The “Golden Compass” Controversy

Theatrical release posterI believe that the Good Lord gave man intellect to make good choices and the free will do to do so. So when a Church, in this case Saddleback Church, sends out an email to strongly suggest the movie “The Golden Compass” is anti-Christian, I have to take notice.

There are plenty of movies out there that cater to all sorts of tastes. But for every grass roots effort to encourage people to see “Bella” there’s a effort to discourage people from seeing “The Golden Compass” or any of the “Harry Potter” series (I wonder how many conservatives will stop seeing those now that J.K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore?).

However, the U.S. Conference of Bishops, a Catholic organization, reviewed “The Golden Compass” and they give it two thumbs up. See the letter from Saddleback and the review after the flip.

Dear Saddleback Family,

I hope you’re having a great start to the Christmas celebration season. And that, if you’re facing some tough times, you’re finding strength daily in God’s great love.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about a new movie coming out this week. People are wondering about things they’ve heard about “The Golden Compass.” The concerns you may have heard about this movie are true. It’s an anti-God movie posing as a children’s movie. The ads compare it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the fact is that its view of the world is exactly the opposite.

The movie is based on the first of a series of three books by Philip Pullman that are anti-church in their core message. When Pullman was asked by the Washington Post what C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia books) would think of his books, he answered, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief. Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the Devil’s work.” And he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003, “My books are about killing God.” I love the wisdom in this article from Christianity Today: It’s a great encouragement to not be afraid of the message of the movie, because the message of Christ is so much greater. And an encouragement to voice our disagreement with the author’s message with a Christ-like spirit. And a warning not to be tricked by the hype around the movie – the most hateful parts of the books have been removed in this first movie in order to attract commercial success, but in a recent MTV interview the director stated that if this movie is successful, the future episodes will not be “watered down”. Personally, I won’t see the move, not because I’m afraid of its message, but because I don’t want to support its message.

Pastor Tom and the Saddleback Pastors

Then there’s this review that ran in the Kansas City Star.“The Golden Compass” — and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy of novels on which it is based — has been criticized in some quarters for being anti-religious and specifically anti-Catholic.But the U.S. Conference of Bishops recently issued its official review of the film — and it’s a rave.

Writing for the Catholic News Service (, critics Harry Forbes and John Mulderig call the movie “lavish, well-acted and fast-paced.”

“The good news,” they write, “is that the first book’s explicit references to this church have been completely excised, with only the term Magisterium retained. The choice is still a bit unfortunate, however, as the word refers so specifically to the church’s teaching authority. Yet the film’s only clue that the Magisterium is a religious body comes in the form of the icons which decorate one of their local headquarters.

“Most moviegoers with no foreknowledge of the books or Pullman’s personal belief system will scarcely be aware of religious connotations, and can approach the movie as a pure fantasy-adventure. This is not the blatant real-world anti-Catholicism of, say, the recent ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ or ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ Religious elements, as such, are practically nil.”

While noting that “Pullman’s fanciful universe has a patchwork feel, with elements culled from other fantasy-adventure stories — most especially The Chronicles of Narnia (a work Pullman disdains),” the review goes on to say that the film has “hardly a dull moment.”

Whatever Pullman’s motives in writing the story, the film “can be viewed as an exciting adventure story with, at its core, a traditional struggle between good and evil and a generalized rejection of authoritarianism,” the review says. “To the extent that Lyra” — the movie’s young heroine — “and her allies are taking a stand on behalf of free will in opposition to the coercive force of the Magisterium, they are of course acting entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching. The heroism and self-sacrifice that they demonstrate provide appropriate moral lessons …

“Is Pullman trying to undermine anyone’s belief in God? Leaving the books aside and focusing on what has ended up on screen, the script can reasonably be interpreted in the broadest sense as an appeal against the abuse of political power.”

Addressing the question of whether the film may inspire teens to read the books, the writers suggest that “rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens.”

The religious themes of the later books may be more prominent in the follow-up films, they note, but for now “this film — altered, as it is, from its source material — rates as intelligent and well-crafted entertainment.

Folks — it’s a movie; if it appeals to you, see it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Use your free-will to make the choice.



  15 comments for “The “Golden Compass” Controversy

  1. Ellinorianne
    December 5, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I’m amazed that parents are so insecure about their teachings that they have to shield their children from anti-Christian films. Whatever that means by the way. If a film has an ability to sway your faith, it wasn’t very steady in the first place. My only fear about my daughter seeing something is that she would not ask me questions if she was confused or scared.

    I actually called the Stephanie Miller show recently and thanked her for helping me corrupt my four year old. I listen on the way to work and taking her to child care. I’d rather be the one to corrupt her and I’d rather her learn about things like calling her body parts by the biological terms. A woman had called and said that she was corrupting kids, filthy, etc. Okay.

    My husband is an atheist, I think of myself as an agnostic Christian, I don’t know but I do practice in some ways. I have no problem with my husband telling her that he believes there is no God. She is going to grow up being a critical thinker, she will be able to encounter most things and deal with them or come to us if she can’t. I guess I trust her more than these people trust their own children.

    And we wonder why our kids grow up not knowing what is right and wrong, they don’t even get the chance to make a choice and deal with the consequences. That’s not a bad word. I see parents often shielding their kids from their own actions even.

    I’m rambling now. Yes, I corrupt my child and she proudly uses the word vagina. Sue me.

