political cartoon site "Pushing the Envelope."


Sarahlynn said...

This is an interesting perspective.

I will suggest, however, that there's room for disagreement. My entire family and I - Presbyterians all - read and enjoyed the books without damaging our relationship with God, or with the church.

Perhaps this is because our faith is not so easily shaken. I don't believe that choosing to read a book that is non-religious, or even anti-religious, is a strong risk to faith and religion. Quite the opposite, in fact.

With respect to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, I didn't find the books to be anti-religious, as much as anti-Catholic. It's clear to me that the author is against unquestioning, uncritical faith: the kind in which evil is done in the name of religion.

On the author's website, he says:

The religious impulse is part of being human, and I value it. I'd be a damn fool not to.
But organised religion is quite another thing . . . churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god and done terrible damage . . . That is the religion I hate . . .

Pullman does not believe in God, but his lack of belief is no threat to my belief, and his outsider's critique of some of the atrocities committed in the name of religion is no less true either. What Pullman decries is what he calls "theocratic absolutism," which is a system America's founding fathers similarly found despicable.

I hope my daughters will read books like this when they're a little older. I want them to be exposed to different ways of thinking while they're still living in my home, free to question what they are told and form their own beliefs while they are still guided (and taken to church) by their father and myself.

Plus, it's a really interesting story, and well told. For the interested, here's a lecture Pullman gave on morality and fiction:
"However, Pullman has found support from other Christians, most notably Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. These groups and individuals point out that Pullman's negative portrayal of the "Church" in His Dark Materials amounts to an attack on dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not on Christianity itself. Dr. Williams has gone so far as to propose that His Dark Materials be taught as part of religious education in schools."

Stushie said...

Thank Sarahlynn, I really appreciate your fine comments. Not everyone has the deep mature faith that you express and, whilst it is still their choice to read the book or see the movie, they should know who wrote it and why.

I think the same could be said for the Narnia Chronicles,too.

As for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he is a great man but he is in a church that is suffering from a terminal condition. The atheistic secularism or Pullman humanism that is part of this series has ushered in a Dark Age in Britain. This makes it ripe for mission.

Sam said...

I agree with Sarahlynn's perspective. I think, as Presbyterians, that our members should be told that we need not fear nonreligious or antireligious fiction.

I saw the movie, and although it was visually stunning in a lot of places, it was boring in a lot of stretches. In fact, I doubt I'll either see its sequels or read the books, based on the movie.

I think that being unquestioning and uncritical about a church as an institution is a very negative thing. The church facilitates worship of God, but it is not God.

I hope in your critique of the Archbishop of Canterbury, you are confining your comments to him, and not speaking of the Catholic Church as a whole. I have a brother-in-law who is more faithful about attending Mass and lives a more Christ-like life than many, many Protestants of any stripe, and there are plenty of other Catholics like him. The broader a brush one paints with, the uglier a picture one paints.

Anonymous said...

I find it quite amusing that you (which is to say the church) chose to identify yourselves as the oppressive authority, ready to quash dissent at all costs. Instead, one could easily choose to view this film and the books as a critique of blind dogma over personal faith.... Then again, if you choose to stand in as the Magisterium, dedicated to suppressing free will and free thought, you won't catch me arguing.... Frankly, I fail to see any difference whatsoever between Mrs. Coulter's chilling rationalization of "our ancestors made a terrible mistake and defied authority" as the excuse to make mindless zombies of the children and the burden that Christian dogma slaps on children of sin and repression. So in that sense, I suppose the parallel is valid, and it says nothing at all good about Christianity. Perhaps instead of resorting to censorship, you should be examining yourselves, to see WHY the Magisterium looks so much like you...

sarah said...

You are wrong buddy! What you are saying is that "in this movie, this girl who tries to save her friends, kills god because she doesnt feel like doing what people tell her to do." what you think you are saying is that God is trying to save everyone and this lil girl is killing him. but the reality is that God is like enslaving these children and becoming the definite ruler and the people that are doing the bad are the preists. Okay no! the goverment is trying to control everybody.and if the girl is trying to kill god for one, they wouldn't get anybody to act or do anything. for 2 the animals are the peoples souls and the people the girl is trying to defeat are trying to detach the body and the soul from each other. YOur ignorant! God lets you take action and be free. just because you dont want to be a minyon thing slash robot of the goverment and you want to have a life then God won't punish you for being free. because if he did then the USA wouldn't be able to say "ANd GOd Bless AMerica for the land of the FREE" because the US says in the constitution that you are free in this country!

Oh and for the record,

I live in the south with a lot of ignorant people, I go to church every sunday and Im 13 and just got confirmed and my family and I were prespreterians and now methadists. And my best friend is methadeist too and belives Iyra kill God.