The Bible and prayer together make a more trustworthy ‘compass’ for people's lives - Bible Society.
The Golden Compass is one of a stream of big budget fantasy films for children and adults that have recently received wide distribution.
But Bible Society asked Luke Walton, its Arts Officer, and Lindsay Shaw, editor of its Reel Issues film and faith discussion service, to comment on this particular film for three reasons:
• The film’s engagement with issues of faith and spirituality,
• The immense popularity of the His Dark Materials novel trilogy which lies behind The Golden Compass and
• Because of concerns the trilogy and film has prompted in some sections of the Church.
‘Bible Society is committed to the biblical view that human creativity and use of the imagination are essential to what it means to be human and made in God’s image,’ the two Bible Society spokesmen agreed.
‘Philip Pullman, the writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy in which this story is the first episode, comes in a long line of evocative fantasy storytellers,’ Luke says. ‘But unlike CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, who wrote from a Christian vision of the world, Pullman comes from a different and perhaps opposing position.
'Nevertheless, he has created a vivid and beguiling fantasy world. And only those who have dug into their Bibles will fully understand some of the story’s underlying themes, even if we may disagree with his conclusions.
‘We do not share Pullman’s view that free will is the ultimate source of guidance for our lives,’ Luke commented, ‘But we welcome the opportunities this offers for Christians to talk with their friends about God’s guidance through the Bible and prayer as a more trustworthy ‘compass’ for their lives.’
Some Christians have been especially concerned by Pullman’s representation of a Church-like organisation, ‘The Magisterium’, the chief villains of the film (whose name the novelist borrowed from a term for the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church).
This organisation (never named the ‘Church’ in the film although it is in the books) seeks to suppress all free thought, and goes to the extent of authorising experiments on children to render them conformist and happy.
‘As with all caricatures,’ Luke says, ‘There is a tragic truth behind this. The Church has too often been guilty of abusing its authority and Pullman’s criticism is a cautionary reminder to us.
'But his fictional representation only tells part of the story and ignores the thousands of Christians who have spent their lives in humanitarian work, service to others and activities that have allowed communities to flourish.’
‘Interestingly, Pullman has said on his own website that his real beef is with “those who pervert and misuse religion”,’ Lindsay Shaw adds.
‘What The Golden Compass doesn’t do is take issue with the very different values of Jesus and the Gospels. In fact, if we were a more consistent reflection of what following Jesus should mean, Pullman would have had to find another villain.
‘From our Reel Issues service we have seen the benefits of Christians using films like this as a natural talking point and opportunity to build bridges between the Bible and everyday life,’ Lindsay adds.
‘Perhaps the best response to The Golden Compass with adults, teenagers, and older children is to use it as a springboard for some honest, open, non-defensive conversations. Belief and spirituality, truth and freedom, the Church’s successes and failures – they’re all here for us to chew over with an audience who will be wide open for it.’
Lindsay Shaw is Bible Society’s creative resource officer and the editor of Reel Issues. www.reelissues.org.uk
Luke Walton is Bible Society’s arts development officer