The Golden Compass

The fundamentalists were first to condemn it. Then– how fascinating! the Catholic church got on board, calling it anti-Christian.

Well, they’re right to be afraid of this story, seeing as they have now identified themselves as being the models for the doctrinaire, power-hungry Magesterium of the Philip Pullman novels. If they weren’t, then there wouldn’t be a problem, right?

The film (which, they say, is watered-down from the novels) is about a little girl who goes out to solve who is behind the disappearance of several of her friends, as well as the whereabouts of her uncle who went up North to check up on a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. It turns out that it’s the Magesterium, a religious organization, that is behind the kidnappings, and they are trying to suppress the research of Lyra’s uncle, and the university generally.

It’s about the dangers of limiting natural curiosity and how harmful it is when people try and protect dogma over the truth. Religion should not be about literalism; after all, it is one of the Creator’s greatest gifts that we are able to read so many levels into what seems to be a simple story.

I’m keen on reading the books now, to see where the details are missing. The reviews of the film were pretty mixed, but I have to say that it’s far better than the Narnia movie, which seems in comparison kind of kiddie-ish. I doubt it will turn children into atheists, though. I think kids find it easier to accept a God and His commandments, rather than something as abstract as a world that is governed by natural principles and a complex system of ethics.

But isn’t it good to teach children to think for themselves and to ask questions? Shouldn’t we all be asking questions? The Magesterium could be anything that wants to brainwash people and keep them docile and under their control. Could be a totalitarian government, or a corporation. Any big, influential organization run by humans can become corrupt, especially when we are asked to trust it completely. Religion, especially, because it has so much to do with something as sacred as our own hearts and spirits. There are examples throughout history of the horrors of messing with that– people can be led to do some terrible things. We can all agree that we don’t want that, right?

Now, as far as I know, the fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic church does no such thing as suppress knowledge and try to cut children off from their true selves. Or do they? It’s hard to say what they are defending by being against these stories.

It’s a pretty extreme view to say that these institutions exist only for the good of the people running them. Certainly I hope that they want to help more than harm. But the day we are asked to never question, to never seek out the truth, to follow rules blindly and oppress those who don’t, well, then yes, we creep closer to the Magesterium.

The Golden Compass isn’t an attack on Christianity. It’s an attack on absolutism. And aren’t we all against that?

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