Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Is the Golden Compass Anti-Christian

I recently received a forwarded E-mail about the upcoming movie “The Golden Compass” Here is the first part of the E-mail:

Subject: A movie NOT for Kids/teens or Family
I just got an e-mail warning about an upcoming movie for children in December. It is called The "Golden Compass" and it stars Nicole Kidman. I don't know if you have heard anything about it or not, but they are going to advertise it as a normal children's movie but in the end it is trying to teach children that there is no God. It is based off of a trilogy of children's books and the author is an atheist ( Phillip Pullman )
They evidently do some strange things in the movie and at the very end a girl and boy are supposed to be depicting Adam and Eve and then they kill God. They are trying to be very mild about it through the movie until the end so a lot of parents won't even know that it is coming so I wanted to pass the information on to you before you decide to take your children to see this movie. Also, it will be promoting his books so you may want to become familiar with the authors name and the books that he writes! If you want to read more info about it the website is:

Since I recently listened to the audio book versions of the trilogy (because I listen to lots of books at work) I found the current excitement over the movie interesting. It is set in an alternative world one of the billions of possible worlds that quantum theory proposes (Mulltiverse). Writers should rejoice that science produced the idea of parallel universes because it has been used in so many books and is a great technique to create a fictional world. In the Golden Compass the world is an alternative to our world in that Calvin became the pope and science is known as experimental theology.

9. How does the Catholic Church figure into the story?
The Church in Lyra’s world exerts a major influence on the lives of all the characters. It has a college of cardinals, a college of bishops, priests, nuns, and a magisterium. It even boasts converts from Protestantism. In Lyra’s world, Protestant reformers remained within the Church, elected John Calvin as Pope, moved the Church’s headquarters to
Geneva, and then did away with the papacy altogether.

We are uncertain of the time period as it is a different universe and a different England and frozen north. The technology is somewhere between the Victorian to Post WWI period. When opening into different universes (In the second and third books) it appears they open into different times. The story center's around Lyra a 12-13 year old orphan raised at an Oxford college.

One of the things I thought Christians would be most upset by was that the people all had their own Daemon's which are a part of the person yet take the form of an animal which can talk to the person and be seen by everyone.

Every character in Lyra’s parallel world possesses something called a daemon (pronounced “demon”). The name daemon is borrowed from the ancient Greeks. The philosopher Socrates described his daemon as a quiet voice inside his head that helped him discern right from wrong. Socrates, therefore, equated his daemon with his conscience.
Pullman’s world, the daemon is a cross between a person’s conscience and a person’s soul. The daemon is external and attached to a human. It takes on an animal form that best reflects the personality and character of the human to whom the daemon belongs. Its form changes from moment to moment during childhood. However, the daemon chooses a fixed form sometime during its human’s adolescence. Thus the individual’s personality and character become fixed for life. The daemon dissipates upon death.

For young children the daemon can change animal or bird forms and at some point in adolescence the daemon takes on a permanent form. It is a great concept, sort of like talking to yourself only with the comfort of a cuddly animal. The daemon can also go a little distance from the person which makes it good for spying on things but they cannot go very far or there is terrible mental anguish involved in separation. Except the witches up north their daemon's can travel long distances separated.

In this world there is a mystery involved with dust from space and it's contact with consciousness. There are two forces the Magisterium which seems reminiscent of the power of the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages yet clearly is not the Catholic church yet has control over the science (experimental theology) and Lyra's Guardian who turns out to be her father (it turns out Lyra's mother is the beautiful agent of the Magisterium). We really don't know if he is the hero or the villain. In the later books he brings together forces from angels and witches to armored bears into a universal war between other angels and other witches etc. Heaven it seems has been taken over by Megatron a powerful angel who has captured the ancient of days and it has become The Authority. I thought Adventists if they could get to this point as I know many are afraid of reading fiction would see a reflection of the Great Controversy idea and Biblical references aside from the common good versus evil concept which predominates in most literature. It is the human agents of Megatron who have established the authoritarian Church in Lyra's world. Sort of similar to the idea of 2 Thessalonians

(2 Th 2:4 NIV) He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

(Rev 13:4 NIV) Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?"

