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« Compass Movie Doesn't Capture the Spirit of the Novel | Main | Pastore Weighs in on Moreland's ETS Paper »

December 10, 2007


Just curious; why is this film worth four posts? I've see one (negative) mention over at LGM but otherwise nothing else.

Personally, I will see this movie. I get really frustrated when Christians come out strongly against a new book or movie and then when they are asked what is bad about it, they cannot give any good examples. I think we are to test the empty philosophies and combat their ideas and effectiveness.
I also don't really worry about giving my money to Pullman because of this. I am not sure boycott works. Christians boycotted darwin's ideas instead of combatting them and look how that turned out. On the other hand, we had made a defense of James Cameron's tomb of Jesus, or even the Da Vinci Code and nothing really happend with either of those, plus we were able to use both of those events as witnessing tools.
I don't really worthy about Pullman getting money from me because I know the money will pass away. Just some thoughts

Yeah, I had the same thought Alan. I think we are all aware of STR's feelings on the Compass by now and we are all aware that it makes some strawman/anti-relgious claims. Nuff said since there are other things to discuss without beating this movie into a bloody pulp.

Some comments/resources on Pullman's books from Tom Gilson:

This is an audio clip of an interview discussing the author and his books from Mars Hill Audio:

More analysis:

The link to Albert Mohler's comments was given before but here it is again for those who missed it:

Gabriel, I don't think seeing the movie is a good idea. If the ideas in the books/movies are toxic, we want to discourage people from taking their kids to it.

The tactic that seemed to work on DaVinci Code was to 1) know what was wrong with it and 2) encourage people to, not just not see it, but to see something else. The box office rules; if it fails at the box office, sequels won't be made. Money passes away, but money also helps make more movies and entrap more souls.

If you want to be familiar with his work, buy the books -- used.

Why *must* Pullman take "historical understanding" seriously when he's writing fiction! Again, please understand: Pullman's work is fiction! It does not purport to show how things are. It does not purport to represent Christianity. It does not pretent to make truth claims or make "arguments" against Christianity, Republicans, or vegitarians! Please stop this rampant persecution complex!

Gosh, Kevin. Are you concerned that we're persecuting the innocuous author?

Any plot that involves setting out to kill God and rants against the Church sounds rather polemical to me. If someone wrote a book about how the only good people are those who want to kill people named Kevin, and it was turned into a movie at the major theaters, you would raise a little objection, right?

And so, Kevin, I suppose no books or movies ever try to convey a worldview or a bias? Cmon, media and books are very often used as vehicles of a message the author wants to convey....C.S. Lewis and millions of others have done this and it is done so today.

I think that if you do not see the movie it should be for the right reasons. "I am not interested in fantasy films!" or "I do not want to support the works of authors who are obviously supporting a dangerous type of morality!" would be plausible though hardly invincible decisions. But if you see it, you are not inherently soiled by it if you carefully evaluate its claims and apply plausible criteria based on the Word and logical derivations that follow from it as well.

Don't stick your head in the sands because anything anti-Christian is to be avoided. Instead develop a healthy mental life where you can put these things in the right perspective. I remember all the rhetoric about Harry Potter and once I read them myself was astonished by how much misrepresentation and poor thinking there was out there on the Christian's side.

The "It's Just Fiction!" doctrine leaves much to be desired.

Carl Olson has a good article on this notion:

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt for those of you who won't take the time to read the whole thing:


This brings me to my final argument against the validity of the "It's Just Fiction!" Doctrine: if you apply it to one work of fiction, you need to apply to every work of fiction. If you say that The Da Vinci Code is just fiction, you need to say it about Hamlet and Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Jungle and Oliver Twist. Each is a work of fiction–and yet dozens, even hundreds, of essays, article, theses, and books have been written about them. Such is the world of literature and literary criticism. This is part of the work of literature departments at colleges and universities: to study and critique fiction. Does anyone think that the tens of thousands of teachers and professors who dedicate their lives to such work think that they wasting their time and energy on "just fiction"?

Kevin, he has actually explicitly said this was his goal. From the Washington Post:

"I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," says Pullman.

