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Fearing The Golden Compass? How small is your God?

November 10th, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 24 Comments

After finding a couple of good links on the matter, and seeing a good (virtual) friend deal with it, I thought writing my own complete blog post would not be necessary. But then he ended with “I look forward to your blog post on this topic”. So here we go.

This train of thought started with Lady Guinevere’s post, Moet asb nie hierdie movie ondersteun nie! Lees asseblief! (Please do not support this movie! Please read!), with a statement like this:

Please don’t take your kids to see this movie!! We need to get the word out about this movie and make sure that no one supports it!!!

This makes me sad. I ask myself, how small must a person’s God be, that they fear watching a movie like this? Maybe they need to recite Psalm 23 as a mantra…

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Nevertheless, I do understand Lady Guinevere’s fearful reaction. Because parents have been too scared to explore “valleys of death”, they do not know how to provide their children with the necessary guidance to do the same. A child growing up in a very protective, close-minded environment, could find the process of actually thinking, rather fearful. Naturally, we want to protect our children from this fear, so traditional wisdom teaches us to keep them away from it. Beautiful wisdom, the wisdom of compassion, the wisdom of conscious living, the wisdom of Jesus, encourages us to not fear foreign culture. Go, Walk the Streets of Athens (1, 2, 3). Learn to understand “their” culture. In the process, you not only get an improved understanding of your fellow humans, allowing you to live a more compassionate life, you also get to learn more about your own God, and isn’t the pursuit of getting to know your God one of the greatest aims of your life?

I have explored far and wide, and my understanding of “God” has grown tremendously. My God is bigger than that. I suspect Johan Swarts’ God is bigger than that as well. My Jesus has set me free from bondage, free from baggage, given me life, and life in abundance. I so wish you (other fearful Christians, as well as fundamentalistic anti-theists) could experience this freedom, this lack of fear. I really do not care what path you take to get to get there, I just sincerely hope you can eventually get there. Life becomes so much more beautiful, and compassion so much easier.

Lady Guinevere’s concerns are summarised well in comment 14. As much as I would like to respond to that, others have already done a much better job of it than I could hope to do. Please read Christians Shouldn’t Fear Philip Pullman and His Trilogy at Beliefnet, written by a Christian. I repeat, go read it! Thanks to Bertus! for pointing it out. Also consider my (virtual) friend Timothy Mills‘s comment in response to Lady Guinevere’s comment (emphasis mine, and URLs turned into in-text hyperlinks):

Lady Guinevere’s 14th comment is an understandable defensive/fearful misreading of the books.

The books do recast the temptation/fall as a story of growing up and becoming fully human. But then, I came across this idea earlier in the writings of Christian psychotherapist M Scott Peck (Road Less Travelled), so it’s hard to call that an anti-Christian message.

It’s funny that she infers a sexual experience as the climactic event. It isn’t described as such in the book, and in interviews Pullman has directly refuted such speculation:

Interviewer: … I read a review that protested that they consummate their relationship and I thought, ‘I must have missed that.’

Pullman: I don’t know what they did. I wrote about the kiss – that’s what I knew happened. I don’t know what else they did. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I think they were rather young to, but still…

As most Christian reviews point out (fearful or liberal), the Authority of the books is unlike the God of modern enlightened believers in many key respects. The differences are important. The Authority represents the sort of God-belief that has motivated horrible acts throughout history, and continues to do so. I am glad to see that some Christians (ie, the link you give) take this difference as important. I always find it odd when someone (such as Lady Guinevere) says on the one hand “He is attacking my belief,” and on the other hand “What he’s attacking doesn’t look anything like my belief.”

If Pullman destroys readers’ belief in the sort of god depicted in his books, then good: it’s the sort of belief that deserves no respect, and that should be refuted by all compassionate people.

If they inspire humanist values in readers, as exemplified in the heroine and those who aid her, then good: these are good values, whether you see a god behind them or not.

The problem with the 14th comment is that she is only reacting to what Pullman rejects and condemns in his books; she makes no mention of what he promotes. Inquiry. Curiosity. Maturity. Compassion. Determination. Loyalty. Opposing tyranny and evil.

That very last paragraph? That’s the kind of stuff I believe Jesus stood for. In that sense, I feel Pullman is shouting the gospel from the mountain tops. What more could I possibly add to that?