  2. Flowerszzz
    December 5, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I saw something on this this week, At first the Catholics were upset about this movie because they were afraid it would put them in a bad light…the director of the movie assured them that they had taken out all “religous” references…so now the Christians say it is not religous enough. LOL.

  3. Northcountystorm
    December 5, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    One church suggests its congregation take a pass on a movie. Another’s house organ says the flick isn’t so bad after some raw material is left on the cutting room floor. Big deal.

    Groups frequently urge their members to go to a movie(think Sicko) or not just to take a pass on a movie but even demand that the producer yank the film(The DNC effort to try and get ABC to pull “9/11” off the air due to some anti-Clinton bias). Big deal.

    Dan’s right that people need to use their free will to determine whether they’re going to see a flick. But if they want to get some advice about whether to go, be it from the Saddleback Church or the Democratic National Committee, they can read the letters or e-mails or throw them away/delete them.

    As for Ellinorraine, I’m glad you feel you are raising your daughter appropriately. Why not try to avoid judging people who happen to raise their children differently?

  4. December 6, 2007 at 8:52 am

    I may judge all I want, but I would never tell people how to raise their children. I was talking about raising my child and for me only. I believe everyone has a right to raise their children as they see fit and would never interfer in their choices and I would not criticize them specifically. I was generalizing and speaking about this particular instance where a children’s film is accused of being something else. What about Veggie Tales? All stories have agendas or a point to get acorss unless they are very bad films or stories.

    I interact with other parents and their children often and have never told them how to “raise” or handle their kids and even when advice is solicited, I am very careful and make sure that they really want my opinion because it can cause rifts, even among the best of friends. Mine is just an opinion, not written in stone. I’m sorry if I was so strident with this opinion and I probably could have epxressed it differently while still making my point.

  5. ocmommy
    December 7, 2007 at 11:04 am

    i got the email. i got the anti-email emails. for me it boils down to this: if this guy is trying to disquise his anti-god movie with “fantasy” and great effects w/ A list actors, im not going to put money in his pocket.

    there are plenty of other awesome fantasy kid’s movies for my 3 kids. our kids are bombarded with so much, without the influence of movies. im not scared, im just not taking any chances. when they’re old enough to decide for themselves, they can watch whatever they want.
    im the only one who cares about their best interest.

    btw, because of the mutation of regular viruses and bacteria into “super viruses” and “super bacteria” linked to the many anti-bacterial products on the market, i no longer use them. my kids rarely get sick but when they do it makes their immune systems stronger in the end.

  6. December 7, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Pete Fundy is confused. Is this the same Saddleback Church that opened its doors to Hillary Clinton and placed ads in newspapers claiming “many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbours” or some such nonsense?

    Is Rick Warren on the pipe?

    Warmly yours,
    Pete Fundy
    Senior Editorial Writer

  7. Claudio Gallegos
    December 7, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    I am bummed they took out the scenes ripping the Catholic Church. They deserve to get ripped. I am so sick of them whining and demanding any movie critical of the church should be changed to accomodate to their liking. They never gave all those children a choice at whether they wanted to be abused, why should the movie industry give them a choice if they should be pleased or not.

  8. Northcountystorm
    December 7, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    Uh, Claudio, from what Dan wrote the U.S. Cathlic Conference of Bishops has given the movie a good review. I know that fact doesn’t fit into your world view of the Church but I think you should wait another day to pick a fight with Rome and its local affiliates.

  9. December 10, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    I am not picking a fight, simply standing up for those who have been victimized by sexual predators. IF the Vatican are accomplices to the crime, then hell yeah my fight is with them.

  10. Tammy
    December 16, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Well, guys…it looks like the people have spoken and The Golden Compass was a golden flop. Rhetoric and spin can’t turn this story or its author into something they’re not. Mainstream. Not. Innocent. Not. A success? Definitely Not.

  11. alex
    December 23, 2007 at 9:16 am

    this movie is a perfect example of how liberalism has spread in America. 50 years ago this crap would never be able to reach the screen, but now America is turning into a liberal anti-God, pro-materialism country. you can’t even say “Merry Christmas” anymore, now it has to be “Happy Hollidays.” Forgive me for getting off subject, but that is another example of liberals controlling the media. I do feel sorry for the kids and the families of the kids who were molested, and i do think the priests should be punished, but why is it justifyable to risk spreading atheism throughout the world because of what a few men did to kids. Once again, it’s liberal propoganda against the church.

  12. jim
    December 25, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    claudio, it’s not about getting revenge on the church for abusing children, it’s about spreading satan throughout the world, that’s a totally different playing field. Like alex said, there are only a few cases of children being abused, when you put that into perspective to how many people’s lives could be turned away from God by this movie, it’s horrible. And, the bishop that gave the movie a good review has been in much controversy, the guy is unstable, just because a bishop says the movie is okay, doesn’t mean it is. (The same bishop said abortion was alright by the way).

  13. RHackett
    December 26, 2007 at 11:03 am

    how many people’s lives could be turned away from God by this movie

    I would make the argument that those whose lives are turned away from God because of a movie had little faith from the start. More than likely those individuals were looking for an excuse. But that’s just me.

  14. Dan Chmielewski
    December 26, 2007 at 11:24 am

    $49 million for Box Office in 18 days, but $140 million worldwide with DVD release yet to come. I agree with Hackett; a movie isn’t going to shake your faith and if it does, its not all that strong to begin with.

  15. jim
    December 28, 2007 at 8:28 am

    true, a strong christian will not be affected by this movie, but what about the children, and all the agnostics? Their beliefs could be affected by this movie in a very wrong way.

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