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Nov 1 2007
Golden Compass an Atheist Movie?

I'd seen previews for the new movie "The Golden Compass" and had wondered why I'd never heard of the book series that it is based on. Now, I learned the answer from -- of all places -- FOX News!

In this article they complain that the film is anti-religious and a stealth attempt to introduce kids to atheistic ideas. At first, I was skeptical and thought that maybe they were making up the whole thing, but after reading the comments from the author and Annie Laurie Gaylor, I am now at least convinced that the books have an atheistic bent to them. That, I suppose, explains why they are best-sellers in many other countries but that I've never even heard of them here.

A few comments are in order. Let me first say that there is a big difference between "atheist" and "anti-religious". I don't know yet whether these books or the movie are in fact "anti-religious". Also, I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with a movie for kids being either atheist or anti-religious. I've seen plenty of religious films in my days, and even liked some of them. Even though I'm not religious, I wouldn't want to censor them and hope that religious people are open-minded and fair enough to treat this movie in the same way. If they don't want to see it, they don't have to, but acting as if it is a crime to make such a film is not reasonable.

Has anyone read the books who can comment on what atheist or anti-religious content it might actually have?

Nov 6 2007

can't wait to see it, sounds interesting.

Nov 8 2007
Re: Golden Compass an Atheist Movie?

Has anyone read the books who can comment on what atheist or anti-religious content it might actually have?

I've read all three of the books. "The Golden Compass" is the first in the series, the second is "The Subtle Knife" and the last is "The Amber Spyglass".

I don't know whether or not they will try to include all three in the movie, that seems like quite an undertaking.

While the books might cause people to "think" about the religions and the power that the people within those church's hold, I didn't get that they were Atheistic.

The funny part about the whole uproar over this Movie is (1) It is GREAT advertising for the movie. (2) The movie has superhuman beings in it (witches, Goblins, Talking bears and magic. { All of which can be found in the bible, ... talking snakes, people performing inhuman acts, etc.}

Frankly I hope they make more noise about it, it will bring more people out to see it.

Nov 13 2007

I've looked into this question a bit and have found confirmation that the author is an atheist and that he views the stories as making statements about morality and organized religion, if not about atheism. Here is the article I've written on the subject which I'm intending to include in the next issue of the Separationist (our newsletter):

The Golden Compass Controversy

According to warnings circulating on the internet, God-fearing parents had better watch out. Atheists, using children’s movies as a lure, are trying to brainwash their children. Here is one of the e-mails making the rounds:

There will be a new Children's movie out in December called THE GOLDEN COMPASS. It is written by Phillip Pullman, a proud athiest who belongs to secular humanist societies. He hates C. S. Lewis's Chronical's of Narnia and has written a trilogy to show the other side. The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and their parents in the hope that they will buy his trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please. Nicole Kidman stars in the movie so it will probably be advertised a lot. This is just a friendly warning that you sure won't hear on the regular TV.

At first, we thought this was a completely bogus conspiracy theory coming from the religious right, but as we looked further into it we found that it is not entirely wrong. There are some mistakes in this e-mail. For instance, the words “atheist” and “chronicle” are both misspelled, hinting at the author’s educational level. Moreover, the point of the third book is not that everyone “can do as they please” if we “kill God”, but rather that the character called “God” in the book is not a god at all and that everyone should therefore not just blindly follow his commands.

Amazingly, the idea that this book series contains rather overt freethought messages has not prevented it from being tremendously popular and winning prestigious awards around the world. It is only in the US that people are learning about it primarily because of the release of this new film.

Subtle messages that suggest a viewpoint on religion and faith are nothing new in children’s stories. It is not only the Chronicles of Narnia, whose author openly discussed its religious implications. There are a tremendous number of cartoons and children’s specials which feature one character that has faith in a supernatural something (e.g. “Santa” or “the Great Pumpkin”) despite the skepticism of those around them, only to find in the end that their faith has been rewarded. There are also a handful of stories promoting skepticism, from the Wizard of Oz and The Emperor’s New Clothes to the "swinger girl" episode of Disney's Recess. However, to the best of my knowledge, The Golden Compass is definitely unusual in how openly atheistic it is and how commercially successful it has been.

Of course, religious parents are free to complain about this film’s philosophy and to boycott it. However, those who suggest that the film should be banned or outlawed clearly go too far.

In fact, Phillip Pullman himself in an interview has assured us that he is not attempting to promote 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.

Somehow, we don’t think that America’s Christian conservatives will be comforted by this distinction.

The film opens on December 7th.

Nov 26 2007
press release from AAI

The Golden Compass Points in the Correct Direction

Atheist Alliance International battles church censorship of ground breaking movie

POCOPSON, Pa. (November 26, 2007) - As with Mark Twain and J. D. Salinger before him, Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, has become the latest victim of censorship.

The Atheist Alliance International (AAI) condemns the Catholic League's boycott of the movie, slated to be released on December 7, 2007, on the premise that it "promotes atheism." A number of school boards have also censored the Pullman trilogies in student libraries despite the fact that Pullman has received numerous awards including the winner of the Carnegie Medal for Children's Literature.

"Any attempt to censor an art form should be seen as a sad remnant of the Dark Ages," said Margaret Downey, President of AAI. "The Golden Compass represents the epitome of freethought and imagination in today's society and encourages people to seek their own paths," Downey continued.

AAI applauds Mr. Pullman's courage in expressing his atheistic views, principles and convictions in the face of formidable opposition.

