The Golden Compass Revisited

In an earlier rant on the Golden Compass, I pleaded with those who are followers of Jesus to use the brains God’s given them to form their own opinions rather than consuming the gossip and half-truths of hate mongerers who call themselves Christian.

I finished both The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. My favorite local librarian, Sarah Sugden warned me that the only good book in the trilogy was The Golden Compass. The others, especially The Amber Spyglass, are awful. So I’ll abide by my librarian’s recommendation and not read the third.

Pullman has the ability of a good storyteller to create believable worlds. With the blend of science, pseudo-science, and spirituality, his work reminds me of that of Madeleine L’Engle…but only as an apprentice’s work is a shadow of the master’s.

Pullman certainly has an axe to grind against the Church and against God. Indeed, the trilogy is about declaring a war on God and completing the revolt started by Lucifer so long ago. If you can get over that little detail, the story is fairly engaging. 🙂

It intrigues me how “biblical” Pullman’s worldview is. Good and bad angels, destiny and free will, powers outside of ourselves influencing our lives. Sure there are witches but those are in most good stories (C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, J.K. Rowling).

As a pastor, it’s pretty obvious that what Pullman calls “the Church” isn’t the Church as I know it. His Church is a power-mongering, sex obsessed, control-freak monstrosity. A church and a God that’s more interested in submission and obedience than creativity and life. Apparently they overthrow God in the third book. He turns out to be a senile invalid who’s easily killed by his cart being overturned by a mindless monster. If this really is God, I say “good riddance.”

Based on some recent conversations I’ve had, this view of the Church is commonly shared in our culture. Even among Christians.

As I started looking at history through this prism, I began to see why. So much of church history has been sex-obsessed, mostly keeping away from sex as though it were evil. Even to the point of saying the “original sin” was sex. (What a crock!)

And look at the vocal Christians in politics, so much of what they’re screaming about is sex centered: abortion, sex ed in schools, gay marriage, etc. Seen through this prism, God is reduced to a sort of prude in the sky incessantly nagging humanity like Orville Jackson’s “Aunt Lucy” (both played by Bob Hope) in the 1942 movie The Road to Morocco.

Pullman didn’t have to get too creative to portray the Church this way. We’ve brought it on ourselves with our “gospel of sin management.”

Control and power-mongering are not the gospel of Jesus. Jesus says it’s the thief that comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” but that he came to bring life, and bring it more abundantly (John 10:10). Interestingly, he doesn’t come across as sex obsessed or interested in “sin management.” He doesn’t get his disciples to take classes or create programs or grade them on perfect attendance. (He even gets questioned because his disciples don’t fast enough! Matthew 9:9-17)

Instead, he’s come to destroy the works of the enemy: theft, death, and destruction. According to him, if you see those things, you know they’re from the enemy no matter what they call themselves. (Some will even say “Lord, Lord, did we not…” See the full passage at Matthew 7:15-23).

I certainly don’t think everyone needs to read stuff like Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.” Nevertheless, here are some things I’m taking away from my reading of his work:

  • Christians don’t need to be blindly afraid of fiction. It can often show us a better view on either reality or how people perceive reality. That can then help us change and grow.
  • As well meaning as the book-banning police may be, it’d be better for us to stop opposing this stuff. Opposing it just reinforces the preconceived notions of us being control freakish kill-joys. And it helps sell millions more copies of the books than might otherwise happen. Talk about free publicity!
  • We all have minds. Rather than being lemmings following the thought police off a cliff of ignorance, we need to use our minds to the glory of God. Indeed, the Jewish sages taught that study is the highest form of worship. If we were to saturate ourselves in study of Scripture, these “attacks” would be far less intimidating.
  • Finally, while not all of us are going to read these books or watch these movies, we should encourage those equipped to interact with culture to do so. The lingua franca of 21st century western culture is movies, tv shows, music, and books. If at least a portion of us isn’t “learning the language,” we’ll be heading to irrelevancy at warp speed. It’s unconscionable for us to expect people to learn our Christian code-language in order for them to learn about the grace and mercy and life and joy offered by Jesus.

Those are a few of the takeaways. I think I’m much stronger in my faith for having read 2/3 of the trilogy. And I’m in a much better place to engage people–and to beware of the centuries-old tendency to reduce the Gospel to the anemic message of “sin management”!

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Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman helps leaders lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. The author of "Ask Without Fear!®," he is the founder of The Concord Leadership Group and FundraisingCoach.com. He's also the executive director of TheNonprofitAcademy.com and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook. To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to http://thenonprofitacademy.com/21waysebook

4 thoughts on “The Golden Compass Revisited”

  1. “It’s unconscionable for us to expect people to learn our Christian code-language in order for them to learn about the grace and mercy and life and joy offered by Jesus.” Agreed.

    Marc, you may enjoy a book I read recently – “UnChristian” by Kinnaman and Lyons (Barna group research findings)

  2. Thanks Renee! Interestingly, I’ve just been called by people that are organizing an event called Q, apparently based on that book!

  3. Marc, I want to thank you for this post. As an agnostic who tries so hard to focus on the benefits and goodness of religion (any religion), you have restored my faith in… well, faith. Faith and science are not enemies; in fact, they should complement one another. I appreciate your acknowledging The Golden Compass as a work of fiction, and, in doing so, you have showed those who fear difference that there is no reason to fear it.

    Sometimes, it’s difficult to think there is goodness left in the world, and it’s mostly science fiction that reminds me there is always reason to hope.

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