And again, from the Telegraph:

"if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against."

Obviously, he's not arguing that God is really a loser who deceived all the angels into thinking he was God. That's fiction. But his view that the Christian God is not good is reflected in his books, and his goal is to wake people up to the fact that the Christian God is not good.

So of course we won't argue about the fictional details. Nobody thinks his novel is true. But they'll hear loud and clear his moral characterization of the Christian God, and this just means we need to be sure we're doing a good job of describing God's goodness to others and answering certain objections about Him (He's petty, jealous, etc.).

Have you read the books?


No, I would not have any issues with such a book or movie. I will say that it is a silly story, but *it's fiction*!

And, yes, books can have biases and implied worldviews, but Pullman himself has denied any such agenda in multiple interviews (I just found half a dozen by doing a simple search). Despite this, many Christians continue to gripe and complain that Pullman is pushing atheism. When pushed to whether I would accept Pullman's word or some Christians who probably haven't even read his work or seen the movie, I accept Pullman.

So, according to Pullman, he is not presenting "arguments" or "claims." By all means, say that some things in Pullman's book are false (it is fiction after all); that's fine! Just stop this persecution complex and accept that perhaps, just perhaps, someone can write a book with anti-authoritarian and anti-religious themes at most in order to stimulate discussion rather than to push a specific agenda.

P.S. For those who have not read the series, only *one* character desires to "kill God"; it is not a central or guiding theme nor is it espoused by all characters.


I disagree. I do not think the tactic that worked with the Da Vinci code is an encouragement to see something else. I think what worked was to help people to be thinkers when they see a movie or read a book. I actually can see huge opportunities for showing your own kids how to think critically and help them realize to not just see a movie for entertainment. There will always be people trying to attack christianity, but if we are smart we will try to understand their arguements to better react to them... if we are better able to react to a movie or book, then we can also show our children how to be thinkers and not recievers.

Also, I don't think we can buy his books and make judgements about the movie... often movies are very different from the books they are about... to be able to truly combat the movie, one must know the actual movie.

Lastly, I know many of you will hate this suggestion, but I will be taking a non-christian to this movie to be able to open the door to the discussion that will certainly occur afterward. I know this movie will create a lot of discussion and discussion means more opportunity for the gospel.

BTW, Pullman (and others') diatribes against the evils of Christianity is incredibly disingenuous against the backdrop of daily reports of fanatics blowing themselves up in the name of Islam. Christianity is an easy target for people with ambitions for quick notoriety. Are people genuinely concerned about the evils of authoritarian abuses? Why no retrospectives into the glaring abuses of Islam? Why no movies portraying the evils of murdering innocents for a false religious motive?

I would almost dismiss Pullman and the like outright as opportunists, except that a book and movie series this prominent requires at least some response. But I'm left wondering, if someone sincerely believes that there is no God, why would they feel such animus against religion? What would be at stake - why should it matter?

>>P.S. For those who have not read the series, only *one* character desires to "kill God"; it is not a central or guiding theme nor is it espoused by all characters.

Kevin, that's simply not true. Asriel is gathering together people from all universes to destroy God. You can see this in the quote I gave on the earlier post:

"[The leader of the rebellion] showed me that to rebel was right and just.... He opened my eyes. He showed me things I had never seen, cruelties and horrors all committed in the name of the Authority, all designed to destroy the joys and the truthfulness of life.... He is the greatest commander there ever was. Every detail of his forces is clear in his mind. Imagine the daring of it, to make war on the Creator!"

They have to kill God so that Lyra can succeed and so the side that wants "us to know more and be wiser and stronger" will succeed over "those who want us to obey and be humble and submit."

This is the whole focus of the books. Pullman himself has said, "My books are about killing God." That's how he sums up his trilogy.


I've found a large number of interviews where this agenda is explicitly rejected. Here's the link to the blog I posted them at (becaust STR does not allow URL links):

In contrast to your interview, Pullman has also said:

"As for the atheism, it doesn’t matter to me whether people believe in God or not, so I’m not promoting anything of that sort. What I do care about is whether people are cruel or whether they’re kind, whether they act for democracy or for tyranny, whether they believe in open-minded enquiry or in shutting the freedom of thought and expression. Good things have been done in the name of religion, and so have bad things; and both good things and bad things have been done with no religion at all. What I care about is the good, wherever it comes from."

