FIRST-PERSON: The sweet deception of 'Compass'
Marketed as a wholesome family story resembling the tales of Narnia or "Lord of the Rings," the film coming out Friday starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig is a celluloid version of the first in a three-book series by British author Philip Pullman. It is a story in which two 12-year old children -- a girl named Lyra and a boy named Will -- have adventures rescuing the world from institutional Christianity, learning along the way that sin is the key to "wisdom" and saving the universe depends on killing the God of the Bible.
Replete with sympathetic talking animals and heroic battles, Pullman's story rides a wave of well-publicized books by atheists crusading to rid the culture of its dept to Christianity. These include "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "God Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. But while these are written for savvy adults, the Pullman story aims at leading children to reject the biblical God.
Some could wonder if Christian reaction to Pullman's books popularized by the coming movie is perhaps overstated or hypersensitive. But it may if anything be understated, because there is simply no doubt in this case about what the author intends. Philip Pullman has made that all too clear in repeated statements reported in publicity surrounding his work.
Pullman has recently risen to sensational status due mainly to the opening provided by the extraordinary popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Pullman credits the Potter series for easier acceptance of his own work saying, "I was quite happy for Harry Potter to get all the attention so I could creep underneath all of it." He explains that while the Potter series conditioned readers to favor the occult, he was "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said." Subversive in what way? Well that is because, he admits, "My books are about killing God."
Pullman is not shy about his spiritual views. He announces: "I'm an atheist. There is no God here. There never was." He is "all for the death of God" and attributes his writing success to "pigheaded self-belief, undamaged by the facts, that's what you need." While Pullman writes in the genre of C.S. Lewis, he despises Lewis intensely, not for lack of talent but for his Christian faith and biblical morality. Pullman once panned the Narnia books as "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice," and, when Disney produced "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," he said, "If the Disney corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they'll just have to tell lies about it."
Pullman claims his trilogy for children -- composed of "The Golden Compass," "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass" -- is not "pure fantasy." Rather, he says the story is about "stark reality," meaning he uses fantasy as a mechanism for teaching children something "real," something about the way things are in "real life." Thus the author of "The Golden Compass" and its companion volumes has already told the world they are specifically crafted to get children to accept what he thinks and believes they should think and believe about the real world, the real church and the God that Christians really do trust and worship.
Pullman says his story is about "mirroring the consciousness of growing, learning, developing (moral-spiritual) consciousness." He also says, "The theme of the whole thing is the ending of innocence and the beginning of wisdom." But while this might sound reassuring, parents need to understand that Pullman does not mean what they most likely assume. That is because, for Pullman, the "ending of innocence" and "beginning of wisdom" is not what comes from fearing God but the reverse. Pullman's is a wholly contrary "wisdom" that requires killing the biblical God and embracing what God calls sin.
"The Golden Compass," the first volume in Pullman's trilogy, covers the least overtly offensive part of his three-part story, and the film version opening this weekend has toned down some of the more blatantly anti-Christian elements. Yet Pullman's alluringly sweet anti-Christian, anti-God story line is the same in the movie as in the book, which makes it all the more critical that parents realize the author truly does mean to capture the minds of their children not merely for commercial but for spiritual reasons.
It is crafted to fire interest, not only in purchasing books and spin-off products or in packing theatres to see movie sequels, but also in adopting the mindset or spirituality conveyed by Pullman's story. And this has to be sobering for thoughtful parents.
The story beginning with "The Golden Compass" features clergy who torture children as lab rats; homosexuals angels; wise witches; revered shamen; getting in touch with inner "daemons"; sinning to unleash spiritual energy; and a brilliant ex-nun (Mary Malone) who reenacts the Serpent in the Garden of Eden -- but this time as a trusted mentor who leads the new Eve and Adam to embrace the "wisdom" of lost purity and to seek cosmic power from killing God.
Pullman explains that "Lyra is Eve, Mary Malone is the Serpent who teaches her how to fall in love, and Will is Adam." Mary Malone, who will not appear until the second film, is the one who by the end of the story encourages Lyra and Will to eat forbidden fruit, destroy God, and explore unmarried sex in order to gain god-like power for running the universe on their own terms.
The sort of "reality" Pullman wants children to embrace is one in which sinning is the key to moral discovery, temptation leads the way to spiritual life, biblical evil is actually good, biblical good is actually evil, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden is their most trustworthy mentor, and their ultimate enemy is the biblical God -- the one the book calls "the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty."
As is so often the case with atheists, Pullman's aversion to all things biblical boils down to forbidden sex. In the third book of the series, the Serpent figure, Mary Malone, explains how sinful sex was her main reason for rejecting God. She says: "And I thought: am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? ... And I took the crucifix from around my neck and I threw it in the sea. That was it. All over. Gone.... So, that is how I stopped being a nun."
"The Golden Compass" is a not so subtle apologetic for reversing biblical truth and subverting virtue by the "wisdom" of sin. And it does that perfidiously by turning parents into accomplices for leading their own children toward spiritual destruction. Parents are warned that Pullman's story is likely to harm children far more than adults and to lead unformed minds much father astray than minds already made up one way or the other. That is because it takes the undiscerning trust children naturally render empathetic adults, and uses it to teach children to loathe what they should most trust and to trust what they should most loathe.
Jesus warned that we should pay close attention to "signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3), meaning that we should be alert to cultural indicators signifying the approach of major shifts affecting the knowledge and practice of spiritual-moral truth -- what Francis Schaeffer called "true-truth" because there is only one genuinely real truth, that being what God defines for us, not what we chose for ourselves.
Certainly one of the "signs of the times" marking our culture today is zeal for atheism coupled with growing intolerance, ridicule and disrespect for all things biblical -- for Christianity in general and for the biblical God in particular. Christians are not yet facing overt religious persecution, but a film that sweetly leads children to fight their Savior and embrace the Enemy of their souls is an indicator -- an early indicator -- of the warning given by Jesus that, "If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household" (Matthew 10:25).
Daniel R. Heimbach is professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. To read Baptist Press' overview story about "The Golden Compass" click here.