Categories: Religion and Science
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24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sonkind // Nov 10, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Excellent post! I did read Lady Guinevere’s post and words failed me to respond. Maybe because I have never believed that watching a specific movie or reading a specific book can cause the demons to take possession of me or mine. Just because I know my believe in my God is too strong too be blown away just like that.

    And just last night I got, for me, the best compliment about how I raised my children. The person told me: “They were very lucky to be raised with open minds.” I taught them to have respect, but not always to blindly obey, because even people in authority positions can sometimes be wrong.

    And I taught them that foreign not always meant
    enemy or evil.

  • 2 Johan Swarts // Nov 10, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    ek hou baie van hoe jy dink. sal later bietjie ponder en comment. nou eers hierdie vervlakste essay klaarkry…

  • 3 gerhard // Nov 11, 2007 at 1:46 am

    i’m sure the author of the movie and “militant” richard dawkins are thinking…
    ‘I have explored far and wide, and my understanding of “nature” has grown tremendously. Understanding has set me free from bondage, free from baggage, given me life, and life in abundance. I so wish you could experience this freedom, this lack of fear. I really do care about what path you take to get to get there because your actions effect my life , that of my decendents and friends, I sincerely hope you can eventually get there. Life becomes so much more beautiful, and curiosity so much easier…’
    … right now

  • 4 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 1:55 am

    Yes! Indeed! Bingo! And I celebrate that.

  • 5 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 1:58 am

    Oh wait, no… I wasn’t paying enough attention:

    I really do care about what path you take to get to get there because your actions effect my life

    Why? That doesn’t make sense. What does it matter if you use a different label but behave exactly like Richard Dawkins would like you to? I think you’re sketching out Dawkins to be more of a fundamentalist than he really is. Don’t do that to the poor man, he gets enough flak as it is. And why remove compassion?

    Humanism rules!

  • 6 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 2:13 am

    And you’re tiring me out and monopolising my time. (And that is my fault, yes, because I let you, so don’t think I’m blaming you here…)

    Can I suggest that you please try to see the good in what I’m trying to write, rather than trying to criticise every little bit that you could possibly criticise? That’s a very grim way to go through life. It doesn’t make life beautiful, it makes it ugly. So I do wish you could get to a point where you can recognise more beauty… I don’t care what path you take to get there, I just hope (and pray? hehe) that you’ll get there.

    Also always bear in mind who I’m talking to, who my target audience is. The labels you choose depend on the target audience. When talking to Germans, it’s good to speak German. You must realise this by now.

    I’m going to have to start ignoring your comments… unless you can reduce their quantity and verbosity? Thanks.

  • 7 Timothy Mills // Nov 11, 2007 at 2:35 am

    Thanks Hugo – I’m always delighted to share my thoughts (or have my thoughts shared) with others.

    I came across another example of this fearfulness in some believers a year ago when talking with some local Baptists. I observed that the qualities they described of the prayer experience – openness to answers, quietness of mind, attentiveness, and others – also seemed to apply to meditation. I wondered if prayer and meditation were in fact parallel practices from different cultures.

    They told me that I was very wrong. Unlike prayer, where you are focussed on God, meditation is dangerous because Satan might exploit your openness to corrupt your thoughts.

    This type of fearful reaction is the sort of thing that will cut them off from experiences that would otherwise enrich their lives and their understanding of themselves and others. And that makes me sad.

  • 8 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 2:40 am

    Thanks Tim! I agree that meditation and prayer do have very much in common.

    I have a very large number of such examples, found both in my extended family, and in my own past. It’s truly scary stuff… and sadness is the inevitable reaction for a humanist. 😉

  • 9 gerhard // Nov 11, 2007 at 5:52 am

    actually dude , you are speaking to a german? (hence bad spelling , gramma, verbosity) so what language are you going to use?

    why saying ‘I really do care about what path you take to get to get there because your actions effect my life’ make this in any way fundamentalist? it is showing concern. dawkins does care that is why he makes things like root of all evil and god delusion. he from what i think he said is that he agrees with the christian morals etc. call it the way of christ. but he also fiercely apposed to christian methods of indoctrination and behaviour etc. He preaches that the idea of god is harmfull to oneself in many ways while conceding that for some it is beneficial if not needed. i call that more agreeable anti-thiesm than atheism.
    i have noticed this trend that as soon as you are an active atheist or anti-theist that you _will_ be called militant or fundamentalist as if doing something about the world around you is shameful.