On your second quote, Pullman is also known to have said in another interview:

"I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.

"Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them."

Pullman's motivations are more complex than you think and I wonder about the context of the Washington Post quote. We all know that the press is often less than accurate when it comes to quoting people.

I forgot to add that Will (whom I would say is one of the two most-main characters) is guided by the angels and by his father to obtain the knife that has the ability to destroy God and then to join Asriel so he will succeed in his rebellion. This is the very knife that is featured in the title of the second book, The Subtle Knife.

The goal of killing God is the driving force of the entire series.

If God or the Church were really as we find in The Golden Compass, wouldn't such a God or organization be worth fighting against? Wouldn't the citizens of Stand to Reason be the first to fight against such a being?

I should add that that is why I don't think the "Let's kill God" motiff is central. The central concern is good versus evil, an attack against dogmatism and dictatorships (of all kinds). Aren't these things that good Christians as well should be fighting against? Again, Pullman himself has said as much in a number of interviews.

Kevin, have you read the books?

Kevin, I should add here that I see no need for Christians to have weekend seminars to prepare us against these novels or anything like that. We don't need to focus on these books at all. I just think we need to be prepared to answer questions about God's goodness, and we need to promote the truth about Him in general.

But the same time, I think a realistic reading of the novels can't miss the point of them. His denying it now that he's trying to promote the movie is just silly. It would be like a novelist writing about how people are destroying their fictional planet through pollution and then denying that his purpose is to influence people in the real world to be more ecologically-minded.


I'm starting into the second book. You didn't answer my question: if God or the Church is as they are portrayed in The Golden Compass, are they not things to be opposed?

>>I'm starting into the second book.

Okay, then. You need to get a little farther before you start making judgments. (Isn't this what you just chided Christians for?)

I didn't answer your question because it's irrelevant. Whether or not God is good is the very thing in question here. That's all I'm saying we need to address.

Imagine someone wrote a novel about the LDS church in a parallel universe. In the novel, Joseph Smith conspires with all the witnesses to perpetrate the hoax of the Book of Mormon in order to control every world in every universe. Since the issue has been raised, you respond on your blog by discussing the reasons you think it wasn't a hoax in the real world.

If someone then asks you, "Why are you telling us what you think about the real LDS Church? Wouldn't you oppose it if it were really like this?! You would, wouldn't you?", how would you respond?

The fact remains that if *all* Pullman wanted to say was "oppose dictatorships," he would have made up a completely new dictatorship. (Plenty of novels have done so. See Harry Potter, for example.) He would not have tied it directly to people in real Christian history, to direct quotes from the Bible, to biblical references to the Fall and Armageddon, and to Christian theology. I don't even understand why anyone would want to deny this. Pullman himself never seemed to deny it until he had to promote his movie to a religious audience. (And we can certainly read it for ourselves and come to reasonable conclusions even if he *does* deny it; his motivations don't matter as much as the text itself.)

And like I said before, I don't think he believes the church is exactly the way he describes in his book; the only thing he says that translates into the real world is that the Christian God is not good--and because of that, following Him leads to a loss of knowledge and wisdom. Nobody could miss that message.

I've already said way more than I ever wanted to about this series. I didn't even think it was worth my time, and I'd rather see it fade away. So I don't care about harping on it, and I'm NOT arguing this to get people riled up about the series; I just want people to be honest about what it plainly is (and you'll see more of it as you go on), and then I want Christians to go on their way, exalting God and speaking the truth about Him in the most clear way possible.


"Imagine someone wrote a novel about the LDS church in a parallel universe. In the novel, Joseph Smith conspires with all the witnesses to perpetrate the hoax of the Book of Mormon in order to control every world in every universe. Since the issue has been raised, you respond on your blog by discussing the reasons you think it wasn't a hoax in the real world."

Such a work of fiction has already been written many times over in the so-called counter-cult movement. But rather than claiming that it is historical fiction or just plain fiction, they claim it is history, which would then require a response. Otherwise I see no need for such a response.

