Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Catholic League takes aim at The Golden Compass

Well, the attacks on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials

are about to begin in earnest. There have been several controversies about the books since they first appeared on store shelves, but now that they are set to be released as movies, certain organizations are getting up in arms. Someone might actually see the movie! And after that they might read the book!
To quote the Catholic League's press release: “We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film’s producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film’s pernicious agenda really is.” A pernicious agenda? A deceitful stealth campaign? Pullman's trilogy was, apparently, "written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents." This is what my ol' philosophy prof used to call an “appeal to fear.” If you see the movie, then read the book, soon everyone and their children will be an atheist.
Now, full disclosure here, I'm a happy agnostic sitting on the fence, swinging my feet. I have no ax to grind with the Catholic church. In fact I’ve always been impressed by classes I’ve spoken to in the Catholic school system. It appears to me to be a church that values intellectual debate. That’s partly why the press release was so shocking to me. The difficulty with it and the corresponding video is that it denigrates the book and authors in general. His Dark Materials is a story, plain and simple. It is inspired by Paradise Lost and uses Christian elements to tell the STORY. Pullman is an atheist (actually if you want to know more of his beliefs read the interview with the The Literary Review) and he is writing from his own point of view. That’s his right as an artist. As an individual or a parent, make your own choice on whether you want to read these books or whether you want your children to read them. A group or organization that speaks with one voice attempting to blot out other views of the universe, that’s a problem. Can artists only write books that are supportive (or at the least, not offensive) towards Christianity?

Philip Pullman's own words on the agenda of the book are: "The problem for those who think there's an anti-religious anti-moral bias in the books comes when they haven't actually read the books: of course there's a criticism of organised theocratic tyrannical religion but who can disagree with that?" I’ve read the books. I felt the church he was criticizing was more the church of the 15th Century (or Inquisition times) than the modern church. If you want to see Pullman debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury visit this link.

(If you look close you can see Pullman's horns).

I do tire of arguments that use the “children” as the flag to wave to rally the troops. We don't want the children tainted. They must be protected. God forbid we let them read an imaginative book and then discuss it with them. How about we try not to limit their imaginations? Children are hardy. Their minds are questing for information about the universe around them. Give it to them. Don’t lock up their minds in a trunk.

As a final point I found it interesting that the League made sure to call Pullman a militant English atheist. There’s some incite-full language. No one likes militants (they use suicide bombs, right?). Atheists are to be feared. And finally, he's English! He's an outsider. Don't trust him. He probably drinks tea.


Blogger Leslie Ann said...

I've been waiting for this to happen; I knew it would start sooner or later. Harry has nothing on Lyra. His Dark Materials really pushes the boundaries, and I'm hoping the movies reflect that. It doesn't matter if you agree with Pullman or not; the books are a great way to start interesting philosophical, moral and religious debates.

Do you know if anyone has ever tried to have His Dark Materials banned from schools or libraries?

2:32 PM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...

I would not support "banning" these books from schools or libraries, unless they contained inappropriate material within the definition of various SCOTUS cases, and I do not think that is the case here.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Sandra Love Nichol said...

Well, Philip Pullman will speak Friday October 26th in Toronto at the Particles of Narrative conference to a sold out audience, a warm welcome. But if the naysayers want to stand outside on the sidewalk all night, shivering under their sandwich boards, I say bring them on.

6:27 PM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...

Particles of Narrative

8:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

So much for their spiritual fortitude. I'm also rather amused by their $5 charge for an electronic document, considering the gravity of the case at hand.

4:53 PM  
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