The Golden Compass

Following in the footsteps of Harry Potter, and Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, the movie, The Golden Compass, due for release tomorrow (December 7), is creating quite a furor of controversy from Catholic and evangelical circles. The Golden Compass is the first book of author Philip Pullman’s trilogy, The Dark Materials. In a recent article in Newsweek, Pullman describes himself as an atheist, but his vocation is storytelling, and his only agenda, he said, is to “to get you to turn the page.” He further says, “To regard it that I am a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people…” is stupid, “how do they know that?” “Why don’t we trust readers? Why don’t we trust filmgoers?” (December 3, 2007, p. 58) Many who have read the book, vehemently disagree that its primary message is religious, contending that it is simply a great fantasy.

Detractors argue that Pullman's children's fantasy novel is a forceful attack on the Catholic Church and serves as a vehicle for promoting atheism to children. "You have two characters who set out to kill God," said Pete Vere, a canon lawyer and co-author of a forthcoming book entitled Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy. Mr. Vere's book, which is critical of Mr. Pullman's work and his atheistic views, is being promoted on a website called .

Other Catholics interpret The Golden Compass as a denunciation of organized religion dominated by a distant, imposter God. "That's his [Pullman’s] image of religion that he's doing away with and frankly, we can all do away with that image of church and religion because that's not the church in Christianity that we believe in today," said Sister Rose Pacatte, director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, Calif. "That God that he kills off, he's doing us a favour."

The trilogy tells the story of Lyra, a girl in an alternate world who becomes a pawn in a power struggle waged by an all-powerful group called the Magisterium. That body, which many see as a fictional stand-in for the Catholic Church, seeks obedience through social control, especially of children as they reach puberty. The God figure in the novels is called the Authority.

While many Catholic school boards have pulled the books from their shelves and reading lists, some Catholic school boards believe the book is valuable for students to examine and decode. "The reality is we can't ban this book - nobody can, no school board can. The books are widely available, the film is going to go into wide release, so we're more concerned with giving our students the tools to discern what's right and what's wrong, to interpret these books, to use the Catholic faith as a means then to interpret the world around them." said Jonathan Wright, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board's religion and family life consultant. (Emphasis mine – GW)

Gisèle Baxter, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia who has taught the books in a children's literature course, said characterizing their position on religion is difficult and "almost a problem of vocabulary" because "saying that the books are anti-religious ... is not quite accurate." Instead, she said, the trilogy centers on an anti-authoritarian parallel universe where the characters are antagonistic to autocratic religious institutions.

David Bruce of Hollywood Jesus makes the following comment about the film,

"For us, this is a film that opens the door of opportunity. Think of the great discussions that can arise from this film. Also, Pullman is a wonderful man with deeply held ideas about the preciousness of humanity and the immense beauty of this world. He is committed to making this planet a better place for all of us. This, I believe, is reflected in his books. It is an idea that resonates with so many - and part of the reason why his novels are best sellers. He has an important message that should not be overlooked just because he is a committed non-religious humanist.” (

Why can’t we criticize the Church? Why can’t we criticize authority? The movie like so many others forces us to take a good look at what has survived for 2000 years in the name of Christ. It begs us ask the question, “What is the heart of the gospel?” Is Christianity so fragile that one movie, or a series of books and movies can destroy it? I don’t think so, it has lasted over 2000 years precisely because it returns from time to time to the simple message of the gospel, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Periodically in the midst of “doing” church perhaps it is important to remember what it means to “be” the Church. I am not suggesting that we open our minds and accept everything as truth, neither do I want us to shut them off. Perhaps people like Pullman come around from time to time to bring us back to the main thing—the love of God for a lost humanity exhibited through the beautiful picture of the “Babe of Bethlehem.”

I have not had the opportunity to read the book but I plan to listen to the audio tapes as soon as they come into the Nampa Library. I will have further to say after I am finished. I will watch the movie when it shows up at the dollar theatre.

For further research:
google: The Golden Compass or check out the Christianity Today link below:
or go to and read David’s entire review.

Gary Waller