If, however, someone did ask me if Mormonism so construed should be opposed, I would say yes. Truth should indeed be championed and if the fiction were actually reality or were portrayed as such, then it must be examined. But when it is written under the auspices of fiction--not just that, but *fantasy* fiction--then it is hyper-sensitive to construe it as a personal attack.

"The fact remains that if *all* Pullman wanted to say was "oppose dictatorships," he would have made up a completely new dictatorship."

Why? Would not any already existing organization that can, in some possible world, become dictatorial and militantly dogmatic be used? Why *must* Pullman create "a completely new dictatorship," as your words imply? I will say it again: you are under the thralls of a persecution complex that does not allow for even the distinction between fantasy and reality.

"the only thing he says that translates into the real world is that the Christian God is not good--and because of that, following Him leads to a loss of knowledge and wisdom. Nobody could miss that message."

Or we could see what he *actually* says in allowing for the possibility that God is good but "he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name."

He's not an atheist; he's an agnostic. He is open to the possibility that God exists and that God is good. He is, however, tired of what Christianity has done in God's name, things that he sees as deplorable and, if they are what God would have them do, then God would not be good. Yet, given what you (and many other zealous Christians) have written, no one would get that feeling that Pullman may be open to such a possibility. They would simply think that Pullman is another Dennett or Hitchins, except in fiction. I am also interested in the truth, but your (and others') depictions of his work are pseudo-truths.

I get the same thing when I read Evangelical depictions of Buddhism: they are the sorriest one-dimensional caricatures of a great religious tradition that has more going for it than such works with their sad generalizations are willing to allow. If this technique were not so widespread in Evangelical circles I wouldn't feel the need to jump on this particular example of it.

Kevin, it's the Christian God of Christian theology (not just the actions of Christians) that he hates. Even if he's open to the possibility that a god exists out there who is not like the Christian God, what is that to us? That has nothing to do with the issue. His comment is on the Christian God.

How do you know these are pseudo-truths if you haven't even read the books yet? And who said anything about personal attacks? All I've said is that he thinks the Christian God isn't good, and this plays out in his books. I don't view that as a personal attack, I view that as a false belief.


And how did you come to know that? Is the God as described in The Golden Compass exactly the God you worship or is it only similar in name? In relation to the Telegraph quote you give above, is its basis a misunderstanding on Pullman's part or does he really have issues with an omnibenevolent God? In the quote I gave he gives as part of the reason for his dissatisfaction the things Christians have done in his name, for example saying that God hates gays. Yes, perhaps this also stems from a misunderstanding. But we must be clear on the *reasons* for his agnosticism.

The reference to "personal attacks" is in relation to Christians taking The Golden Compas as a personal attack on Christianity, not in relation to your comments about Pullman (please read it more carefully).

So, I repeat: The Golden Compass is not pushing an atheistic agenda. While there is an aspect of "killing God," it is for good reasons, the very same reasons that people at Stand to Reason would also stand up against an authoritarian and dogmatic group like the Christians in the *fictional* story. Furthermore, Pullman is not an atheist; he's an agnostic. He's expressed dissatisfaction with Christian conduct, all done in the name of God, but not necessarily with God himself (both of his comments on this center around the issue of good and evil). But these important nuances are lost in your comments on it. With what you've said, again, people would think he's a "new atheist" out to intentionally "corrupt" children with atheism when such is quite possibly not his intent (even the "kill God" comments are in relation to a less-than-great God).

Things simply are not as simple as your posts seem to express. Yes, this is a blog and you can't go into all the detail that might be necessary. But I see this same lack of interest in seeing nuance when it is present in other longer Evangelical works when they address things that they don't agree with. This is not an isolated incident but seems to be a methodological truism in Evangelical apologetics.

>>In relation to the Telegraph quote you give above [where Pullman says he's trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief] is its basis a misunderstanding on Pullman's part or does he really have issues with an omnibenevolent God?

