If only we had a Golden Compass for being unafraid believers

I read Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials last year. I bought it because I read a review in The New Yorker that made it sound very compelling. As a seminary graduate with a stinkload of debt and not much income, a review has to be pretty compelling to get me to buy a hardcover book.

But I was not disappointed. The trilogy, which includes The Golden Compass, was a great read. The main characters, especially Lyra, are written with depth. The central characters pursue “the good,” but they are not pastel portraits. They are flawed, real characters with quirks and fears. Because Pullman creates an entire alternate reality, not dissimilar to what Tolkien did with Middle Earth, there are lots of strangely fascinating events in all of the books. The Subtle Knife, the second book of the trilogy, is one of the coolest narrative treatments of alternate realities I’ve ever read.

The books deal directly with Pullman’s bete noir – theocracy. There is an very good interview with Pullman online where he discusses the book with a Christian film reviewer. Mr. Pullman is a materialist. He is terribly sharp. He does not understand or believe in “spirituality.” I love Jesus like a fool. I consider myself Evangelical. For the Love of Heaven, I went to Fuller Seminary. That does not mean I can’t read his book, and enjoy it for what it is, a very thoughtful and well written piece of literature. As my husband pointed out yesterday, Jesus was kind of critical of theocracies himself.

Because The Golden Compass was made into a film (largely geared towards kids), the book and its author have been discussed quite a bit in the public arena of late. I feel some of the stuff I’ve heard on Christian radio and seen on the Internet is the modern equivalent of book burning.

Why do this? What if the whole book really is an indictment of religion, a blueprint for materialists? Are we not capable of reading literature and hearing what it has to say about us without having to tear down the author and the work? If you believe in God and in the risen, glorified Jesus, I think your faith should be resilient enough to withstand and even HEAR frank commentary or criticism. If I could, I would invite Mr. Pullman over for dinner to get to know him, and let him get to know us.

I read the trilogy and enjoyed it. My faith was not shaken by it. Indeed, it was not even stirred by this book. The book had nothing to do with my walk with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That’s what I read the BIBLE for, people. Or Annie Dillard. Or Henri Nouwen. Or Dallas Willard. Or Larry Crabb. I’m not sure what people who want Christians to stay away from literature and films that portray the church in a negative light are trying to accomplish. But it wears me out.

We serve a savior who died in humiliation on a cross, who washed his disciples’ feet and cried out for justice. Not a savior who asked us to build intellectual walls against those who see things differently than we do, or who asked us not to read certain books. I’d like to remind my brothers and sisters who are “boycotting” this book/film of one teeny, tiny injunction that the Bible mentions once or twice. Don’t be afraid.


10 Responses to If only we had a Golden Compass for being unafraid believers

  1. pointminister says:

    Good point–why not read the book? Being part of the discussion lets people know we’re not afraid. That we’re firm in our own faith.
    As for the movie, I’m not taking my kids. The author will be paid by my attendance. That doesn’t get me in the discussion, just puts more money in his pocket.
    It’s not the perfect solution, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

  2. lpkalal says:

    I like what you wrote and who you read. Larry Crabb has had a big impact on my life. My husband (a Trinity grad) has been toying with taking the kids to the Golden Compass. I will forwad your blog to him.

    Take care, Lorraine

  3. christfollower says:

    An interesting take on the controversy. I’ve taken a slightly different tack at my blog: http://christfollower.wordpress.com but I definitely appreciate your point of view on this matter. I agree that Christians should not be afraid to engage the culture. If our faith is so weak as to be shaken or destroyed by certain forms of entertainment, then we should re-examine where we really are on our walk with Christ. Thanks for a balanced treatment of the subject.

