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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Golden Compass challenges absolutist dogma

by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst.org, December 10, 2007

Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a leading intellectual of the religious right and a prolific blogger. In a recent post Mohler criticizes the just-released film The Golden Compass, as a "directly subversive" attack on "biblical" (that is, Mohler's brand of fundamentalist) Christianity.

The film is adapted from Philip Pullman's eponymous book, the first volume of his "Dark Materials" trilogy. Mohler declares the movie, to be "a new challenge for Christians -- especially parents" because it is very well written, cast and produced. These qualities, he says, are likely to make the film a blockbuster and a Christian boycott futile.

Nevertheless, Mohler bitterly attacks Pullman's treatment of the Fall and original sin.

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.

Mohler writes: "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."

Mohler acknowledges that fundamentalist Christianity might have been excessively authoritarian at times, but insists: "The biblical story of the Fall is true, after all, and our only rescue is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

In his blog posting, he seems to yearn for a return to the absolute religious authority that Martin Luther refuted. Today, most churches challenge Mohler's fundamentalist and narrow interpretation of original sin and distrust of sexuality. The Christian Fall is no longer just what one group says it is. There is a diversity of opinion.

Jews never read into the Bible a doctrine of original sin. They did not view sexuality with horror and suspicion as fundamentalist Christians do. For Jews, the world is not mired in evil; instead it has the potential for good. Most Christian theologians now support this traditional "Jewish" reading of the Bible.

Mohler writes, "... 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."

While Mohler argues that Pullman's trilogy and The Golden Compass are leading to atheism, I would suggest that Pullman is arguing for a doctrine of "original blessing" rather than original sin. (In a book entitled Original Blessing, former Catholic priest Mathew Fox suggested this does make for a less significant place for Jesus but a greater place for God.)

Mainstream reviews I've seen (there are links to some of them below) regard the Golden Compass as an opportunity to involve children and adults in imagining and rethinking important life truths.

Mohler accepts re-arguing these questions as a way for Christians to rise to the "challenge" of the movie. But he seems to believe that the only answers will be those he already believes. He writes: "Pullman's worldview 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 Golden Compass
Lyra's World, The Story

New Line Cinema, The Golden Compass, December 7, 2007

There is a world where witches rule the northern skies, where ice bears are the bravest of warriors, and where every human is joined with an animal spirit who is as close to them as their own heart.

But this world is dominated by the Magisterium, which seeks to control all of humanity, and whose greatest threat is the last remaining Golden Compass and the one child destined to possess it.

Twelve year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) lives an extraordinary life as a ward of distinguished Jordan College. Tearing unsupervised through the streets on mad quests for adventure with her loyal friend Roger (Ben Walker), Lyra is accompanied everywhere by her daemon, Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore) – a small, ever-changing animal that serves as a constant voice of reason. Continue.

The Golden Compass -- A Briefing for Concerned Christians

Albert Mohler, Dr. Mohler's Blog, December 4, 2007

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? Continue.

The Golden Compass

Peter T. Chattaway, Christianity Today, December 7, 2007

"That's some pretty fast work, Miss Lyra." So says an impressed Texan aeronaut to a young English girl after she befriends a depressed talking polar bear, inspires the bear to strike back against some church-based bad guys, and persuades the bear to join her on a quest—all, seemingly, in a matter of minutes. But the aeronaut could just as easily be talking about The Golden Compass, the film in which all these characters appear.

In an age when big-budget movies based on British fantasies tend to run a little long—the first Narnia movie and most of the Harry Potter films run about two and a half hours, and each of the Lord of the Rings films famously clocked in at more than three—this new film, based on the first book of Philip Pullman's sprawling, controversial His Dark Materials trilogy, manages to wrap things up in less than two hours, and it feels rather rushed as a result.

There is spectacle aplenty here, to be sure. Fans of the book—including those who disagree with the trilogy's anti-religious thrust but enjoy Pullman's obvious skills as a writer—will find much to enjoy. For the most part, the actors are perfectly cast in their roles, and the special effects are dazzlingly complex and rendered with just the right, casual touch, especially where the talking animals are concerned. Continue.

How Hollywood Saved God

Hanna Rosin, The AtlanticMonthly.com, December 2007

This month, New Line Cinema will release The Golden Compass, based on the first book in a trilogy of edgy children’s novels written by the British author Philip Pullman. A trailer for the movie evokes The Lord of the Rings, and comparisons have been made to The Chronicles of Narnia. All three are epic adventures that unfold in a rich fantasy world, perfect for the big screen. But beyond that basic description, the comparisons fall apart. In the past, Pullman has expressed mainly contempt for the books on which the other movies were based. He once dismissed the Lord of the Rings trilogy as an “infantile work” primarily concerned with “maps and plans and languages and codes.” Narnia got it even worse: “Morally loathsome,” he called it. “One of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.” He described his own series as Narnia’s moral opposite. “That’s the Christian one,” he told me. “And mine is the non-Christian.”

Pullman’s books have sold 15 million copies worldwide, although it’s difficult to imagine adolescent novels any more openly subversive. The series, known collectively as His Dark Materials, centers on Lyra Belacqua, a preteen orphan who’s pursued by a murderous institution known as “the Magisterium.” Or to use the more familiar name, “the Holy Church.” In its quest to eradicate sin, the Church sanctions experiments involving the kidnap and torture of hundreds of children—experiments that separate body from soul and leave the children to stumble around zombie-like, and then die.

