Warning! Dangerous ideas ahead!

A well-meaning friend forwarded this to me, and a list of other people, via e-mail last week, with the subject line “Warning – A MUST NOT SEE Movie!”:

The Golden Compass, a new movie starring Nicole Kidman and due to be released in December, is based on one of an evil trilogy of books written by atheist, Philip Pullman, who acknowledges that his books are about killing God. Don’t be fooled by either the fantasy he employs or by the awards he’s garnered for his writing, because it’s all used to draw kids and their unsuspecting parents into his warped perspective. Educate yourself and protect your children and/or grandchildren by boycotting this movie and the books on which it is based.

For further information, please refer to the following website: http://snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp

Please pray about this abomination. Then pass this along to your friends and families so that this movie will have no impact on innocent children.

Do click on the Snopes link – it includes a few quotes similar to the one above (some sourced, but not linked), and more discussion, including confirmation that author Philip Pullman is indeed an atheist.

This hit a nerve with me for a few reasons. I know my friend’s intentions were probably good when she sent this out, but sharing this sort of thing with a group of your e-mail contacts seems to imply that you assume all of them agree with each other, and with you, about issues of morality, theology, and politics. Those assumptions can be dangerous, unless you require your friends to share your worldview in order to be your friends in the first place. It’s also dangerous to pass along hearsay, although since this one includes the Snopes link, it may be taken as more “authoritative,” or at least less open to question. And it’s that lack of openness to question that probably irks me the most about the attitude expressed here.

I always wonder whether that lack of openness to question comes from a sense of such certainty about one’s beliefs that it can’t be rocked, or such insecurity and doubt about them – most likely unacknowledged or denied – that any contrary notion is a threat that just can’t be dealt with.

I read the His Dark Materials trilogy a few years ago. I’m not sure what slots it as “children’s literature,” honestly, other than the fact that its central characters are young preteens and teens. I thought it was philosophically complex, highly developed, and very well-written – which is not to say that those can’t be attributes of children’s literature at all, just that these books feel more “adult” to me. The Golden Compass is the first book of the trilogy, and actually my least favorite of the three (first would be the middle book, The Subtle Knife), but I’m quite interested in seeing how it translates to film.

The overall themes of the books struck me as more anti-theology than anti-God, as noted in one of the quotes in the Snopes item – and perhaps I’m not really disturbed by them since I’m not a churchgoer these days. I have issues of my own with institutional religion, and consider expressions of faith – or lack of same – to be personal. I also don’t subscribe to the idea that “non-Christian” equals “anti-God,” or that there’s only one “right” way. I do feel that your beliefs and actions should be consistent with each other, and that regardless of where you think you’ll end up after you die, how you live on this earth matters. While it’s clear that Pullman’s atheism informs his story, I didn’t get a sense that he had an agenda – but if he actually did state in an interview that “(his) books are about killing God,” and didn’t mean it metaphorically, I may not have read closely enough.

However, based on that e-mail I got, the “Christian” agenda against this movie is pretty clear. And this strikes me as a contradictory statement: “Educate yourself and protect your children and/or grandchildren by boycotting this movie and the books on which it is based.” I’m not sure how you can educate yourself about this properly if you boycott it – if you really want to know what it’s about, and form your own opinion, it seems to me that you’d need to see the movie or read the books. If you really do plan to boycott them – or Harry Potter, or any other controversial example from the arts – you probably already know as much about them as you want to. And I suppose that limiting your children’s exposure to different or controversial ideas could be considered “protecting” them, and depending on your child’s maturity and development, it may be warranted…or it may be holding them back from learning and growing.

We’re lucky that we’re free to choose our entertainments, and we don’t have to choose those that we dislike or disagree with. But at the same time, one can’t make something go away just because one disagrees with it; wait, I guess one can. It’s called censorship. I might support boycotting or censoring censorship, now that I think about it…

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  1. I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the boycott and just had to shake my head and laugh. Do you think someday they may realize that the more they protest the more attention and interest what they want to ban will receive?

  2. Literary Feline – I think the irony of calling attention to something you don’t want people to pay attention to must escape some people. I missed that item in EW, though, so I guess it’s a good thing I got that e-mail to tell me about the boycott. 🙂

  3. i received emails about this issue from two different “well-meaning friends” and my response was very much like yours. i wonder why they think that my view on this issue would be in agreement with theirs, even if we have worked on some other issues together. and when one of the emails was forwarded with the comment that her friend who is a school librarian has banned the books from their library – well, that just doesn’t sit well with me …

    personally, i’ve not read the books and neither the books nor the movie were on my “to read”/”to view” lists – but maybe i’ll have to read them just to see what the controversy is all about! 🙂

  4. Alisonwonderland – See, that’s what I’m talking about as far as “educating” yourself. 🙂 I’d recommend the books, seriously. I think the second one is better, but you really do have to start with the first one to get the premise.

    There are a few people I know who regularly forward e-mails to me that make erroneous assumptions about my opinions, but it’s generally not worth getting into it with them – I can just hit delete and stop it right there.