Friday, December 07, 2007

Philip Pullman | The Golden Compass

So, the press has apparently decided that a fantasy novel and movie can be the basis for a certain kind of culture war. As a pastor, I've already been asked a number of times what I think of The Golden Compass, and whether I've read the books. And there has been in the news a steady stream of articles, pro and con, for the movie.

Here's one of the best.

Another thorough article.

But you want to know, what does Lutheran Confessions have to say?

First, I don't want to say that much. All the news on this likely creates more smoke than fire, but I will list these ad hoc theses.

1) Fiction is fiction, movies are movies, fantasy is fantasy. They need to be taken for what they really are, and judged on their own internal integrity. I found all the "news" about the Narnia movies just as suspicious as all this current news, because it was as if the movie itself didn't matter, and only the idea that the lion stands for Jesus, etc. that mattered. This is the pop philosophy and theology of cinema that grows tiresome. It's a good movie, or it isn't, and can be valued or not based on those grounds.

2) Have we somehow forgotten that virtually all movies currently made, not to mention most children's literature read by children, is thoroughly secular? Which is worse, to immerse our children in a worldview through fiction and art that is secular, with no mention of God or the gods, no sense of faith relating to ethics, the good life, or what have you? Or a movie that challenges (or portrays a challenge to) the presumption of the church doing good?

3) Yes, Pullman himself seems to be a kind of evangelist for atheism or agnosticism. You can read the articles to get a better sense for it than I want to summarize here. The introduction he wrote for a recent publishing John Milton's Paradise Lost is especially indicative of his position. Nevertheless, having read the novels, I can say that I very much enjoy being immersed in his fantastic worlds, even if I don't agree with all or much of what he has to say specifically about religion in the "real" world.

4) Apparently one of the best ways to sell a movie is to drum up controversy around its religious themes. So, in this sense, we're not having a religious debate on the topic at all--what we're doing is playing into the capitalist vision, the "universalization of the commodity form, the transmutation not only of all things, but also of all relations, in to commodities." Bonus points to anyone who can spy where this quote comes from, or who it is inspired by...

5) Maybe more theses will come later...


  1. Anonymous10:49 AM

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say Wendell Berry, even though I've never read any Wendell Berry.

  2. Nicholas Lash, but the insight and inspiration is Marx.