Okay, so now that the film The Golden Compass is coming out, many film critics, conservative Christians and Pullman book fans are in a tizzy because of what the film—in their opinion—has failed or succeeded in doing.
Thankfully, The Golden Compass film has eliminated any anti-church, anti-God sentiments and instead portrays the conflict as being merely anti-power-hungry-religion organizations. I can deal with that. I am actually hoping the films do a great job of telling the story of Lyra and Will without all of that atheistic crap that was in the book.
That said, this film is probably doomed to fail, mostly because although it will be fairly innocuous on the big screen (pleasing conservative Christians, while angering devout atheists and Pullman fans), the film will undoubtedly spark interest in the book (angering conservative Christians and pleasing devout atheists and Pullman fans).
And all of this would undoubtedly perturb Michael Scott, and his preference for win/win/win scenarios, sans compromise;)
Ultimately, I predict the film version will probably only satisfy two camps of people: 1) people like me, who appreciated the compelling storyline, prose and characters in the books, but found the atheistic element forced and contrived and will be glad to see it go … and 2) people who know nothing about the book and just came into watch the film because the trailer looked interesting.
The element I find most fascinating in the critique of the books is that this idea of “killing God.” I think many people are hearing the idea of a young girl “killing God” and associating it with the film, and immediately label it as unsuitable, heretical, dangerous, etc.
I am more interested in Pullman’s assumption that one could actually kill God. What does that exactly mean?
To take offense at Lyra supposedly “killing God,” one would first have to examine the book and see how God is portrayed in the novels. Is it the Judeo-Christian God, YHWH, Creator, all-powerful, all-loving God that we see in Scripture and in history? Or is it a false God that is merely after power, with no love or regard for humanity?
Having read the entire trilogy, I can say with a definite assurance that the Judeo-Christian, all-loving, all-powerful God is NOT the God portrayed in Pullman’s book. The God in Pullman’s book is manipulative, fickle, destructive, insidious, powerful but not all-powerful. He may be a god, but he is not God.
My God cannot be killed. And if He were anything less than what He is, He would not be God. If He were mortal, He would not be God.
So tar and feather me if you may, but I have no problem with Lyra killing this “God” who in fact is not God at all, but merely a god. The god Lyra destroys is finite, non-eternal and non-loving. The “God” in Pullman’s books has a beginning and an end. There’s this passage where this “God” (or Authority as he is named in the novel), is admittedly described as not being the creator, only that he assumed credit for doing so and deceived others that followed into believing he was the original creator.
I honestly think Pullman unseats himself in his atheistic worldview, because while his storytelling is magnificent, his point is laughable. He has not achieved anything remotely Nietzsche-esque in his quest to kill God, he has only killed a character, and not a likeable one at that.
The God I know and worship and serve and believe in looks nothing like this “God” portrayed in Pullman’s books. So if he wants to kill this entity in his alternate universe that bears no semblance to reality or truth, then how can I fault him for killing a mere character? It’s his literary universe, he is entitled to develop characters and storylines as he wishes.
That said, there is a dangerous element to his novels, mainly because the books have been widely read and accepted by children. As a liberal arts major with a penchant for literary critique and analysis, I have the luxury of sitting back and blithely enjoying the trilogy (even if the books’ moral and metaphysical conclusion is a bit self-indulgent and contrived) because I can filter. However, if kids are going to be reading these books, I can see kids mistaking “God” for God, and swallowing Pullman’s worldview whole. And this is where parental caution and concern needs to intervene.
And as far as the “anti-church” sentiment plays through the novels, I believe that the true Church—the remnant—has never been about gaining power and ruining people’s lives through ambition and greed. Historically, that undoubtedly has occurred (Spanish Inquistion, the pre-Reformation Catholic Church with indulgences and simony, the Crusades, etc.) but such an abuse of power is a corruption of the true nature of the Church. Or what my friend David calls the drawing the line between the true Church and the “apparent church.”
This is where I believe Pullman’s anti-Christianity diatribe is contrived and a little—for lack of a better word—silly. He attempts to point at Christianity and say “look, look at them and all of the terrible things Christians have done to gain power over people’s lives, to oppress, and to withhold truth”, all in an attempt to make God and the church seem like the enemy. The ironic thing is that the God of the Bible stands opposed to oppression, and defends the poor and the needy, and even suffered to the point of death on behalf of humanity to ensure that we enjoyed an eternal life with Himself. To me, the passion and the cross speaks volumes about how far God is willing to go to prove His love to humanity.
The funny thing about the book is that despite heavy references to Adam and Eve and the Garden and Eden, Pullman virtually eradicates any mention of Christ. And you know why? If you’re going to espouse any atheistic argument, you almost have to leave Christ out of it. Because in Christ, so much of the atheistic argument is laid to waste… One of the biggest and most famous arguments against the existence of God is the problem of evil. This argument against Christianity typically goes as follows: that the all-powerful, all-loving God of the Bible can’t exist because either A) he may be all-powerful but he’s not all-loving, because what loving God would allow evil in the world? or B) He may be all-loving but he’s not all-powerful because he is unable to stop suffering and evil, as much as he might want to. This is a valid, formidable argument that must be wrestled with.
But to me, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross—while it may not conclusively prove the existence of God—it proves at least the converse side of the argument. In other words, the cross proves that merely citing evil and suffering in this world is not a sufficient argument for proving that God does not exist. And more than that, Christ himself entered into our suffering. You can rail against God all you want, but in Christ, He offers us the ultimate picture of sacrificial love as an offensive strike against suffering and evil, and He’s proven His suffiency in doing so.
No other religion claims that God has suffered on behalf of humanity. None. That is one of the most compelling distinctions about the Christian faith from all other religions…You have to deal with the truth of the cross and the mystery of Christ. Period.
If anything, I think Pullman’s books constitute an important dialogue between conservative Christian and atheistic circles. Both groups have at least some misunderstandings about the other camp, and I think it’s important to address these issues. I would be annoyed to see Christians hear the words “a little girl kills God” and run away or blindingly decry the book, without ever having even tried to understand what’s really going on at a deeper level with our Western culture and intellectual ideas being spun around. I am also annoyed that many atheistic Pullman fans would automatically assume that the book is saying what they think it’s saying and that Christians ought to be automatically against the series, period.
I think this trilogy ultimately represents in our culture today two worldviews at work and what can truly happen when they’re rubbed up against one another.