Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dark Materials

There's a lot of concern in some parts of the Christian world about the film adaptation of the first part of the Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, released as The Golden Compass. ( Apparently we can't use the book's term alethiometer ) The key concern being expressed is that the film is a piece of propaganda for Philip Pullman's strongly-held atheistic views, and as a result may work on the minds of the children and young people (let alone adults) who go to see it. Having read all three books, I know I'm poles apart from Pullman philosophically, but I do think that generating a climate of fear about this film is actually the wrong approach for a number of reasons.

First, calling for boycotts almost always makes things more popular, not less. Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood only hit no.1 once the BBC banned it.

Second, if Christians talk in fearful terms about this film, what does that say about their own security in their beliefs? I'm quite looking forward to seeing the film, especially spotting the compromises that Pullman had to make to accommodate a much more religious film-going public in the USA.

Third, Pullman's key target in both the book and the film is the magesterium, which could be construed as a parallel universe version of the catholic church. As such, his target would seem to be the image God he perceives mediated through his encounter with the Church. Those of us who are Christians might have some sympathy with him having problems with that - the crusades, inquisition, and many other evils of history have derived from a misguided understanding of God, which Christians and atheists alike would reject.

My question is whether he is rejecting God, or the image of God he has fixed in his head from whatever experiences he has had in the past within the Church. We could do well to try and understand that. What false God do we accidentally portray in the way we are in church, or as Christians in the world?

I suppose the final and most obvious point is that all films have an ideology - explicit or implicit - which we may or may not agree with. Atheists have made films before, and some of Disney's reported views were hardly very savoury. It's not Hollywood's job to put our views across; we need to teach our children to learn to watch critically (in the best sense of that word). If we simply insulate, then one day they will find themselves outside the bubble with no tools to deal with the array of views battering them.

We'll be taking the kids, and we'll talk about it afterwards. What is there to be scared of?


Steve McMahon said...

Spot on. The daft thing is that these books have been around for four or five years now and they were aimed at children anyway. Why was there no objection outside Waterstones or any other bookseller at the time?

I wonder if a lot of the furore has been intentionally generated by the film company itself in order to boost its ratings. In which case, it suggests that the film is not as good as it was supposed to be.

(I got halfway through Northern Lights before I got bored but Wendy and the boys enjoyed them all. I didn't detect any sudden atheistic tendancies in them.)

a dance in the sun said...

'What is there to be scared of?' The polar bears are armoured - that scares me!

More seriously I think most of what you said is spot on Mike. I question the idea that he is rejecting an 'image of god' rather than god because you can always say that - where's the line between an image of god and god itself? Aren't all our experiences, as humans, always going to be an 'image' and as such all we have to go on?

Mike Peatman said...

Absolutely, Steve

I read them before I came to Lancaster in 2002. They get more explicitly atheistic as you go on (especially when God dies). I still think that's the god of the magisterium, rather than God.

Matt, I once heard it said that rejecting the idea of God based on a false image might actually bring someone a step nearer to God. I have some sympathy with that, although I don't expect you to!

Ontology versus phenomenological. Can't resolve that just now; have some footie to watch