Beware of “Golden Compass”

First, I want to apologize that my blog has been unavailable for the better part of twenty hours or so. You all must be starved for some RickBeckman.org browsin’ by this point! What, you’re not? Not even a little? Oh come on, humor me!

Second, as a preface to the main part of this post, I have not seen or read The Golden Compass. However, I know the difference between truth & fantasy, nonfiction & fiction. I also have a fantastic wife ((Shameless plug: If you live in Richmond, Connersville, Indianapolis, Rushville, Shelbyville, Glenwood, Brookville, or any other Indiana town in the area, isn’t it about time you had your picture taken?)) who has read The Golden Compass for college, and she’s not going to let this make it online with any glaring errors concerning the book itself.

This is in response to something written by Berit Kjos in an article called “The Upside-down World of Pullman’s ‘Golden Compass.'” It was quoted by David Cloud of Way of Life Literature in today’s Friday Church News Notes (PDF link):

BEWARE OF “GOLDEN COMPASS” (Friday Church News Notes, November 30, 2007, www.wayoflife.org fbns@wayoflife.org, 866-295-4143) The following is excerpted from “The Upside-down World of Pullman’s ‘Golden Compass,'” Berit Kjos, November 13, 2007: “More than 15 million copies of Philip Pullman’s trilogy have been sold. The first movie in the series opens December 7. Flying witches, evil specters, talking bears and evolving ‘Dust’ abound in The Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s popular fantasy series for children. In this confusing cosmos of multiple universes, humans are linked to personal daemons, and telepathic seekers find answers to life’s mysteries through divination, Eastern meditation, ancient ‘wisdom’ and ritual magic.

A work of fiction is criticized for being imaginative and fully-realized. What should be pointed out is that the world of the book & movie is clearly not our world. The Scriptures describe our world, and they do so better, more accurately than any philosopher has ever done. L. Frank Baum didn’t describe our world. He imagined his own and contained his story therein. Ditto C. S. Lewis. Ditto J. R. R. Tolkien. Ditto J. K. Rowling. And so too Philip Pullman.

These occult practices are essential to the battle for the ‘free’ Republic–against the despised old Church.

Not surprisingly, the “Church” often presented as being the evil in the world is often a far cry from the real Church. For example, V for Vendetta portrayed the Church as a dictatorial government which deservingly was toppled quite climactically by V & Evey. The same theme seemed to be hinted at in Cube Zero as well.

As surely as sinful man deserves to perish, so does an evil church deserve to be struck down. I can’t recall ever seeing a truly Christian character represented in any work of fiction’s “evil church” antagonist. Honestly, it’s hard to villainize loving, charitable believers who live out the Kingdom of God on Earth, and so such Christians understandably don’t show up often in entertainment.

So if the “church as a bad guy” theme in entertainment so rarely, if ever, has anything at all to do with Christ’s true gathering of believers, it seems quite unnecessary that men like Kjos spend their time defending false illusions of the church rather than proclaiming the Christ of the true Church.

But I also can’t help but wonder if such negative portrayals of the Church in literature is reactionary; with a messy war being waged in Iraq currently under a pretense of it being “God’s will,” it isn’t surprising that God & His people are gaining quite the bad reputation.

Never mind the Christianity (if you can even call it that) of King James Onlyism, the Prosperity Gospel, the Charismatic Movement, the Name It Claim It Gospel, cultural conservativism, ((Or would that be better as “cultural separatism”?)) and so on.

Frankly, Jesus’ bride isn’t putting her best foot forward, and I think people are sick of it.

I’ll even be so bold to say that many are longing for a Church that is capable of lovingly existing within their desired “‘free’ Republic” (to borrow Kjos’ phraseology). If we are truly being the salt & the light of the world, that seems to imply that we are making the world both tastier and brighter; we do that by presenting Christ, and we present Christ by living out His commands.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the opposition to such actions come from within Christendom rather than from those outside of the Church. We need only think of where Christ’s primary opposition came from.

Lyra, the pre-teen heroine, is a headstrong tomboy raised without parents at an Oxford college in a universe parallel to ours. A proficient liar, she’s first seen snooping in a forbidden area with her daemon camouflaged as a moth. From then on, she follows her intuition from one crisis to the next until all remnants of Biblical truth and authority have been destroyed.

Why this is threatening I don’t know; are we worried about extradimensional preteens? I’ll pass on that one, thanks.

And I can’t help but wonder what kid isn’t a proficient liar; I’ve seen studies which claim even babies use deception in order to get attention or food or whatever. Do not the Scriptures declare every man a liar?

