The “Straw God” of the Golden Compass

golden-compass.jpg

MAYBE BY NOW, YOU’VE found it in your email: a warning against a movie opening this week with the title “The Golden Compass,” starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel “James Bond” Craig, and Sam Elliot, among others.

I won’t reproduce the email (you can find it here on the rumor-and-urban-legends site Snopes.com). Yet while the email does get some of its facts wrong, the truth is that yes, the movie is based on the first of a trilogy of books by Philip Pullman entitled His Dark Materials—aggressively anti-God and pro-atheist volumes.

It arrives in theaters a little more than a year after The Da Vinci Code—a movie Christianity Today reviewer Josh Hurst described as “full of hooey, heresy and borderline blasphemy.”

I have some observations about this movie, from my perspective as both a Christian and a father (well, OK, grandfather as well!). But first, I’ll quickly note a few facts that have put some Christians and churches on the defensive:

  • “My books are about killing God,” says Pullman—a goal he clearly hopes to accomplish in the minds of children, his primary intended audience. And that is borne out in the storyline of the books and this first in what is planned to be a corresponding movie trilogy.
  • One of his hero characters in the movie, in a sort of Da Vinci Code moment for kids, says, “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake.”
  • In a 2001 interview, Pullman said he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”
  • The representative hero of Compass is a little girl named Lyra on a quest to kill God. In the final book—The Amber Spyglass—children finally succeed in killing God, who is portrayed as a senile, doddering entity who has falsely passed himself off as Creator of the universe.
  • Many Christians believe that “The Golden Compass”—already “toned down” and “sanitized” so as not to unduly alarm potential Christian viewers—is a “Trojan Horse” stealth campaign designed to lure unsuspecting viewers into buying and reading the books, where they will find the undiluted anti-God content.
  • Pullman despises the works of C. S. Lewis—especially his “Chronicles of Narnia”—and has said of the books, “I hate them with a deep and bitter passion,” calling the series “one of the most ugly and poisonous things” he’s ever read. Yet Pullman has deliberately utilized the same fantasy-based approach of both Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy—to say nothing of the Harry Potter books—in hopes of appealing to young viewers and readers.

So, should Christians rise up in apoplectic alarm and boycott the movie? Picket the theaters? Should preachers pound their pulpits to splinters and Christian writers use gallons of ink to warn against this clear and direct opening salvo in a triple-gun attack on God? Some thoughts:

  • Both God and the Bible have been attacked for thousands of years—and by far more powerful and imposing foes than author Pullman. Yet God is unfazed, and the Bible is still the “anvil that wears out the hammers.”
  • If Christians rush into a “shock and awe” attack on the movie and books, experience shows that such a reaction only helps create a “forbidden fruit” aura that simply drives bigger crowds to the box office or bookstores.
  • Finally, and most important. The God Pullman is trying to attack doesn’t even exist. Pullman’s is a “straw god.” God is not a senile, anti-pleasure, unpleasant deity, as Pullman likes to characterize Him. Like so many atheists, Pullman has declared his own personal war on a god who is not, never was, and never will be.

If Christians really want to do the right thing, they might consider doing as Jesus did: expose the false concepts of God that prevail both in society—as reflected in this new movie—and in the church itself, by lifting up God as He really is.

Imagine the books a gifted writer like Pullman could write were he ever truly to see the real God and discover His real character. And perhaps rather than railing against Pullman as an enemy, Christians ought to see him as a fellow beggar who needs to be shown the real Bread!

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17 responses to this post.

  1. Wow! This is right on the mark! I think you have the right solution to this situation.

    Great post… God bless you!

    Reply

  2. Thanks for the comment, Alex. Good to have your blog on the list here!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Todd Curtis on December 8, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I have read the first book in this series and wasn’t unduly troubled until the ending chapters of the book where a long section of Genesis is misquoted to fit the context of the story. The story is quite well-written and engaging, and I was rather troubled to see that, but I don’t think that Pullman’s “attack” on God is likely to see God put in the dustbin of history. However, I do regret the large amount of misinformation about God that will be disseminated by this film and subsequent ones. I will probably not buy the next two books or go to see the movie, just to avoid putting my money into that endeavor. My money would do much better in the offering plate.

    Reply

  4. I agree with Appointed. Excellent post and views.

    God and His Word will still be around, long after Pullman and his books have become dust.

    If I may, I would like to link this post on my blog. Thanks.

