How should we respond to the Golden Compass controversy?

Cover of "The Golden Compass (Widescreen ...

Cover via Amazon

Question: How should we respond to people who have seen the movie, The Golden Compass, and read the trilogy of books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

Answer: We should be ready to ask some questions about the books and movie that will help people think about the philosophy being espoused. We may start by asking (and these questions are adapted from Jeffrey Overstreet in an interview with Christianity Today):

1. Is it true that the books tend to look down on authority as our source of guidance? If so, what do you think would be the result of letting everyone’s free will be the ultimate source of guidance and authority in our world?
2. Does it feel to you that the human heart has proved itself trustworthy as a compass to give us direction?
3. Does it seem that free will always leads us to the right choice?
4. If, as I’ve been led to understand, the golden compass or alethiometer is the source of truth and guidance in this story, isn’t that just substituting another source of truth in the place of Authority, making it the new Authority? Why are we supposed to believe that it is a better source of truth?
5. If there are many truths out there, each equally valid, then aren’t the characters in these stories being as intolerant and self-righteous as the oppressors are by demanding that their version of the truth is better than others? If we say oppression is wrong, on what source of truth do we base that assessment?
6. I understand that there is a battle between the bears in this story that is supposed to be an inspiring moment. But isn’t this just leading us to a place where it is “survival of the fittest” that rules the day? Do we really want those who are strongest fighters to be the winners at the end of the day, or do we want those who genuinely love people to be the winners?

Of course, if you haven’t read the books you will profit first by asking your questioner to explain the story to you before you make judgments on it. It is also notable that in the books and movie there is much of a spiritual/supernatural nature that according to Pullman should not be a part of explaining our world or our decisions. But is it fair for Pullman to represent his worldview with the spiritual/supernatural when this is only possible if there is a God or other supernatural forces beyond ourselves?

The last thing we need to do is pass judgment on those who have seen the movie or read the books. Simply ask your questions and let them know that you are open to discussing truth and philosophies of life and that you believe that Christianity stands up to the test of truth and that you would like an opportunity to demonstrate that. You don’t have to have all the answers, just be ready to humbly say when you don’t know something and seek answers when you don’t.

Randall Johnson


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