Warnings about “The Golden Compass”

My email has been getting flooded the last couple of days with Christians warning about an upcoming film called The Golden Compass, due to be released in theatres on Dec. 7. This film is based upon the first book of a trilogy written by Philip Pullman called His Dark Materials.

I’ve read the book and, personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the film. Yes, the author is a self-proclaimed atheist who wrote his trilogy as an atheist’s answer to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Like most trilogies, the first book is subtler in its message. And as you get to books two and three, his atheistic message becomes more blatant and “evangelistic.”

So how should Christians respond to this film? We could, as many of the emails I’ve received have advocated, “boycott” this film and “send a message to Hollywood” that we won’t tolerate “anti-Christian” films aimed at families.

But if we were consistent in that, then we should have done the same with other “anti-Christian” films aimed at families, such as the Star Wars movies, which were the highly entertaining products of George Lucas’ desire to bring blatant Buddhism to a young western audience. The same aggressive and straightforward Buddhist message is in The Matrix films as well. I don’t think Buddhism is any less dangerous than atheism. Perhaps it is more dangerous because it is atheism disguised as spirituality. But for some reason I can’t remember any Christian alarms about boycotting any of the Star Wars or Matrix films.

I think most of us want to be Christians who appreciate good art and good literature (which these Philip Pullman books certainly are) and are not alarmed and threatened by the atheism issue any more than we were threatened by the Buddhism issue with Star Wars or The Matrix. Rather, we want to take opportunities like these to have important conversations with people about beliefs about God.

Now, personally, I don’t know that I’d take my kids, if they were young, to see The Golden Compass unless I was prepared to discuss with them the underlying beliefs and why this is such an important issue for all of life and how everyone is responsible to decide one way or the other on the issues of God, Jesus Christ, sin, etc.—that these are issues that are forced upon everyone to decide for themselves one way or the other. I would say something along the lines of “Here’s what the author of this book/film believes and here’s what he’s saying about that. But here’s why I don’t believe that and here’s what I believe and why I believe that,” etc. The film provides a wonderful prop around which to have a more interesting conversation about beliefs.

So these kinds of films can provide a good opportunity for fun entertainment while also getting a chance to have important conversations with our kids about other worldviews and beliefs, and to show that we have thought about those arguments (rather than hide from them), we understand and respect their arguments, and we are not threatened by them, but rather feel we have better reasons to believe what we believe. All in a calm, rational, non-alarmist kind of manner. In raising my own kids, I’ve found these kinds of conversations helpful in inoculating them from the very real anti-Christian beliefs out there that will definitely come their way in life. I’d rather them here about them in a context I can inform rather than not.

I’m not necessarily recommending parents take their kids to see this film, and in that sense I think Christians are wise to warn one another of a need for some caution on that. On the other hand, it can be a good opportunity to help your kids discuss its deeper implications and issues if you’re prepared to do so.

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