In other words we see a religious institution which does not care about truth but seeks to control. I read, or listened to if you want to be technical, the books before I heard that Pullman was an atheist so the idea that it promoted atheism does not really register with me. The dust is more of a pantheistic idea but it still must have a source and intelligence as it communicates though various devices. So even though there is the villainy of the Magisterium the book does not seem to be against all forms of religion. In fact the view of Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic journalist Linked above the book as sympathetic to alternative religions such as this quote :

These witches and shamans are important supporting characters. Without their assistance, Lyra and her father, Lord Asriel, would not be able to organize the war against the Authority.

The overall effect is that there is more to life then the physical reality. Are the books anti-Christian? I don't think so nor are they anti-religious, though it incorporates many religious ideas from Greek gods to souls in hades. One thing appears to fuel the controversy which inspired the E-mail that is circulated, that is the misunderstanding that any one form of a religion represents all religions or any one form of Christianity represents all Christianity. Martin Luther decried the Roman Catholic Church vigorously that does not mean he was attacking Christianity. Sometimes in defense of something people have to attack the abuser. Just as it is wrong to assume that all Roman Catholic Priests are pedophiles it is wrong to assume that a fictional authoritarian church represents all churches.

Most people have learned that they don't really get a philosophy or a religion from a fantasy book. I think Scientology will be the last religion created by a fantasy author. The rest of us look for meaning where we can find it whether in fiction, fantasy or nonfiction. A good story is entertainment for the mind, it may explore new ideas or ways of looking at things but it certainly does not mean that one discards their religion over a story that is obviously a fantasy adventure. We do of course look for commonality between the story elements and what we see around us. That is the beauty of literature and its importance. But how we use that information is the critical part of the process.

You may have noticed in the E-mail letter this section which are used to trigger a contempt response by Christians to the book:

They evidently do some strange things in the movie and at the very end a girl and boy are supposed to be depicting Adam and Eve and then they kill God

It is very doubtful that this is part of the movie. It is also not part of the book trilogy.

Spoiler Alert: There is a reference to Adam and Eve as a prophecy that spurs one of the Authorities spy’s to attempt to kill the Lyra and Will (Will is not in the first book) but he fails and in the end Lyra and Will are separated forever as they must go back to their respective universes. During the great war they actual aid in the release of the ancient of days which perhaps is a reference to God. Interestingly enough there is a good deal of self sacrifice involved throughout the books. In fact the destruction of Megatron is done by willingly giving Lord Asriel’s life in the site of Lyra, his daughter. It is where we finally see that he is not a villain. Even though at the end of the Golden Compass he opens a door into another universe by the killing of Lyra’s friend Roger. Which if that is how the movie ends will make a lot of unhappy movie goers.

From the Guardian,,2190765,00.html

Northern Lights, the book which first introduced readers to Pullman’s 12-year-old heroine, Lyra, is as dear to its many fans as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter saga, so tampering with the philosophical content is not likely to be welcomed when the film is released before Christmas.

Pullman himself has said he believes ‘the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done’, the National Secular Society - of which the author is an honorary associate - has now spoken out against the changes.

‘It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of
Pullman’s book,’ said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. ‘In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America’s cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.’

Kidman has said the critical stance of the film ‘has been watered down a little ... I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence,’ she told film journalists in
Australia in the summer. ‘I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.’
At a preview of footage staged at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring, director Chris Weitz, best known for directing About A Boy, said the film would be a fair retelling of Pullman’s tale.

‘In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that’s what you want in the film, you’ll be disappointed,’ he admitted, but added: ‘We have expanded the range of meanings of what the Magisterium represents. Philip Pullman is against any kind of organised dogma whether it is church hierarchy or, say, a Soviet hierarchy.’