The series builds up to a cataclysmic war between Heaven and Earth, on the model of Paradise Lost (the source of the phrase his dark materials). But in Pullman’s version, God is revealed to be a charlatan more pitiable even than Oz. His death scene is memorable only for its lack of drama and dignity: The feeble, demented being, called “the ancient of days,” cowers and cries like a baby, dissolving in air. The final book climaxes, so to speak, in a love scene that could rattle the sensibilities of an American culture that tolerates even Girls Gone Wild, because in this case the girl is still a few years away from college. Continue.

'Golden Compass' Director Seeks True North

David Segal, The Washington Post, December 6, 2007

New York -- "I don't talk very much, usually," says Chris Weitz, taking a seat in the lobby at the Mercer Hotel. "I'm a very dour person."

The dour Chris Weitz, we should say upfront, will not be appearing today. The role of Chris Weitz will be performed by a chattier version of the man -- no less cerebral, but slightly more upbeat and dropping words like "hopeful" without irony. Continue.

The 'Golden Compass' points to controversy

David Yonke, The Toledo Blade, November 24, 2007

The Golden Compass is being advertised as "an exciting fantasy adventure" for children set in "a world where witches rule the northern skies, where ice bears are the bravest of warriors, and where every human is joined with an animal spirit who is as close to them as their own heart."

But the $180 million Hollywood movie, which opens Dec. 7, is also drawing criticism from religious groups that describe it as "militantly atheistic," "blasphemous," "heretical," and "diabolical."

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the American Family Association are among the groups calling for a boycott. Continue.

Pullman not promoting atheism in ‘Golden Compass’
Author on anti-Catholic criticism and how he imagined the epic world

Interview with Phillip Pullman on Al's Book Club, MSNBC.com, November 2, 2007

“The Golden Compass” is the first in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. In the first volume, Pullman invites readers into a world as convincing and thoroughly realized as Narnia, Earthsea or Redwall. Here lives an 11-year-old orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford's Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. Continue.

A Golden Controversy
Golden Compass Stirs Up Searches

Mike Krumboltz, YahooBuzz.com, December 6, 2007

The Web has made it a lot easier to convey outrage. Witness the controversy (and buzz) surrounding "The Golden Compass," a new children's film starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

The anger stems from the belief that the film is anti-religion and pro-atheism. Some folks plan to boycott the film as a sign of protest. Ironically, searches on "atheism" and "define atheism" have both spiked in response to their efforts. Clearly, people are hearing the message, but not in the way the protestors had hoped.

So, will the boycott hurt or help the film's performance? Searches on "the golden compass" are up 50% this past week and queries on "golden compass controversy" have experienced a similar surge. Some people are looking forward to the flick while others are looking forward to convincing folks to stay home. Stay tuned to see who wins. Continue.

Unholy Production With a Fairy-Tale Ending

Charles McGrath, The New York Times, December 2, 2007

Philip Pullman’S novel “The Golden Compass,” the basis for the new movie of the same name, is set in a parallel universe that runs on something called anbaric power instead of electricity, and where people travel in hot-air balloons and enormous, slow-moving zeppelins. Landing the movie in theaters, where it will open Friday, was not unlike inflating and then piloting one of these exotic, cumbersome airships.

The project nearly crashed at least once, while burning through $180 million, and it is unclear what audiences will make of such a craft, which is at once high-tech and deliberately old-fashioned. It relies on a technique that Dennis Gassner, the production designer, calls “cludging” — marrying the familiar with the fantastic — to track the story’s protagonist, an impish pre-teenager named Lyra Belacqua, on a journey from Oxford College to the Arctic Circle in search of her own identity and of some children who have been kidnapped and transported to the North for hideous experimentation. There are witches, armored bears and a glamorously wicked mother figure (Nicole Kidman, looking like a Botoxed Marilyn Monroe).

Mr. Pullman’s novel, a book for young adults, is part of a trilogy called “His Dark Materials” (the title comes from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”), and in England, where they were first published, all three books are often compared to the Harry Potter novels. They’re actually brainier and better written, but they’re like the Potter books in that readers tend to feel about them not just fondness but also something like proprietorship. Continue.

Is 'The Golden Compass' really anti-Christian?
The fantasy trilogy encourages critical thinking in kids, not atheism.

Jenny Sawyer, The Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2007

You don't have to be a kiddie lit maven to have heard about the tempest over Friday's theatrical release of "The Golden Compass."

Those who've debated Philip Pullman's award-winning trilogy since the first book's publication in 1995 will tell you they're all riled up about the author's so-called atheist agenda – and its potentially damaging effects on young, impressionable minds. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, urging a boycott, is even promoting a pamphlet called, "The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked."

That's wasted ink. Because it's not religion that Mr. Pullman takes aim at, but a society in which children are raised in a spiritual and intellectual torpor. Not only does Pullman want kids to think for themselves, but he also respects their ability to do so. And this has the "authorities" on what children should and shouldn't be thinking terrified. Continue.

The Golden Compass

Plugged In Online.com, Focus on the Family, December 10, 2007

Focus on the Family savaged the Golden Compass, calling it "awash in a twisted worldview and dark spirituality, the anticipation of which has prompted many Christian groups to point out the damage some of Pullman's themes can do. Even secular observers have noted that the film's thinly veiled ecclesiastical allusions can be spotted easily. Newsweek writer Devin Gordon noted, 'While references to 'the church' are gone from the film, no one over four feet tall could mistake the Magisterium for anything but an oppressive theocracy.' That notion is supported by church historian Dr. Quinn Fox, who observes, 'The most telling aspect of His Dark Materials ... is that the Reformation never happened in the world of The Golden Compass. Indeed, Pullman's simplistically harsh view of the church and God posit a power-hungry, misanthropic institution out of control, and a detached, domineering God devoid of grace.'" Click here.