Have you listened in on the controversy swirling around The Golden Compass? Is it all hype? Is it a legit concern? Wondering where the truth really lies?
The movie The Golden Compass, based on the best-selling book by Philip Pullman, has been billed by some Christians as the latest Da Vinci Code-esque distortion of God and religion - with kids as the target audience for its devious deceptions. So every Christian teen (and adult, for that matter) should be asking, is this just the latest 'sky is falling,' over-reactionary Christian witch hunt, or are all the hype and warnings warranted?
Based on pre-release press reports, the anti-God elements found in the book have been significantly watered down in the movie version of The Golden Compass in an effort to make the movie more acceptable to a wider audience. But the concern is that the tamer, softer movie version will draw fans in and encourage them to read the rest of the books in the His Dark Materials (HDM) series (of which The Golden Compass is the first) - a trilogy of books that contain an increasingly hostile view of God and those who believe in God.
But back to the question at hand...Are the hype and warnings warranted?
Having read the entire HDM series, I found The Golden Compass, and particularly its sequels, disturbing and dangerously deceptive for kids. But while I would consider it inappropriate material for elementary age kids, middle and high school teens should be prepared and equipped to intelligently discuss it. Instead of throwing up the Christian barricades, consider using this controversial movie as an opportunity to talk about the spiritual dimension of life and to engage in genuine dialogue about how the God of the Bible and Biblical Christianity differ from God and religion as presented in the book series and movie.
But make sure you approach it with your eyes wide open and your spiritual radar attuned to God's truth about Himself and the life He calls His followers to. It would be wise to approach His Dark Materials with a solid Christian friend or adult alongside you, someone who you can bounce ideas off of and who will help you think critically about the worldview being depicted.
By now you're no doubt wondering, "What is it that's so disturbing to Christians about Pullman's work?" In a nutshell, his fantasy work describes alternate universes which incorporate half-truths about God and religion and presents them as alternate realities for explaining the supernatural spiritual realm.
Given the less provocative nature of The Golden Compass movie, compared to the later books in the series, you may walk out of the movie saying, "What's the big deal? ...nothing very anti-God there..." But you should be aware of the larger picture of where the author is coming from and where the series is headed.
In interviews Pullman clearly lays out his atheist worldview - going as far as calling C. S. Lewis' Narnia series "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read." So it should come as no surprise that the HDM series comes across on several levels as an anti-Lewis fantasy story. In the course of the series, the main character, young, charming Lyra (who is joined by the character Will in the second book) travels through multiple universes to uncover hidden truths using special tools. The tools consist of a golden compass that allows Lyra to see the truth and a subtle knife that allows Will to open and close pathways between universes. Lyra and Will's lives and identities are threatened by 'The Church'.
As a consequence, viewers/readers find themselves rooting for the children who are out to destroy evil and oppressive organized religion. They search valiantly to be reunited with their daemons (pronounced demons) and travel to the world of the dead to free the ghosts trapped there. By the end of the series, God has been killed - a God who is depicted as an old, weak, evil, manipulative liar. Plenty of provocative material here...but take a deep breath and do your research, because there's also plenty of opportunity to discuss Biblical spiritual truths.
Toward that end, let's take a look at a few specific distortions in the series and how you might use them as a springboard to a discussion with your friends about God.
One of the first and most obvious distortions in The Golden Compass is the use of the word 'daemon' (pronounced 'demon'). In Lyra's alternate universe, each human has a daemon which takes animal form, and serves as the outward appearance of a person's soul. One of the dark themes of the story includes sinister, experimental efforts on the part of 'The Church' to cut children and their daemons apart (separating body and soul) and killing children as the experimental process is botched. Because this word is pronounced demons, it results in a basic distortion of a word that the Biblical worldview uses for evil spiritual forces of darkness, while the book and movie use it to describe the characters' human souls.
• Ask your friends if they believe in a spiritual realm. Do they think people have a soul that is tempted in this life and lives on after they die? Do they believe in demons? Share what you believe using some examples of what Jesus had to say about this topic. (Luke 4:41, Matthew 8:28-29, Mark 6:7)
• Do you think it's confusing or uncomfortable that The Golden Compass uses the word daemon to describe the outward manifestation of a human soul? Is the 'redefinition' of the word concerning? Why or why not?
• What effect does it have on your understanding of the word when the characters converse intimately and consistently with daemons?
The Character of God.
In the books, Pullman calls God 'The Authority'. While the movie version of The Golden Compass has reportedly watered down this element, the depiction of God later in the HDM series is extremely warped and distorted from the Biblical worldview. Pullman's God is not the Creator God of the Bible who is so intimately invested in His creation that he sent his Son as Redeemer, but is an old, weak, evil angel masquerading as 'The Authority' and setting up churches to exercise His control over others.
Ask your friends if they believe there is a God? If so, what do they think He is like?
Do they think that God cares about them personally? Share what you believe, based on what the Bible teaches about the character of God. (Love: 1 John 4:13-17 and Judgment: Romans 2:5-8.)
Pullman's description of organized religion takes all the worst abuses throughout church history, combines them all together, multiplies them exponentially and slaps the label 'The Church' on the evil, abusive and distorted results. He describes a church that is in many ways the opposite of all the things Jesus calls his followers to be about. (Matthew 22:35-40)
• Find out if your friends have a generally positive or negative impression when they hear the word 'church'? Why or why not?
• Ask your friends what their reaction was to the way 'The Church' was depicted in The Golden Compass?
• How was it different from what the Bible calls Jesus' followers to be as the Body of Christ? (Acts 2:42, John 13:35)
Jesus refers to Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. (To learn more about this, check out the Soul Fuel article The Real Golden Compass.) While it's never easy to sift through truth and lies, the Bible leaves no doubt that the Truth will prevail in the end. And that's a truth we don't need a golden compass to help us uncover!
Jane Dratz works for Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., a ministry committed to energizing and equipping teens to know, live, share and own their faith in Jesus. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org. Send feedback to email@example.com.