Anonymous said...

You write "A good story is entertainment for the mind, it may explore new ideas or ways of looking at things but it certainly does not mean that one discards their religion over a story that is obviously a fantasy adventure."

Maybe you, as an adult can see the "obvious" but I question whether a child has such judgement and insight. Bruce

Ron Corson said...

Most actually do Bruce. It is why after kids get into school age they realize that there is no giant living above the clouds like Jack in the Bean stock, it is why their dog does not talk to them and a host of other things which fantasy can envision but reality excludes.

Anonymous said...

Every movie has a world-view behind it. It's not the obvious things such as skyscraper bean-stocks and men portrayed as having supernatural powers, which are a danger to children. It's the
philosophical subtleties that are hidden behind all of these things that shape the thoughts of children, and even adults for that matter, to unknowingly adopt ideas that are contrary to the truth and oppose the teachings of Jesus Christ. The devil is far more clever than most people realize, he has used the media to change the way the world thinks. And we have allowed him to do this because we enjoy being entertained by these things.

Anonymous said...

This is for those who want to see what the real purpose of this movie is!

Follow this very carefully.

hcfischer1 said...

I think some people may be misguided in their information as to why some Christians are uneasy with this literature and movie.
Here's my 2 cents:
1. The Golden Compass is by no means appropriate for young children as there are some pretty graphic and scary descriptions. I know that they have been sold at elementary school book fairs and as a parent I would not want my young reader to read this book. However, I would allow an older child read it with my permission and with my involvement.
2. Pullman very purposefully crafted this novel in response to C.S. Lewis's beloved "The Chronicles of Narnia" series. He self-admittedly wanted to propagate an anti-God message and purposefully aimed it toward young children. Pullman is boisterous in his loathing of Aslan (the allegory character that represents Christ in the Narnia series). Pullman even goes so far as to write his young character in the likeness of young Lucy who finds herself in the wardrobe when she mistakenly discovers Narnia in the beginning of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". His rewriting of scripture is brazen at best, if not blasphemy.
3. Though this book series is an attack on the Catholic church, C.S. Lewis was by no means a Catholic. Pullman lumps his distain for the Catholic church in with the evangelical message of Lewis’ writings. This too seems a common mistake for those that are most familiar with the Catholic church rather than other streams of Christianity such as the Evangelical.
4. I think many Christians actually do a disservice to their children by trying to shelter them from the secular world rather than guiding them while their children are in their homes. Sheltered children who never learn how to deal apologetically (a defense of their faith) with those who disagree with them later have their world rocked and foundations shaken when they go off to college and have professors attack them. My parents helped me by informing me, nurturing me, but then allowing my faith to be my own. When those with an anti-God agenda came at me I took all things into consideration but I was not shaken.
5. I do not feel threatened by this book and movie. I am not afraid of those who do not believe as I do, perhaps that's a result of the tolerant generation I belong to. I have many friends who believe otherwise or simply have no faith at all and yet we are friends despite that. As for the outcry over God being killed in the book; God, in the form of Jesus, was already killed 2000 years ago but he rose again triumphantly on the third day. That is the good news.

6. Jeers to New Line cinema for the release during the holiday season and to Disney for the postponed release of Lewis’ “Prince Caspian” from December 12th until May of 2008.

*Pullman’s article on C.S. Lewis source:

Anonymous said...

In a secular society I'd be as offended to be warned against reading these books or watching this film as I would to be warned against reading the bible.

If the only objection to the showing of this film is offense to believers (and teachers) of Christian dogma then I say "talk to the hand".

My personal opinion is that Philip Pullman's tale is deliberately aimed at children and impressionable adults. It exposes weaknesses in the many Christian tenets by holding a mirror up to them, original sin being the most obvious. It allows us to think and question, which I honestly believe is the root of religious objection.

Of course it's anti-Christian, it's also good, old fashioned entertainment.