Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Pop Culture

And so it begins…again

Goldencompassposter2BigReceived my first email a couple of days ago denouncing the upcoming screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, ‘The Golden Compass‘ (or ‘Northern Lights‘ if you’re not in the US) as having the clear objective “to bash Christianity and promote atheism”. I’m surprised that it took this long for such an email to arrive, given that the movie and books press a range of ‘conservative Christian’ buttons – fantasy, magic, critique of religious authority and religion in general, and a challenge to the Narnia stories.

Darren has posted the copy of the email he got at planet telex » The Golden Compass (and the Catholic League) and it appears to be cribbed from a longer post available here (which contains that classic ‘folk theology’ argument, “I heard that…”)

However, because it’s perceived as a children’s movie, and perhaps not as heavily marketed as ‘The Da Vinci Code’, maybe it won’t generate all that much heat.(?)

HisdarkmNow, I’ve read the three books in the ‘His Dark Materials’ series (‘Northern Lights’, ‘The Subtle Knife’, and ‘The Amber Spyglass’), and thought they read well. However, I was prepared to take them as they come, to have my imagination stimulated, to engage with his critique of oppressive religious authority, to know how Christian doctrine of God, and particularly creation, differs significantly from his portrayal (particularly in the third book), and to know why I disagree with some of the themes in the book – rather than just reacting to the prompting of others.

What I would like to see is some way in which the themes in the book can be used as a springboard for examining our own conceptions of religion, creation and God, as well as a vehicle for engaging with the movie with a view to mission and listening to others’ critiques of us. (Similar to Steve’s use over at e~mergent kiwi: preaching the Da Vinci Code). Things like:

  1. Acknowledging that religious institutions (both local congregations and wider communities) have had, do have, and will continue to have problems with the abuse of power – whether that’s temporal or spiritual. And we shouldn’t ignore that, we need to deal honestly with it, and we need to continue to be proactively aware that it happens around us and people get hurt. And to be part of the solution.
  2. The books portray effectively a Gnostic form of creation with ‘God’ or ‘Creator’ as an somewhat less than omnipotent demiurge – a more finite and fallible creator. This should enjoin us to make sure that we really have a good handle on how we perceive the relationship between God and world around us – and what biases we bring to that discussions. Furthermore, revisiting an understanding of God’s plans and purposes for material creation would also be useful.
  3. Looking for how Christ would challenge the religion portrayed in Pullman’s world. While the email ranted against it’s anti-Jesus message, the religion portrayed in the books and film has little to say about a Jesus Christ figure at all. Looking at how Jesus challenged religion oppression (including those who assumed they were the ‘righteous’ ones), might serve to help us remove any logs from our own eyes first.
  4. Also, the last time I checked, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books hadn’t been included in the biblical canon. And yet, they appear in some circles to be beyond critique – even though ideas of atonement, eschatology, and who gets ‘saved’ found in them might not square easily with typical evangelical emphases.
  5. A discussion, perhaps, of the role of imagination in living the Christian faith.

However, I await the typical rants and sermons around the place about yet another attack on the Christian faith, of ‘Culture Wars’, and little constructive engagement. Sigh.

Anyway, here are a range of links (including some that deal constructively with the material). In particular, the Damaris/Culture Watch web site has a large range of articles etc. that deal with Pullman. (I’ve only included one or two here from that site – more links there).


  1. Ann

    Thanks for your thoughtful questions. The series IMO is best heard on tape or CD – gives time for reflection on the themes.

  2. I haven’t heard an audio production of the series. I’ll have a hunt around at the local library and see if they have the books on CD. Thanks for that.

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