Kevin, Pullman talks about the actions of the God of the Bible. He believes those actions are petty, jealous, etc. This is the God he has issues with. Of course he wouldn't have any problem with a god who fit his personal ideas of perfect goodness. That goes without saying. I still don't understand what that has to do with anything. The point is that he doesn't think the God of the Bible--any being who would act the way the God of the Bible acts--is good. Of course I don't think he has a correct understanding of God--that is the whole point. The correct understanding is that God did act the way He did in the Bible *and* He is good; but Pullman doesn't know how those two things work together, so he rejects the idea that the Christian God is good. But the fact remains that he's very specific that it's the Christian God as described in the Bible whose character he wants to malign.

Look, if a man were to take out an ad in the New York Times to single you out by name, address, job, habits, family, etc. and then malign you and impugn your character based on your actions, should your friends say, "Well he's not really talking about Kevin because Kevin is good (he has good reasons for doing what he does). He's only talking about his fictional misunderstanding of Kevin. He's not opposed to the real Kevin." Or should your friends say the man has got it wrong and try to set the record straight? Who on earth would have the first reaction?

Maybe you'll have a different view after you read the books.

>>The reference to "personal attacks" is in relation to Christians taking The Golden Compas as a personal attack on Christianity, not in relation to your comments about Pullman (please read it more carefully).

Kevin, you may have misunderstood me. I said that I don't view Pullman's work (not my comments) as a "personal attack." That kind of language presents a completely different picture than my description that I think he has a false belief about Christianity and is promoting it in his book. "Personal attack" and "hyper-sensitivity" give the impression of hysteria, and you won't find that anywhere on this blog.

Kevin, I'd like to point out as well that it really doesn't matter at all what Pullman says his agenda is or is not, or whether he's an atheist or an agnostic, or whatever. The children reading his books are most likely not going to be reading interviews with Pullman to find out what he says about these things. They will take from the books only what they get by reading them.

So they will read books that promote the idea that all Christians are evil, that the "death" of God is something to be celebrated, that there is no life after death, that Christians want to suck the life and fun out of everything, and that "the Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake." (This is a direct quote from "The Amber Spyglass.")

Now, I believe kids are pretty smart, and can tell fiction from reality. But this kind of thing, and the frequency and consistency and volume with which it's done in these books, can't help but make an unfavorable impression of the *actual* real-life Christian religion, even to an intelligent child who knows that this is only fantasy. And to a child or adult who doesn't know much about Christianity to begin with, it could be even more detrimental. Why do you think people have a problem with negative portrayals of minorities on television shows or movies? Don't you think we know that TV shows are only "fantasy"? That those are only characters in movies, and not actually real people? Or do you think it's possible that negative stereotypes have the potential to do actual harm, to worm their way into the public consciousness or subconsciousness and make us believe things about a group of real people that are not true?

My concern is only with what people *actually* take away from these books, not with what Pullman intended for them to take away from them, or with the particular nuances of his beliefs. Those may be interesting points of discussion or topics for essays, but they are irrelevant in a practical sense.

Laurie said: "that negative stereotypes have the potential to do actual harm, to worm their way into the public consciousness or subconsciousness"

Absolutely! Schoolastic is promoting the books in schools. The movie will encourage some to go to the books. If they do, I think Christians need to be prepared to show how the Pullman view of God does not match the one true God of the bible.

As apologetics is an important function of STR, addressing the worldview of the Pullman novels is very appropriate. Popular culture is very powerful in conveying ideas. Christians need to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope" that we have.

Ideas that misrepresent or confuse the Christian worldview should be confronted, "but do this with gentleness and respect."

I would be interested in watching for a trend in childrens language using the term demon (daemon as Pullman writes it)to refer to something soul-like. This could be construed as a familiar spirit. Language also can have great power. I believe changing the associations of words and concepts can influence how people will think on a subject.

Amy has done a good job I think in articulating some of the problems with Pullman's view of God. I would encourage Kevin to check out all the links I posted to get the views of other informed Christians.

It is clear that Pullman has not been consistent in his public statements of his personal philosophy or his intent to insert it into the books.

Looks like Amy has certainly hit a nerve here.