    Reply

  5. Thank you! And the link…most certainly.

    Reply

  6. How I really wish Christians would take the time to know what they are talking about rather then simply passing off untruths such as the following:

    “The representative hero of Compass is a little girl named Lyra on a quest to kill God. In the final book—The Amber Spyglass—children finally succeed in killing God, who is portrayed as a senile, doddering entity who has falsely passed himself off as Creator of the universe.”

    About the only truth in that line is that they do come upon the entity identified as the ancient of days who had been imprisoned by Megatron a rebellious angel who took over and runs the authority. Do they kill God, no they free him from the box that Megatron imprisoned him in.

    If Christians cannot represent the truth then they are violating God’s commands and they bring shame to the cause of God.

    See more at:
    http://cafesda.blogspot.com/2007/11/is-golden-compass-anti-christian.html

    Reply

  7. Thanks for your comments, Ron. Some thoughts in response:

    1. Author Pullman in a 2003 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald said: “My books are about killing God.”

    2. I will admit having not read the Pullman trilogy. At present, I have no plans to do so. However…

    3. My research for the posting was based on consulting a variety of sources—including a number of non-Christian, secular, even atheistic ones.

    4. A Google search using the string “Amber Spyglass kill god” returned 130,000 results. In checking each entry for the first ten pages, consistent results confirm that by the end of the third volume of Pullman’s trilogy, God is indeed killed. These results include a number of those who have actually read the third book—as well as various secular news organizations and reviewers.

    5. Admittedly, the “god” depicted in Pullman’s trilogy is radically different in character from the God of the Bible—truly a “straw god.”

    6. Rather than characterize the post as untrue and shameful, perhaps it could be more enlightening to explain why no one—Pullman, his defenders, secular reviewers, and readers of the final book—has disputed but rather confirmed that God is killed by the end of the trilogy.

    Reply

  8. Ah yes, the old I haven’t read it and the number of hits of words as research ploy. I think it was after I read you post that I posted the quote from the book on my blog so that people will stop this Lyra killed God garbage.
    http://cafesda.blogspot.com/2007/12/golden-compass-part-2.html

    Oh and by the way you will find others noting that Lyra did not kill God but then you have to be more specific when searching the internet or maybe you could talk to people who have actually read the books.

    I will go ahead and post the quote here so that no one will continue to make the kind of excuses you have made.:”I got so tired of reading the Christian websites and blogs saying that Lyra killed God that I thought I would put in the quote from the final book where they meet the ancient of days who was earlier identified as an angel but may be assumed to be a type of the god that exists in the books. Imprisoned in a crystal cell the children come across the decrepit being.”

    ” Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn’t hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.

    Then he was gone: a mystery dissolving in mystery…”

    —Page 181 The Amber Spyglass , Phillip Pullman

    From a recent Newsweek article we read:
    “In person, Pullman is tall and inviting, with ruddy features and thatchy gray hair, and when he gets going about the attacks on the film, it’s a reminder of how enjoyable it is to observe a polite English gentleman properly outraged. Pullman does, in fact, describe himself as an atheist, but his vocation is storytelling, and his only agenda, he said during an interview with NEWSWEEK, is “to get you to turn the page.” “To regard it as this Donohue man has said—that I’m a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people—how the hell does he know that? Why don’t we trust readers? Why don’t we trust filmgoers?” Pullman sighed. “Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world.” (Donohue tells NEWSWEEK that he has “no respect for Pullman because of one word: honesty. He is a dishonest man. He didn’t go after the Politburo, he went after the Catholic Church.”)
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/72020

    You can also find more in the web article:
    RELIGION
    Reluctant Theologian

    Some Christian groups see author Philip Pullman as a dangerous disseminator of atheist ideals. I see him entirely differently.
    By Donna Freitas | Newsweek Web Exclusive
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/72067

    The fact is there is no shortage of material which refutes the false information so commonly presented by no doubt well meaning Christains who simply trust people they should not trust. As Ronald Regan said trust but verify.

    Reply

  9. Thanks again, Ron. Your spirited defense as an avowed Christian, of avowed atheist Pullman, is impressive, even including the provided character references.

    From just the information you’ve provided, I have to wonder at Pullman’s reluctance to be called a “militant atheist,” in view of his own prior words that “my books are about killing God,” and that he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” This back-pedaling on his part seems clearly disingenuous.

    As for your supplied quote, without the benefit of seeing it in the full context of the book, I continue to wonder why the consistent reports of both secular media and other readers stand in contrast to yours on the issue of God’s fate in the third book.

