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Atheism for Christmas?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 30, 2007

On December 7th, New Line Cinema will release a film called “The Golden Compass” based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books are vehemently anti-Catholic and anti-God but the movie has been altered somewhat. The final result remains to be seen. I guess it will come as a sort of Christmas present from Hollywood.

Philip Pullman is an avowed atheist who wrote his novels in an effort to draw readers into an atheistic worldview. In the books, which have sold extremely well, the protagonists resist the evil power of the “Magisterium”, and it becomes increasingly clear as the reader moves through the trilogy that this “Magisterium” represents the Catholic Church and that the ultimate evil behind it is God Himself. The trilogy consists of Northern Lights (published in the US as The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.

Pullman and another children’s author, Michael Rosen, actually produced a course for schools called “Why Atheism?” This program is designed to persuade children eleven years old and older that theism in general, and Christianity in particular, are irrational and ultimately dangerous worldviews. As Pullman told a literary conference in Oxford: “We’re used to the Kingdom of Heaven; but you can tell from the general thrust of the book that I’m of the devil’s party, like Milton. And I think it’s time we thought about a republic of Heaven instead of the Kingdom of Heaven. The King is dead.”

Throughout the trilogy, priests are portrayed as evil and violent; one of them is an assassin. In contrast, an ex-nun who has lost her faith is positively portrayed. She describes Christianity as “a very powerful and convincing mistake.” The “Magisterium” kidnaps children in order to take out their souls. In the final volume, characters representing Adam and Eve kill God, who is referred to as YAHWEH. In a 2003 interview, Pullman stated point blank that “my books are about killing God.” He has also said he wants to “kill God in the minds of children.”

It is unclear how bad the film will be, apart from the incentive it will provide for people to read the books. New Line Cinema (a Time Warner company) was concerned that the anti-religious character of the books would hurt the movie financially, so it has watered down the themes, making the “Magisterium” stand not for the Catholic Church or God but simply for all dogmatic organizations. In real life, of course, nobody uses the term but Catholics.

Nicole Kidman will star in the film. Kidman has stated: “I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic” because “I was raised Catholic. The Catholic Church is part of my essence.” But one doesn’t really know whether thinking is part of Kidman's essence. It is quite possible she had never heard the term “Magisterium” before. In any case, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has launched a two-month protest campaign calling for a boycott of the film.

In truth, not having seen the film, it is difficult to condemn it. But the books were written self-consciously to counteract the Christian themes and symbolism of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. So the movie's connections and antecedents could scarcely be worse. Parents should be very much on their guard.

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