'BTW, Pullman (and others') diatribes against the evils of Christianity is incredibly disingenuous against the backdrop of daily reports of fanatics blowing themselves up in the name of Islam.'

THANK YOU, Sage, for saying this. Put out a movie at Christmastime about destroying the Christian God - no problem. Mention anything at all that is negative about Islam - no matter how true it is - and everyone bends over backwards to apologize for it.

It's a double standard that continues to go on, and absolutely no one will address it.

Opening Box Office numbers are what determine the perceived success or failure of a movie. What surprised me was the low number of ticket sales this movie got. I figured the second in the trilogy would be the point at which audiences stopped going to see these movies (because of the nature of the 2nd and 3rd books).

These two sites are reporting the opening box office take at just under $26 million. It's okay, but it's not the blockbuster its creators were expecting.

I appreciate your comment, Mo.

Pullman and the new atheists can feel comfortable bashing the God of the Bible because Christians are generally understood to be patient and tolerant of our detractors, committed to using reason and persuasion against false charges against us. Is there any question what would happen if these authors leveled their hatred against the God of the Koran? We would quite possibly have three formerly bold, very dead authors in our headlines.

I do not know whether the Koran promotes the suicide bombings we read about every day now - I cannot make any comment here. But railing against Christianity as an "evil abuse of authority" are the words of a cowardly opportunist in my book. There are bigger fish to fry, and Pullman and his lot are sensationalizing for profit. Shame on them.

I am going to make this short and sweet. I am choosing not to take my family to see this movie. I would not want me or my family to get a speck of what this author is trying to do. I know that pornographic movies are bad and full of sin. Do I watch them so I will know what I am up against or so I can use them as a witnessing tool? No, because I know that I too am a sinner and can be tempted. So why would I subject me or my family to a movie/book that I know is trying to lure us in? I have enjoyed some the comments.

That's an interesting point, Heather. The things that are presented in pornography and a movie about a book penned by an atheist are two different things, though. One presents lust and the other presents ideas counter to our worldview. Avoid both if you feel the temptations are too great.

Yet I have a question. How are children (or anyone in particular) supposed to know that their ideas can withstand these kinds of attacks if they are constantly shielded from ideas that run counter to their worldview? I would say that if you think your children are old enough to think through some of the philosophical issues presented, then you can, after viewing this movie yourself, take them to see it and then have a family discussion about it afterwords. You can use it as a teaching tool if you so wish.

May basic point here is that I think that building a new generation of thoughtful Christians who know their faith is not irrational takes more than just shielding them from bad ideas and bad theology.

Chris, you make a good point, but I think a bigger point is that we don't want Hollywood to think these movies are a success. They don't know *why* people are seeing this movie, they only know how many people are in the audience, and to Hollywood, a larger audience = approval. This means His Dark Materials 2 and 3 will be made, and more people will be exposed to them. It also means the producers of this studio and others will believe these themes are something the public is "hungry" for, and more movies with those themes will be made in the future.

If we don't want that, we can't go see the movies in the theater. If you really think you need to see it or show your kids as a learning experience, wait for the DVD. If at all possible, check the DVD out from the library. Or better yet, check the *book* out from the library, as the movie seems to have sanitized the themes anyway.

I understand your point but in the world and of the world are two different things. Yes, me and my family live day by day in this world seeing all the sins and evil without paying for it. I believe putting money into sins pocket would put us closer to being of the world. We are simple Christian family that live our lives around love. I do not believe this movie teaches love from what I've read about the book reviews and the author's review. What I believe and live by is .... If it is not FOR GOD, then it is AGAINST GOD!!

Actually I think it is obvious what makes an atheist tick. He is angry at God. Put simply that way it becomes a sneer. But the fact is I often feel that way too. He so often is presented in a way that reminds me of a cross between King Xerxes, and my Junior High principal. Then there is the difficulty of understanding things you can't understand but that bother you.
Of course saying their inclination is the same as their argument would be an ad hominem and ad hominems are not only illogical they are unchivalrous. That is it is no different then them saying "religion is a crutch". Or wouldn't be if I was using that as a debate.
But that is not my point. My point is that I can understand some of their frustrations, however exasperating they are.

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