In order to fight the religious boycott and encourage families to discuss and consider the ideas presented in Pullman's movie, AAI has declared Sunday, December 9, 2007 as the "Follow-Your-Own-Compass Day." All those who seek to consider all points of view should see the movie and discuss its message, free from censorship and prejudices.

During the release of movies such as The Passion of the Christ and Jesus Camp, AAI did not promote censorship in any form. AAI, in fact, encouraged its members to experience these films and discuss them freely in order to discover their own truths. AAI is only asking for the same consideration and respect from the religious community.

"AAI stands firm against censorship and totalitarianism in any form, no matter what the source," Downey concluded.

Nov 30 2007

In Pullman's books, and I suppose it will be true in the movies too, there is a powerful religion and a being who claims to be "God", but they are actually evil. The story is a fantasy, so it doesn't take place in THIS universe. It isn't the Catholic Church and it certainly isn't the Judeo-Christian God because it turns out that the being is no God at all.

I think even the most religious people would acknowledge that sometimes bad things are done by people who are following the teachings of someone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God (or even someone who claims to BE God, like some cult leaders).

Whether it is a cult or a major religion, when it tells its followers to hurt themselves OR to hurt others, I hope that groups like the Catholic League would agree that the followers ought to be more skeptical. They should ask "Is this really the right thing to do?" and "How do I know that these words are coming from the creator of the universe?"

Wouldn't the Catholic League and those Protestants calling for a boycott of this film agree that it is worth teaching children not to listen to bad people claiming to speak on behalf of God? That really seems to be the message of the books.

(Of course, Pullman and I both believe that nobody is really speaking on behalf of God...we don't think there is a God. But, the books are really only criticizing those who use religion for evil purposes.)

Dec 9 2007
I saw The Golden Compass this weekend

Well I saw The Golden Compass this weekend. After hearing that it was boycotted by the Catholic Church I guess I was expecting something else. Visually the movie is beautiful and interesting, but it is the most religious "pro-atheist" movie I've ever seen. The "fact" that people have souls is VERY central to the story, as is the existence of magic and witches, and a prophesied messiah. There is a "question authority" theme, but that's hardly unique to this children's movie.

The Magistarium, is supposed to remind us of the RC Church, but there is not a single scene in the movie of prayer, ritual, or even a room that looks like a church. It's very subtle. If I hadn't been told in advance I really don't think I would have drawn that conclusion, and I was raised Catholic.

As for the Christian right's viewpoint that

The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and their parents in the hope that they will buy his trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please.

I think it's interesting that this person implies that thanks to God, everyone does what is right, since God is making sure that we all stay in line. I WISH! When God starts preventing crimes, selfishness, and cruelty I'll become a believer!

Dec 10 2007

What I a coincidence...I saw Golden Compass this weekend, too! ; )

I agree that it would certainly be possible for someone to see this movie and not make a connection between the "bad guys" and any religious group. In fact, I can only think of two clues that the Magisterium is somehow connected to Christianity: the costumes they wear do look vaguely like official Catholic robes, and a key plot device is something that sounds suspiciously like "original sin" (a mistake made by ancestors for which the people of today must suffer).

Once one does make this connection, however, there are a few interesting conclusions that the movie seems to suggest. The Kidman character is named "Mrs. Coulter". (I wonder whether that name has the same association for a British author as it does for an know, a certain pundit?) She works for the Magisterium and kidnaps kids, so she is clearly a "bad guy" (even though it's not quite so black-and-white as that). One of her first lines in the film is to say that she never lets anyone tell her what to do. Later, when the little girl asks her what the Magisterium is, Coulter replies that it helps people by telling them what they should do and how they should live. The girl points out that this seems to contradict what she said earlier about not letting anyone boss her around. Coulter's response makes it clear that she's hypocritical: she doesn't think SHE needs to do what the rules say, only that "lesser people" need it.

Again, like Laura, I'm not so pleased with the idea that people might think that this film presents an atheistic worldview (as the news reports seem to suggest). Most atheists I know do not believe in any of the supernatural stuff that the film presents. Of course, it is just a story and the author never suggests that anyone believes it...but people who don't know about what atheists think may not realize that!

Take the Golden Compass itself. This is an object that somehow shows the reader the truth. In the story, it seems to be a magical thing. Now, I can easily see it as a metaphor for science/reason/logic (things that certainly can be used to reveal truth to someone that understands how to use them). I also like that in the story it seems to be the academics who believe in open discussion without censorship and a true quest for truth. Nice metaphors, if you ask this humble academic scientist. But, just as it would be possible to see the film without considering that the bad guys seem like representatives of an organized religion, it would also be possible to miss the idea that the "magic weapon" of the good guys is nothing other than science and reason.

Anyway, I thought it was an enjoyable film. As a child, I am certain I would have loved both this film and the Narnia one. But the grownup truth is that they are not just stories or art: they are also propaganda and financial investments. Unfortunately, that kind of spoils the fun.

cupid's psyche
May 5 2009
Re: Golden Compass an Atheist Movie?

I know this is an old, old post, but I just have to say that I really liked this movie and my daughter LOVED it!

She has a realistic appearing lynx stuffed animal as her Daemon (the website for the movie gives you a quiz and assigns you an animal). She was so dissappointed when NO ONE at her school was even allowed to see it, and she had no one to talk to about it. The responses she got was "they kill god!" and looks of horror! She's read the book, but I don't think she started the other 2 yet.

I hope they make the other 2 books into movies, but since it tanked at the box office, I'm not holding my breath.

May 6 2009
Re: Golden Compass an Atheist Movie?

my kid has the video game, and has seen the movie. there's really nothing about it that is "scary"

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