The Golden Compass, the Occult, and Reading with Children

[This post is a revision and reblog of a post I wrote in 2007 in response to the Ontario Roman Catholic School Board’s decision to ban Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass from their libraries and the overall popular Christian reaction to these books and proposed films. I have reblogged it because of its relation to my recent entry “Damn Right I’ve Got the Gospel”]

In the original blog entry, I suggested that the decision by the Ontario Roman Catholic School Board to ban The Golden Compass from their libraries lacked wisdom. Have Christians learned nothing from our experience with The Last Temptation of Christ and Harry Potter?, I asked.

The popular Christian reaction to The Last Temptation turned a mediocre, low budget, esoteric film into a must see event. Not being a Christian at the time of its release and being somewhat antagonistic toward “organized religion”, I know I saw the film because of the controversy. While Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack entitled Passion is a masterpiece, the man who played Jesus is now better known as the Green Goblin from Spiderman (Tobey MacGuire era). ‘Nuff said.

{More on The Last Temptation of Christ}

Given the abundance of commercials, the genre and the popularity of the novels, I expect that The Golden Compass did not need controversy to boost its box office. Nevertheless, no producer is going to turn down a little free publicity. So, what has the school board really done by banning these books? And, is there a better way to handle the anti-Christian agenda of these novels?

First, rather than protecting children from this media event, the school board made its students the media event. Second, and the focus of this post, the school board added the power of the occult to these novels.

The word occult comes from the latin occulere: to hide from view or to cover up. When a teacher turns to face the class and a student thrusts something under her book, the teacher’s curiosity is raised. This illustrates the power of the occult. The student has covered up something, what is it? What does she not want me to see?
How is it that educators of children are ready to take the same type of action and not expect the same result? The Roman Catholic School Board (aka the religious authority) does not want me (the child) to read this book or watch this film? What is it about? What don’t they want me to see? What are they hiding from me?

{It strikes me that some groups like the Jesus Seminar and figures like Bill Maher depend on this popular reaction. Another post?}

Now, whereas the teacher has the authority and power to take the note from the student, the child whose curiosity gets the better of her when opportunity presents itself finds herself acting against the authority. The lure of the occult has set the hook. Now, the curious child has two problems. First, she knows she has done a ‘bad’ thing. Second, she has a secret.

To me, the secret is the real issue, here. The child who has read the forbidden book or watched the forbidden DVD may feel as though he cannot talk to anyone in authority about what he has read or seen. Especially, if he enjoyed it. If he enjoyed it, then maybe he is bad. ‘But I am not so bad,’ one child thinks to himself. Or if the book is enjoyable, maybe it is not bad at all . . . maybe the people who banned it are bad or just don’t have a sense of humo(u)r. After all, doesn’t this book have a lot of good things to say about taking care of the environment. Doesn’t Lyra make many good choices?

My recommendation with respect to the type of literature that becomes the subject of public controversy (i.e. The Golden Compass, Harry Potter etc.) is for parents to read it with their children. If the child is interested, then let his interest be rewarded with your positive attention. At Regent College, at the time of its release, rather than banning the book it became required reading, at least, for those in Mary Ruth Wilkinson’s Children’s Literature course. (Mary Ruth has an excellent book on reading with your children called A Time To Read. Mary Ruth & Heidi can we have a revised edition, pretty please with sugar on top? Or can you start blogging?)

Having read the final book in Pullman’s trilogy, I find it difficult to believe that any child who has grown up in a loving Christian home with the Christian story in her mind is going to find satisfaction in the alternate world that this book offers. C. S. Lewis has so much more to offer in Narnia. (I was frustrated that Lucy and Susan’s post resurrection romp with Aslan was left out of the film especially when I saw Lyra’s polar bear ride in Golden Compass film.)

As for other children, Pullman’s books may indeed be a billboard on the broad path. Yet, if thoughtful Christians read these books, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to talk about them with someone. ‘If you won’t read the books I love, why should I read yours?,’ a child may ask. If you won’t listen to my Taylor Swift, then why should I listen to your Carrie Underwood (oops, maybe she’s not the best example).

Finally, the irony of the ban on this book and others of its kind is that a book banning (or a film burning) plays directly into Philip Pullman’s agenda. Pullman’s antagonists are a caricature. He portrays the Church at her worst. That is, those who, for the sake of power, suppress truth in the name of truth. Yet, while corruption in the Senate and the Whitehouse are blemishes within democracy, such occurrences are not actually representative of true democracy. Likewise, as with any institution, the Church is susceptible to corruption but this corruption shall never overwhelm the True Church. (See my “Mad Science, Bad Science, and the Cure for Everything“) The Church has always known about its goats and its weeds and Jesus said it would be so. The Church’s hypocrisy is only more noticeable than the hypocrisy of others.

For related posts see my “Damn Right I’ve Got the Gospel” and “Why Seven Days“.

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