Okay, I’m not thrilled that biblical truth is supposedly being destroyed, but the “biblical truth” as understood by a great majority of the unbelievers I’ve interacted with is hardly representative of real biblical truth; those straw men raised by skeptics can be knocked down again and again for all I’m concerned! As I understand the mythos of The Golden Compass, “God” is simply the senior angel who is in charge simply because he is the eldest. How that is in any way similar to “biblical truth,” I have no idea at all.

It honestly sounds far more similar to Mormonism than to Christianity.

By the end of the series, God is dead. Free-spirited Lyra (still a 12-year-old) has sexually ‘come of age’ and fulfilled her prophetic assignments in the war against Christianity.

“Eldest Angel Dies, Story at 11.”

Sorry if I don’t quite get the urgency of the situation here. It’s nothing more than a plot element in a world of fantasy. Our imaginations as Christians ought to be great enough that we can envision a story containing imaginary people, imaginary places, and indeed, imaginary deities — even deities which die. But let’s suppose the world of The Golden Compass did reflect ours and thus did portray the death of the true God…

Keep in mind, Christianity depends on the fact that Jesus Christ — God in the flesh — died on a Cross. And He did so willingly. That is Gospel. That is truth.

So a work of fiction portrays the death of a fictional deity? Okay, redeem that; take that and say, “Okay, God is dead; betcha can’t guess what happened next in real life!” ((Okay, your presentation of the Gospel may of necessity be a bit more serious, but when I wrote that sentence, I was picturing talking to a child in a way that would be clearly misunderstood…))

Further, Kjos seems to be bothered by a 12 year old having “sexually ‘come of age'” (otherwise, I fail to see the importance of her age being noted in that statement). First, I’d have to ask what he means by his use of coming of age. Twelve year old girls are commonly sexually mature; I know someone who knows someone who started her monthly cycle. She’s nine. That’s nature. That’s life. Welcome to Earth.

Besides, our society’s link between ages 18 or 21 with “adulthood” might not apply to an extradimensional girl. Fantasy is a fantastic thing, after all!

I’m told that Lyra never engages in any sexual activity within the books. All that is explicitly stated is that she kisses someone. ((Though apparently it is debatable whether anything more takes place; at best, such an explanation should not be regarded as canon to the story line, I would think, as it isn’t directly mentioned. A kiss is mentioned, and it can be left at that.))

As readers move from book to book, they meet likeable God-haters,

Shall “God-haters” only be unlikeable? Even that would not exempt a Christian’s responsibility to befriend them & love them, as Christ did with the “sinners” at Matthew’s home. If you only love those who love you in return, what benefit is there? Even the Pharisees do that!

experience magical worlds, and discover the strange forces that drive Pullman’s occult cosmos.

If fiction was only allowed to mirror real life, there’d be even less incentive to read. I can experience real life for myself. Magical worlds and strange forces, on the other hand, make for a great fantastical escape from reality. (What’s that? You’re perfectly content with this sin-cursed world?)

… Pullman’s crafty tale pulls the readers’ minds into an occult context where–through their imagination–they experience life from his atheist/occult perspective.”

“Occult” means secret or hidden or beyond human comprehension. That’s quite the compliment to Pullman’s imagination, I suppose.

If readers cannot discern truth from fiction, then they shouldn’t be reading novels; for the reader mature enough to understand that when they are handed a novel, they are being handed a work of fiction… Well, it may be worth it to read & see The Golden Compass; I’ll be seeing it tomorrow!

In closing, I just want to point out that if we as Christians have enough time to sit around and criticize fictional realities, something is wrong. There’s plenty in our own reality that we need to engage, redeem, fix, clean up, love, correct, rebuke, and intercede for. Quite honestly, there is far too much to do than to tilt at windmills.

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1 thought on “Beware of “Golden Compass””

  1. Ok. Well first off I would like to see the I have a Masters Degree from the University of Tennesee in Literature. And unlike some, I have read the book The Golden Compass. It does not take a genious to figure out what Pullman is symbolizing in the book. I am a Christian and do believe that the Lord is our Christ and Savior, and I was appalled to read the book. The book cleary coming from someone who practices atheism is an insult to anyone who believes in the Christian religion. It is sick that he would publish something like that and in his use of symbolism as God being the “Angel” and being killed in the end? Its outrageous and its an insult to me and anyone else who shares the same religion as I. I will not allow students in my class to do research papers on the book, because of what it stands for. Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

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