Friday, December 14, 2007

The Golden Compass: Atheist Propaganda?

I just read The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked, a 23 page tract by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights about how Phillip Pullman wants to turn my kids into atheists. I get the impression that this is the kind of controversy he's been looking for all along, but the stupid things people are saying about his books still get under my skin.

According to the Catholic League, the point of The Golden Compass movie is to slip a camouflaged, diluted form of atheism in under parents' radar to get kids hooked. These brainwashed youngsters will then ask for the trilogy of novels for Christmas, and their atheist indoctrination will be well underway. I haven't seen the TGC movie yet, and I've heard Hollywood has watered it down and omitted some of the more explicit connections between the Magisterium and the Catholic church in order to give it a broader appeal. If this is true, it's unfortunate, but the filmmakers obviously did this to placate Christians (who probably comprise the majority of the film's U.S. target market), not hoodwink them.

I wonder what the halfwits who are up in arms about The Golden Compass would make of the works of William Blake or John Milton. If they can't even get through 3 children's books, relying instead on secondary sources like the "synopsis" in the aforementioned pamphlet, it's probably safe to assume that it won't ever become an issue.

Rupert Kaye, chief executive of the Association of Christian Teachers, claims it is "revealing... that Pullman chose not to add Allah to his list of names" (for God, depicted as a mendacious angel called the Authority in the books). Now that's food for thought: the atheists in league with Islam. Mr. Kaye has obviously considered this scenario carefully.

Says Caroline Moore, comparing TGC to Narnia in The Spectator: "Lewis's version is informed by his Christianity; Pullman's driven, far more explicitly, by militant atheism." Apparently Christians are informed but atheists are driven, just like the animals they believe we're descended from. When Richard Dawkins compared atheist and homosexual politics in The God Delusion (a book I found snide and disrespectful of religion and which, incidentally, sings Pullman's praises), I thought he was being melodramatic. Now, I'm not so sure.

I support Philip Pullman unequivocally and I will continue to encourage my students to read his books. Censorship, ignorance and hysteria are enemies of truth and beauty, of civilization and of God.


Amanda said...

A friend of mine posted on TGC recently and it had me thinking.

First off, I am an atheist and was one when I originally read the first two books, back when they came out. I wouldn't have even remembered them as having much to do with atheism, much the way that I didn't have a clue that Narnia was about Christianity as a child (I will admit, my non-Christian background might be part of the reason for that) if it hadn't been for the fuss over the movie.

Secondly, the more I teach children, the more I realise just how much they read only for plot. Some Poly Students are just as fluent as native speakers and yet getting them to talk about themes and character development and such is not always easy, even as far up as grade 8. This doesn't surprise me - there are tons of books I read only at that level too.

I thought I'd reread them, just to see what all the fuss is about. I'm 200 pages into TGC and there is so far no atheism in sight. Also, so many of the references to religion are way over the heads of most of the kids I know, in terms of the kind of historical knowledge they'd need to see the connection. Talking about John Calvin moving the papacy to Geneva doesn't seem likely to strike a chord of recognition in your average kid.

Amanda said...

I'm just reading that Catholic League drivel now, and only a couple of pages in it's already stupid.

I don't believe for a second His Dark Materials are more popular in Britain than Harry Potter.

And he thinks that the attack on religion is aimed at the Catholics - but the whole Pope John Calvin moving the papacy to Geneva and then dissolving it makes it seem to me that it is definitely Protestants that it's aimed at. The author was Anglican I believe, and according to my mother who was raised High Anglican, it's pretty close to Roman Catholic in a lot of ways.

Dr. T said...

Most people WOULD have a stroke over The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Lucky 13 said...

I know nothing gets my rocks off like marriage hehe

Prairie Gourmet said...

I agree with Amanda that children (even highly gifted ones)generally only understand plot and do not realize the metaphors in literature until high school.

My daughter loved fantasy books and read Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials. I recently asked her about The Golden Compass and she replied that she remembered nothing religious about it, only about fighting against authoritarian figures.

I read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as a child and never realized the metaphors until I was older. That's what makes literature good -there is something appealing to every literary level.

Lucky 13 said...

Thanks for stopping by, prairie gourmet. I agree with both of you guys that younger kids don't usually pick up on metaphor in literature. That's why I hate teaching middle school, despite how great my middle school kids are. It isn't really productive to talk about what stuff "means." In fact, most of my kids don't learn by talking at all, but rather by doing, or by loud, garish multimedia presentation.

Regarding metaphor, It bugs me how some people talk about the atheist content "hidden" in the book, like the story's symbolic meaning is like one of those 1 frame "subliminal" advertisements run in the 50's. I think nonreaders get angry when they don't understand something, so they think it must be sneaky when it's actually just subtle. I really think that if many of the people boycotting this movie would just read the books and understand them, they'd be like, "What's all the fuss about?" It's probably like that with most banned books, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Catcher in the Rye.