How should Christians react to The Golden Compass, the movie based on the book by Phillip Pullman? Questions are being raised about the content of the film, given the anti-religious slant of the books and their author. The book series His Dark Materials, on which The Golden Compass is based, is aggressively anti-Christian. There are ample reasons for Christians to avoid supporting this series through movie tickets or book sales. It would be counterproductive to stage protests or overt boycotts since that would only give free publicity to the studio selling the film. At the same time, The Golden Compass has to be taken seriously by Christian families because the source material is explicitly anti-Christian, and targeted at children. Christian parents and children alike should be prepared to answer some of the false claims made by this series.
The Golden Compass is the first book in a trilogy called His Dark Materials. The author, Philip Pullman, is a vocal atheist who is particularly critical of Catholicism. In the trilogy, the church is evil, controlling, ignorant, intolerant of dissent, and sadistic. Pullman does not disguise the church as some other entity, but attacks it more or less directly. The books use terms like “original sin,” “baptized as a Christian,” “Vatican Council,” and “magisterium.” The Golden Compass is, compared to its sequels, subtle in its attacks on Christianity. The second and third books become more and more “preachy,” and more overtly hostile to Christianity. The movie can be expected to follow the same pattern: the anti-religious rhetoric in The Golden Compass will likely be subtle, or even downplayed. Successive movies will not be able to do the same thing without completely changing the story.
Pullman leaves no doubt about his beliefs and his intentions. He has been referred to as “The Pied Piper of Atheism” for his powerful ability to tell children’s stories and his distaste for religion. Are the books deliberately atheistic? Pullman has stated, “My books are about killing God.” Are they anti-Christian? Again, Pullman has said, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,” and “If there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.” In the book trilogy, a major character says, “The Christian religion is a powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” It would be dishonest for anyone to claim that this trilogy, of which The Golden Compass is a part, is not deliberately anti-Christian.
The messages conveyed in the series are not compatible with a Christian outlook. The main character is named Lyra, because she is a habitual liar. Her lies are intended for purely selfish reasons, and there is never a point in the trilogy where she learns that such things are wrong. Part of her journey in the series includes having a sexual experience as very young teen, which the author portrays as a part of her growing religious control. She represents a “second Eve,” whose rebellion against God is meant to be applauded as a quest for knowledge.
The Golden Compass, along with any other works connected to the His Dark Materials trilogy, is certainly anti-Christian both in content and intent. The advertising of this movie has been very misleading about the religious message it conveys. The trilogy, both books and presumably the movies, introduce atheistic themes gradually, luring children into the story as a way to slip in the message. Advertisements are comparing The Golden Compass to The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Pullman’s work is, morally, the polar opposite of that of Tolkien and Lewis. Scholastic has even created a school curriculum set, including all three books, as a part of public school reading programs.
Works such as these need to be contradicted, but only in a Christ-like way. At their core, the His Dark Materials stories are a fantasy setting for the atheistic worldview, where death is the end of everything, all morals are subjective, and any idea of God is a tool for evil. Christians should not respond in ways that play into Pullman’s stereotypes of believers as ignorant, oppressive, and bigoted. A polite response combined with truthful answers can turn the release of The Golden Compass into a great opportunity to witness for Christ’s sake.