    i think anti-theism isn’t really about disallowing religion. I think it is more about recognizing the danger of the power religion has which is if you ask me is more power than any weapon even in a liberal dosis. this kind of Power over you must be made inert. after all you wouldnt want one of those religions that you as a religious person see as crazy (say scientology or mormonism) rise to the top as the dominant power base?
    Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 1
    Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 2

    dude, i see the good in what you are trying to do. 🙂 its not criticising its questioning.
    I may sound a bit bitchy when doing it but its questioning you 🙂 question someone and you can get supprised . its fun . its good. its healthy.

    hey what is wrong about monopolising your time? we just need to get more people involved in this debate. the more diverse the better.
    why not start a post on something that we’ve discussed.


  • 10 freddy // Nov 11, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Ek dink dit is ‘n great post hierdie. Ek identifiseer met wat jy hier skryf.

    Ek wil net ‘n paar dinge noem wat na my mening dikwels vergeet word:

    Menigmaal “leer” mense goed in hulle lewe, en is van mening dat hierdie “nuwe” inligting beslis ook deur alle ander mense geleer moet word… onmiddellik. Ek doen dit ook: Mens gaan deur fases van persoonlike groei, en dan verwag ek van ander mense om asb. tog ook nou dadelik deur daardie groei te gaan en te dink soos ek. Maar mens kan dit seker verstaan. (Ek meen, EK doen dit dan :))

    Maar, ek raak heel grommig wanneer mense dit met kinders doen.

    Mense dink dikwels kiddies is net klein grootmensies wat soms bietjie laf is. Ons word dalk kwaad vir die eng manier waarop ons grootgeword het, en besluit dan dat die nuutste generasie kinders dit goddank nie gaan beleef nie. En dan wil ons hulle onmiddellik “loslaat”.

    Ek hoef nie alles hier te skryf oor kinder-ontwikkeling nie. Gaan google “Piaget” en “cognitive development” en gaan kyk self.

    Is wiskunde nie ‘n beeldskone wetenskap nie? Ek dink nogal my kids sal dit geniet. Ek gaan egter nie baie slim wees as ek op hulle vroee ouderdom probeer om algebra en ingewikkelde meetkunde in hulle koppe te prent nie.

    My mening is: SO sleg as wat dit is om jou kind geen keuses toe te laat nie (want/sy leer nie verantwoordelikheid nie), net so sleg is dit om hulle helemal toe te gooi met keuses sonder riglyne. Eintlik dink ek dit is ‘n uiterste vorm van disrespek teenoor die mensheid van die kind.

    “Maar,” se jy, “Golden Compass” is nie ingewikkelde teologie nie. Dis ‘n storie!

    Ja, wel. Meeste groeigeleenthede vind plaas dmv stories.

    My gevolgtrekking is dan:

    Ek wil my kinders nie in kokonnetjies grootmaak nie. Dit vra wel balans. Aan die een kant wil ek hulle gedurig bewus maak van verskeidenheid en bietjie wyer dink. Aan die ander kant wil ek hulle nie oordonder met honderde denkraamwerke, my arms in die lug opgooi en se: “Ag, wat maak dit saak?” nie. Want eerlikwaar, wat NOU vir my saak maak, traak hulle meesal nie nou nie. (En ek gaan my kleuter ook nie klub toe stuur nie)

    So: Ken jou kind. Of die kind met wie jy gaan fliek kyk. Gesels. Wees ingelig oor ouderdomstoepaslikheid. Help jou kind om te dink … op sy/haar vlak.

  • 11 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Dankie! Great stuff… Watter ouderdom praat ons nou van, terloops? Single-digit ouderdom raai ek. Dit geld seker ook nog ‘n bietjie vir tieners, maar heelwat minder?

    Terloops, RLP se bydrae is hier:

  • 12 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 9:05 am

    @gerhard: I’m hopefully learning French next year. Maybe I can try learning German after that. (As mentioned in my “A Translation Service?” post. If you’ve not seen that yet, what about less writing, more reading?)

    hey what is wrong about monopolising your time? we just need to get more people involved in this debate. the more diverse the better.
    why not start a post on something that we’ve discussed.

    Because I have posts already written, scheduled until the end of the month. Some of these posts will answer some of your questions (most of them might just raise more). Because of this, I suggest remaining on-topic.

