So then, The Golden Compass opens on 7th December in London, just in time for the holiday market. Note I didn’t say the Christmas market because of course Northern Lights (the name of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy in England) is to atheism what The Chronicles of Narnia are to Christianity, not so appropriate for Christmas then one would think. But of course as I said, it’s holiday season and the film has a lot of action set in the frozen snowy north, so…
The message of the film has caused a lot of controversy, not just amongst Christians. Atheists apparently feel that the film doesn’t go far enough in it’s attack on faith, stopping at attacking corrupt organised religion. Christians of course say that the film attacks their faith directly, although the story it sets up could apply equally to Judaism and Islam from my reading. I have to say that I stopped reading the trilogy at the beginning of the second book. I decided that I didn’t need to read such a hostile approach to my faith, I get enough of that in the day to day to be doing it in my leisure time, no matter how beautifully written and imaginative the story. However, I am an adult, I am able to make these decisions without feeling guilty or over emotional about it. What about the way this might effect children?
I think it’s important to remember what a unique space a play space is. It exists outside the norms and the everyday, more so when it is a space constructed by the imagination. Because it puts things outside the everyday it’s a place where people can explore fears, hopes, alternatives way in a space place because “it’s not real”. Whether we like it or not there are alternative world views to our own, Christian or Atheist, and the having your faith (including the faith that there is no God) challenged is one way to explore it. This film is a space of play where the idea that religion is a lie not a truth can be explored safely by children as opposed to living your life in a bubble only to arrive at university for instance to have all your beliefs knocked down in one go and have no time to think things through for yourself in a combative environment.
Another film crept out this “holiday” season, The Dark is Rising. And this film caused no furore at all, yet it is part of a 7 book series by Susan Cooper which quite clearly states that Christianity is not true. I read these books between the ages of 10 and 12, absorbed the fact that they said this and still manage to maintain a faith. I loved them and I still love them and I religiously (ho ho) read The Dark is Rising every Christmas to get me in the festive mood, because it is focused on the old pagan rituals of the winter season and also on the triumph of good over evil.
So to the question of whether children should be taken to see this film. If I had a child who expressed an interest in going I would take them. It will undoubtedly be beautiful and inspiring, and it would enable them to explore what can be quite scarey issues around the truth or otherwise of God’s existence and relationship with us. Would I actively encourage them to read the books? Probably not.
The most important thing to remember is “Perfect love drives out fear.” Let’s not fear that which isn’t us, because then we really are playing into the hands of the atheists.