    One thing I have no intention of doing is investing time in reading this atheistic trilogy…especially to defend a blog post! We will have to simply agree here to disagree. I hear your voice….and I’ve heard what scores of other voices too have said. For now, I feel comfortable in accepting the view of the overwhelming majority who have read the books.

    Reply

  10. Ken, I appreciate your tone. I have not always responded in such a Christ-like manner when conversing with people who have disliked my posts. Nice.

    Reply

  11. Thanks, Jeff. My goal….though not always achieved….is to disagree without being disagreeable. Negativity just drains energy I truly can’t afford to spare!

    But without some Outside Help, and left to my own devices, I could effortlessly breathe fire and brimstone better than Saul did, pre-Paul! Only Galatians 2:20 keeps me from making a mockery of what I profess.

    Reply

  12. I appreciate your tone also though I think the fact that you have not read the material and you are arguing on the basis of second and third hand information would make it sensible not to get all fire and brimestone. By the way I have not really seen anyone give the context of Pullman’s statement that his books are about killing God, so I don’t know if he is back pedaling or not.

    But if you want so more voices from side which has actually read the books:

    Clearly the last reviewer has not read the books… I won’t give away the ending, but they do not kill God,
    http://www.film.com/movies/story/reviewthegoldencompassdrunkenbearsandreligiouscommentary/17567977

    THEY HAD IT ALL WRONG. Lyra did NOT kill God.
    http://www.cinematical.com/2007/11/02/film-clips-will-controversy-around-golden-compass-be-box-offi/2

    But really who wants to deal with what the books say when the real excitement is making stuff up. consider this statement:

    “Kill God!

    Of course the idea in a trilogy is to read the second and third books, and not just the first. (Naturally Scholastic is selling nicely packaged boxes of the trilogy. All three books are in my son’s school’s library.) The second book is The Subtle Knife. Looking again to SparkNotes, we discover that this knife is “the one weapon that can kill God,” which is considered quite a desirable thing to do. Subtle indeed.”
    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/C1983916159/E20071030195201/index.html

    Now that is powerful. However I have these books as searchable PDF files and I just checked and the quote is not found in any of the books.

    How do you think these makes Christians look. I am reading the book UnChristian – What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why it Matters. From Baker books. It makes a quite a case in point when we see so many Christians presenting so much untruth while supposedly fighting for the truth. It is a sobering thought.

    Reply

  13. First things first, then, Ron. You say here, “By the way I have not really seen anyone give the context of Pullman’s statement that his books are about killing God, so I don’t know if he is back pedaling or not.”

    Here’s the source and a bit of the context, in Pullman’s words:

    “I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak. I’m a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.” (Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 13, 2003 — http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html).

    In this 2003 interview above, Pullman also unabashedly stated his beliefs: “I’m an atheist. There’s no God here. There never was.”

    In a 2005 NEW YORKER article — http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fa_fact —Pullman is also quoted as saying, “I don’t profess any religion; I don’t think it’s possible that there is a God; I have the greatest difficulty in understanding what is meant by the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’.”

    Of course, those words, he spoke two-to-four years ago. But now that he is catching perhaps more heat than he anticipated, Mr. Pullman’s backpedaling in NEWSWEEK — http://www.newsweek.com/id/72020 — to deny that he is a militant atheist strikes me as, yes, highly disingenuous.

    Your first reference at — http://www.film.com/movies/story/reviewthegoldencompassdrunkenbearsandreligiouscommentary/17567977
    is to one of several reader responses to a film review of “Golden Compass.” Someone named Niakha states: “I won’t give away the ending, but they do not kill God, as we perceive him.” This does happen to stand in contradiction to the reviews of several major news organizations, movie reviewers, and others who say they’ve read the third book. It would be helpful to know what Niakha meant by the words, “God, as we perceive him.”

    Concerning your second reference from http://www.cinematical.com/2007/11/02/film-clips-will-controversy-around-golden-compass-be-box-offi/2, I agree with the statement there that Lyra did not kill God—not in the “Golden Compass” movie or the first book, at least. And that is the substance of the denial at this site: “The Golden Compass is not a story about a little girl on a quest to kill God…” My understanding is that the death of Pullman’s “god” does not occur until the third book in the trilogy.

    The reviewer goes on to state what is an unsubstantiated opinion: “Lyra is never on a quest to kill God.” But that to me is no “proof” that this reviewer’s statement is correct, and it stands in contradiction to what scores of other readers report.

    In visiting your final link, I found the blogger’s post confusing, in that in some places, he stated that God was killed—and in others, that He was not.

