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The Golden Compass: “Atheism for Kids”

I’ve received several emails warning about a “family” movie being released in December. I spent a few minutes checking it out. Here’s a quick summary:

The Golden Compass is poised to be a big hit. It has a budget of over $200 million, an A-list actress in Nicole Kidman and all the momentum of the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia series. The difference? God is the villain. The author of the children’s books behind the movie, Phillip Pullman, has acknowledged his own hatred of religion and desire to undermine belief in God in the minds of children. Indeed, in the third book of the series the two young protagonists kill the senile antagonist, who is occasionally referred to as Yahweh.

You can read more about it at Wikipedia, urban-legends-buster Snopes, and Focus on the Family’s Family News in Focus. It is also discussed on Fox News here (video and text).



Edited on 12/4/07: 

Dr. Albert Mohler provides what is by far the most thorough and biblical perspective on The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials that I have read. He brings a distinct gospel focus to the discussion, as well. If you’re at all interested in the discussion of Pullman’s works and why they have been the source of concern for Christians, this is a must-read.


28 Responses

  1. I’ve followed Pullman’s career with some interest through the years. He has never been shy as to his hostility towards God.

    I remember an interview done some years back where he stated that he was thankful for Harry Potter as parents were distracted from what his books were saying.


  2. […] of The Golden Compass and of Pullman’s books than any of the sites I mentioned in the previous post. His piece entitled An Atheist’s ‘Narnia’ Knockoff is worth taking a minute to […]

  3. From what I have read about the movie, it makes no reference to God or religion. Everything is about good and evil, just like most stories. Kids will not know what the book was originally about unless you tell them.

  4. The movie will certainly encourage many kids to read the books. And anyway, it’s possible that a kid could *not* see this movie (or any other) and still survive. I don’t see the benefit of what you’re suggesting, Kathy.

  5. I’m just saying if your child sees a commercial for it and wants to see it, I don’t think that seeing the movie would be harmful. Luckily the word is getting out about the real message in the books and parents should definitely discourage reading the books. They can tell the kids that they wouldn’t enjoy the books because they are written for adults and the movie writers took only a small part of the book to put into the movie as something kids would enjoy.

  6. Honestly, sometimes the Peanuts comics seem to have a pretty pernicious effect. Every season I cringe (jk) when Linus is bound to be disappointed (again) at the failure of the Great Pumpkin to show his power and benevolence to the children of the world. Was Shultz selling atheism to kids through his Great Pumpkin comic strips?

    Of course, we know he wasn’t, so Christians haven’t ever boycotted It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Instead, they write books like The Gospel According to Peanuts.

    I do appreciate the heads-up on Pullman’s views, whether found in his books or movies. But I could definitely go along with Pullman’s view that centralized religious power can be corrupted (and have a corrupting effect on others). I’m guessing most of the Reformers would be on board with that part at least…

  7. Sure.

    Of course, most Reformers would probably get off board before Yahweh is actually killed. Just a guess, though.

  8. Touche. And “off board” is putting it pretty lightly, especially given what we know about the temperaments of some of our favorite Reformers!

  9. It’s worse than you may realize.

    The Scholastic publishing company is promoting this material heavily as a curriculum resource for public schools. Keep your eyes open!

  10. Phil Ryken offers a quick take on the movie and books at Reformation 21.

  11. The best gift you can give your children is to allow them to learn about the world with open eyes, mind, and heart. You teach them a higher level of respect if you allow them to develop their individuality without placing perceived levels of fear upon them. Give your children enough respect by encouraging them freedom of self-expression and “allow” them to read any book that intrigues them. Fear will either push them into a box that will ultimately skew their view of the world or push them into a series of identiy struggles. Books are not to be feared. Books are to be explored and analyzed. Teach your children critical thinking and they will grow into well-rounded and confident adults.