    Now my thesis needs to monopolise my time, and badly. So we’ll talk again some other time.

  • 13 freddy // Nov 11, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Ja, single digit kiddies.

    Ek sou dit nogal wys vir kids so vanaf 11-12, met dien verstande dat ons daaroor gesels. Frankly, ek dink dis stupid self vir n volwassene om enige movie te kyk sonder om met iemand daaroor te chat. (Behalwe natuurlik Poena is Koning, tensy jy daarna debriefing nodig het).

    Oja, en for that matter, dink ek nie Passion of the Christ is goeie kykstof vir enige mens nie.

  • 14 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Ai, ek ken nie my Bybel goed genoeg nie. Ek het nou hard gesoek (met, maar kon nie kom op die plek waar Paulus(?) saam stem mens moet chat oor dinge nie… Iets in die lyn van:

    “where two or three agree in his name”

    of so iets?

  • 15 Hugo // Nov 11, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks Steve. The verse I was looking for was Jesus, not Paul. Matthew 18:20:

    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (KJV)

    The reason I could not find it? I didn’t pay enough attention to the gospels, thinking it’s Paul. And I searched the NIV, not the KJV, so “gather” didn’t help. NIV has:

    For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

    The Message:

    18-20″Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

  • 16 gloep // Nov 11, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Fearing the Golden Compass? Gaan lees dan die boeke. En moenie my kop probeer sensor nie.

  • 17 Bertus! // Nov 12, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Ek kan nie sê hoe lekker dit is om hierdie post te lees nie, ek sou dit nie beter kon verwoord nie. Dis maar eintlik wat geestelike vryheid beteken, is dit nie, om nie meer bang te wees nie. As jy eers daai sprong in die donker gemaak het, geleer het om dinge aan ‘n eerlike lewe te onderwerp eerder as om benepe daaraan vas te klou, dis dan dat mens leer wat vertroue regtig beteken, dis dan dat mens besef alles is eintlik oukei. As jy kan vra en kan lees en kan luister sonder om bang te wees waarheen eerlike vrae jou gaan vat, dis dan wat jy besef hoe wonderlik dit is om nie meer bang te wees nie. The absence of fear.

  • 18 idiwidi // Nov 13, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Dankie vir hierdie inskrywing. Ek het die hele bohaai vinnig elders raakgelees en gehoop iemand sal tyd maak vir ‘n oordentlike teen-inskrywing. En hier is dit.
    Bertus! jy praat die waarheid soos ek dit ook ken.

  • 19 Patrick Roberts // Nov 16, 2007 at 7:04 am

    yeah, i wouldn’t spend the 9 bucks a head to watch the movie, and i also wouldn’t worry too much about whether this movie will “kill God”… hmmm, remember what happened last time people tried to kill God?

  • 20 When Economics Destroys Press Freedom // Nov 17, 2007 at 8:21 am

    […] The column pointed out that Satanism is also a religion and has the right to be practised. (Viva “freedom of religion”.) Instead of reading the column, most “Christians” in this country prefer to bury their heads in the sand, rather than listen to someone that thinks differently. That is not wat Jesus would do, sorry. Understanding does not mean agreeing. Can’t we aim for greater understanding? Please? Would it help if I point out that most people don’t even know what Satanism is? Probably not, they’re all too scared. […]

  • 21 gerhard // Nov 24, 2007 at 1:52 am
    this is how small the Catholic God is.

  • 22 Erwin McManus on Eating Meat on the Streets of Athens // Feb 9, 2008 at 10:33 am

    […] have been talking about “Walking the Streets of Athens” in a number of places. This idea applies to anyone wanting to make a difference in other people’s lives. You need […]

  • 23 What is God?: The Personal God // Feb 26, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    […] my post about the Golden Compass, I quoted Timothy Mills: …she is only reacting to what Pullman rejects and condemns in his […]

  • 24 Dan Dennet sez: Find Yerself a “god”! // Jul 13, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    […] So, the committed, dedicated humanist has a “god”, and is committed and dedicated to that “god” with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind. And integral to the humanist’s “god”, and what it means to be committed to it, the humanist loves his neighbour as himself. The “god” that Pullman advocates, is apparently a god of “inquiry, curiosity, maturity, compassion, determination, loyalty, opposing tyranny and evil”. (Thanks to Timothy Mills for that list, I wrote about it in my post about the Golden Compass.) […]

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