    God bless,

  4. Ryan McGivern says:

    Funny how Harry Potter and the likes, (Dark Materials included) can cause such
    a stir when pornography is so prevalent in our country. Not that porn is necessarily bad- I won’t argue that here, but what do we fear our children may read and be exposed to? what makes us question our faith?
    The US has consistently shown that materialist/atheists are the
    bogeymen of choice. I’ve seen a number of statistics that reflect americans
    having more love for (gasp) homosexuals and (cover your ears) Muslims than
    the godless.
    I wonder if Pullman hadn’t come out of the closet, how his books (which I haven’t read) or the movie adaptation (which I anticipate seeing) would have been received.
    I imagine that the public would have done what it can often do: synthesize the motifs into a Christian understanding. But, he’s ruined all the fun for us of finding the hidden
    allegories of Christian redemption.
    There is a theme in some Christian traditions in the US that I liken to a
    epistemological iron curtain, or brain (or soul) protectionism. In an effort to be found
    a holy and upright generation and to come out from the general uncleanliness of the
    secular and idolatrous, some will really run from certain ideas. I totally understand the spirit of this and will not judge it. (I just heard a radio Bible show advise a caller to not investigate their friend’s Mormon faith at all. This is just one example.) However, it is interesting again to see what catches the larger attention as ‘dangerous’.
    Cheers, Ryan

  5. Carol Del says:

    Read this and Harry Potter books immediately came to mind.

    A number of years ago, after reading the first book, I suggested it to a group of Christian school parents as a sure way to get young boys to read. I was immediately criticized for endorsing a book espousing witchcraft. Sadly, their reaction was based on what they had heard from their ‘leadership’. Not one other person in the group had actually read a Potter book. Disturbing amount of faith in such ‘leaders’ (or Christian talk show hosts).

    Then there’s Halloween, of course.

    Keep reading

  6. Megan says:

    Hi to all my new commenters! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this phenomena.

  7. Megan…….your rock!!! Great insight, I am with you….literature is for people who likes to read and enjoy reading, that won’t shake my love for Christ. O couple of semesters ago my English teacher told us to read Memnock the devil by Ann Rice, of course most of the Christian who were in that class dropped it. I didn’t because it was an English class; I read the book and I really liked. At the end of the semester we review the book at class, guess who was the person who was asked the most? yes! ME!!!Everybody wanted to know my opinion. The result of all that is this year I was invited to go to the faculty Christmas Party, the only minister invited….instead of talking so bad let’s start meeting the people in their level…..

  8. lpkalal says:

    My husband (a pastor) was going to take the kids to see Golden Compass the other day and I asked him not to, at least until he has seen it. They’ve seen all the Potter movies out (for some odd reason both the videos and the movie put me to sleep…!) movies as well as the new and old Narnia ones (the old British version). Someone once said that every thing we take in has some impact on our spiritual formation, good or bad. It moves us to God, or not. This wasn’t a legalist at all. As adults, we can filter through what’s true and not, and enjoy the good while vetting the untrue against the Word… In some ways, it sharpens our apologetic. But I am not so sure about kids. I am worried that my 9 year old is far more enamored of High School Musical, Hannah Montana, and any kid movie that comes out, than about God. We aren’t avoiding the culture, but maybe there are times when it is best to protect our kids from a message they can’t handle.

  9. sarcasticredheadedgeek says:

    I think perhaps you said everything to a tee that I would have said.

    Very well done!


  10. missionseeker says:

    I saw a clip about the Compass and the comments broached judgement and seemed aimed primarily at the Catholic (universal) church system. Being that the Catholic system has been around for quite some time, it stands to reason that someone will talk about it, debate, criticize, and compare it. They might put forth the perception they have experienced in culture. And of course, films often take liberties in the fictional pie of editing. Anywhere Christ is mentioned, you better believe that someone somewhere will come after Him. Focus on the New Test. account of Herod and the search for the baby, how about the angry crowds, throwing Jesus out of the city, wishing to threw Him off the brow of the hill. Because he told them truth, jealousy, running Jesus out, wanting to kill Him and finally killing Him, yet not for good, He arose. Lifestyles are debateable. Examination lights need to be shinned on each ones own life especially if we call ourselves by His name. Are our activities worldy based? Is the doctrine currupt or wordly? Is Christ pure? Of course, Christ is pure, so to be like Him we have to get away from anything which taints our Lord, get away from anything that hurts His purpose, thawarts His wisdom, perverts His church, and leads His children astray. Jesus passed through the midst of them and went His way. He got out of there. Check out Luke 4, Jesus always knew what to do.

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