    But here’s the bottom line for me, Ron: The issue for me is not the isolated and comparatively unimportant question of whether Pullman’s “god” is killed by the children or whether—as some report—they free him from some glass case and he blows to bits. The far larger issue I intended to address in my post is how Pullman portrays God.

    And there, the reports are quite consistent. Pullman presents God as senile, doddering, decrepit, powerless—pretty much how I’m certain the enemy of us all would like to present God. Truly, though, a “straw God.”

    Since you apparently have read the trilogy, perhaps you’ll easily locate the page number for this quote in which Pullman describes the origin of God: “He was never the creator. He was . . . the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are.”—The Amber Spyglass.

    Satan has always done his level best to paint God with his own colors—to project onto God his own character. So it doesn’t surprise me that Pullman would describe God as “never the creator” and as “the first angel….formed of Dust.” I’ll never buy that transparent effort of Satan to describe God in terms that reflect his own reality. After all, from Day One, Lucifer wanted to be God—to pass off his character and created status as God’s, and God’s as his. I don’t buy it from Lucifer—and I don’t buy it from Pullman.

    The intent of my blog here is in its tagline in the header: “A few words PRO-GOD.” He happens to be my Father, and I will always rise to His defense when His good name and character are impugned—as Pullman is making every effort to do. My instinct and personal choice is to rise to the defense of God and faith and Christianity—rather than siding against those attempting to do so.

    I’m also convinced—without the necessity of exposing myself to his atheistic Trojan Horse by reading his anti-God tomes—that part of his agenda is indeed to condition unsuspecting children to see belief in God as bad and atheism as good. And His negative presentation of God, coupled with his positive portrayal of say, “daemons” (demons), is enough to tell me that his agenda is just too much an echo of Lucifer’s for my comfort.

    A fair reading of my original post, I believe, will show that my counsel was not that Christians invest time in boycotts, condemning unbelievers, and the like—but rather “expose the false concepts of God that prevail both in society—as reflected in this new movie—and in the church itself, by lifting up God as He really is.” I’d honestly rather see us become known for what we’re for than what we’re against.

    I respect the freedom of anyone to form their own—even if contrary—opinions. This is mine.

    Thanks for the exchange of viewpoints, Ron, and with this, I wish you what Pullman never would: a Merry Christmas!

    Reply

  14. Posted by Hrothulf on December 21, 2007 at 7:44 am

    <>

    Megatron? Is Mr Corson talking about the Golden Compass or about the Transformers? The rebellious angel who took over is named METATRON, not “Megatron.”

    Reply

  15. Perhaps Ron will answer this one for you, but I can see how a difference of just one letter could lead to an unintended mistake.

    Reply

  16. Yes it is Metatron not megatron. I have never gotten around to changing that on my blog. One of the problems with listening to books versus reading a book. You mess up names a lot worse when listening. I do think that the metatron part of the story is very similar to our Lucifer mythology. I say mythology because we take our Lucifer story from Tertullian and Jerome and Origin based upon their reading satan into Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. See:
    http://newprotestants.com/LUCIFER.htm

    But that is just one of things that intrigues me about the books. First the authoritarian religious aspects where that religion it turns out is following a false god. So very typical of the cruelty that has always followed religions. From Christianity to Islam and Hinduism we can find atrocities in them all as people follow what they view as god’s demands. How much different it is when we follow Christ’s commands of love. You can’t practice those things and be true to the foundation of Christianity. Yet because of a certainty that their actions are right they have sought to enforce their views. You can’t read the New Testament without seeing that it is an expectation of the future also. From Paul’s writings to the Revelation and including Jesus who said that some will kill you thinking they are doing a service to God.

    So it is what you focus on in the books that is more important to me. As well as being honest in what we say not only about God but about other people.

    Reply

  17. Hi again, Ron…

    I’m at the airport getting ready to fly out and see my kids/grandkids, so will keep this one short.

    Honesty is indispensable in the search for truth, I so agree. And we’re each responsible, as I understand it, to seek God and His truth individually. I’m not responsible to tell you what to believe or ensure that your belief matches mine. And vice versa, of course.

    If everyone would allow this freedom to all to form and hold their own viewpoints on truth, the force and cruelty and authoritarianism of which you spoke would not exist.

    I have no right or duty to be sure you believe as I do, which frees me to accept you as my brother in Christ apart from how much we agree or not.

    However, in this last comment of yours, I found much with which I too can agree!

    Have a wonderful set of holidays, Ron! And thanks for the dialogue.

    Reply

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