Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Golden Compass Controversy

It hasn’t received much attention in the media, but religious groups are raising a stink over the upcoming fantasy film The Golden Compass. The complaints aren’t with the movie itself, but with the fact that it might lead children to read the book the movie is based upon. What’s wrong with the book, you ask? It’s written by Phillip Pullman, a well-known atheist, and the book expresses a number of anti-religious views. These themes have been mostly watered down for the film, but that hasn’t stopped the Catholic league from launching a crusade against the film. On their website, they state:

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

First, I just want to say that censorship is the worst possible way to deal with criticism. Often, criticism addresses a legitimate concern. If people simply ignore that criticism, the problem will continue unabated. Furthermore, criticism can be the result of a misunderstanding that can never be corrected if the criticized side refuses to take part in any dialogue. Unfortunately, refusal to hear criticism is an essential part of religion, so it’s not unexpected.

Second, what’s the problem with “selling atheism to children”, as Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League, put it? Donahue obviously has no qualms about promoting theism to children and criticizing atheists. If Donahue’s faith is so weak that he believes a fantasy story will destroy the next generation’s belief, maybe he needs a stronger worldview.

I say, let the criticisms be out there. I don’t mind the religious being critical of atheists. In fact, I encourage it because it leads to fruitful discussions, which allows me to better define my positions and rethink my conclusions on different issues. Nothing is above critique. It’d be nice if the believers would be as open. Of course, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. To perpetuate itself, religion must be rigid, lest reason and logic reveal the kinks in the armor.

As for The Golden Compass, I doubt it will be much of a success with the knowledge of its atheistic origins in the public awareness. I was in Barnes and Noble last week when a woman in front of me tried to return the book saying, “It was written by an atheist who hates God.” Considering this country is mostly Christian, I’m sure there’s a large body of people out there just like her who will refuse to see the film. Even atheists are upset over the producers watering down the book’s original themes. While the success of the movie itself doesn’t matter to me, I do worry that it will set an unfortunate precedent. If it flops, it could be a long time before we see another movie with godless themes. Film studios would not want the financial risk when making something like The Passion of the Christ is a guaranteed money maker. But only time will tell.

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