Every so often, something will happen in the entertainment world that will draw strong reaction from the Christian community. Remember the outcry against “The Da Vinci Code?” Warranted or not, these reactions from the community of faith have often done more to heighten curiosity about the offending pieces than to turn people away from them. And, just in case you think Christians are the only ones guilty of decrying something in entertainment only to make it wildly popular, do not forget that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was a movie that no one, and I mean no one, expected to make the kind of cash or stir the kind of discussion that it did.
Now stand back, hold your breath, and watch what happens when New Line Cinema’s “The Golden Compass” hits screens. The controversy is already brewing. Articles, Blog entries, and radio talk shows (not to mention way too many emails) have already been devoted to the discussion of the movie which is based on a series of novels by atheistic (or at least militantly agnostic) author Philip Pullman.
Before we find ourselves swept up in this controversy, perhaps it would be good for Christians to look before we leap. Let’s take a moment to think clearly about the film, the book, and our reaction. At this point, without seeing an advanced screening of the film, I can only comment based on the writings of those who have already seen it. Word on the street is that the film, while maintaining some of its religious material, is a somewhat sanitized telling of Pullman’s story.
The stronger concern that I have been hearing expressed is that the movie could lead to a spike in the popularity of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, of which The Golden Compass is the first book. In that series of books, Pullman presents a world in which the mission of the main characters is to overturn the concept of original sin. In Pullman’s mind, sin is what makes us who we are, and most certainly should not be thought of as bad. The author considers the church to be an evil institution which tears the very souls away from people by trying to turn them away from sin, autonomy, and human sexuality and toward the principles of a tottering yet tyrannical deity.
So, what about our reaction? First, as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, R. Albert Mohler, wrote on his web site (www.albertmohler.com):
A good first step would be to take a deep breath. The Christian faith is not about to be toppled by a film, nor by a series of fantasy books. Pullman has an agenda that is clear, and Christians need to inform themselves of what this agenda is and what it means. At the same time, nothing would serve his agenda better than to have Christians speaking recklessly or unintelligently about the film or the books.
We must be careful. If we, as believers, work ourselves into a tizzy over this movie, we are likely to make ourselves look like the false caricature of the church that Pullman describes in his books. We must find a better response.
And there is a better response. It has been said that the best way to contradict a falsehood is not to attack the lie, but to present the truth better. Christians, we must do a better job of showing the world the truth of who God is than Pullman does in presenting a false view of Christianity. God is our loving Creator. We have rebelled against his perfect standards, to our own harm. God has graciously provided the means for our forgiveness through the sacrificial death of his son, Jesus Christ. And this loving God offers us the highest of all possible joys, the joy of experiencing his beauty and glory for eternity, if we will but turn from our self-destructive ways and receive his grace through faith.