  12. Lena,

    First, what you’re suggesting is incredibly naive, and it amounts to a shirking of parental responsibility. You could as easily say that the best way to teach your child to respect fire is to give her a blowtorch.

    Second, some books are certainly to be feared. Mercy.

    Finally, even if society has lost its moorings, the Bible requires Christian parents to proactively teach their children the truth about God from the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Ephesians 6:3). Children—like all of us, and like you—are sinners in need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

    I’d encourage you to study more about that here.

  13. Chris,

    I understand how you might derive an all-or-nothing rationale from my opinion. I respecfully disagree with you. I respect your views and by no means am telling anyone how they should raise their children.

    I must tell you however that your use of a metaphor comparing reading a book to using a blowtorch is an error in critical thinking. If you fear that your child will run amuck after reading a book such as The Golden Compass, then read the book with them and encourage a critical discourse. A critical discourse is one in which two or more people discuss an idea in a manner which encourages dialogue and analysis of opinions.

    Any object can be used for negative purposes, even the bible. How one chooses to use an object is key. In my opinion, it’s quite silly and erroneus to fear a book. Fear is derived from people’s beliefs, observational and vicarious learning experiences, and people’s insecurities. Fear can often be a secondary and sometimes tertiary symptom of a primary irrationality. Fear is a subjective experience derived from negative experiences, learned associations, and trauma. Fear of fire is an honest fear becasue fire which consists of harmful elements can cause physical harm. Fear of the written word does not equal physical or mental harm. Rather, a person makes a choice to act upon the written word in a negative/positive method if he/she chooses to do so.

    Parents have the right to guide their children by teaching them what they believe to be right vs. wrong. Parental responsibility is subjective to how a set of parents want to raise their children, based upon the parent’s beliefs and values. If you abide by a perspective that you want your children to believe in christianity, then you have the right as a parent to teach your children as such.

    What would be the worst possible result if a parent told their child to take one year and investigate worldly religions as a means to gain true and honest self-knowledge? The best outcome might be that your child would have such a wealth of knowledge that they could confidently debate and own their beliefs with anyone. If you fear that the child might come away from such an experience with agnosticism, athiesim, or belief in a different religion and therefore prevent your child from exploring – reading – then, you do unknowlingly perhaps teach them fear and arrogance. Teach them to be humble and respectful by givng them the right to make their own knoweldgeable choices.

  14. Lena,

    I appreciate your polite tone. And I still disagree with you.

    Scripture teaches that a child left to himself will inevitably become a fool. That doesn’t mean that they need to be taught suspicion and fear, but it does mean that they need to learn the truth rather than being exposed to anything that happens to be in print, much less anything they happen to want. I don’t feed them anything they want; to do so would be irresponsible. To expose them to ideologies and religions that are contrary to the Scriptures, and even to basic morality—at least at their current ages—would be even more irresponsible. You would expect a parent to regulate his child’s physical diet, at least until the child is able to make wise decisions for himself. Why would you do any less with his moral/spiritual/ideological diet when what is at stake is his soul rather than just his body?

    An engaging book in which the enemy is God and in which the heroes ultimately kill Him is indeed dangerous. Mr. Pullman has a right to publish such books. I have a right—yea, an obligation—to keep them from my children.

    Doing so isn’t the ultimate answer, of course. As I said before, my children’s ultimate need is not to be sheltered from the ideas of evil men. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, explained well here.

  15. This is from Challies.com:

    Several people have expressed concern to me about the upcoming film “The Golden Compass.” A couple of years ago IV Press published a book that may be of interest: “Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Philip Pullman’s Trilogy, His Dark Materials.”

  16. well I’m 13 and this is my opinion on this subject

    I don’t think I’m gonna see it or any of my friends after what I just read.Seeing the movie would just be supporting his ideas.

  17. Carl Trueman says it’s no big deal. (link)

  18. Just wanted to inform you all of a children’s movie that is coming out in December, during the Christmas season, which is entitled “The Golden Compass”. The film stars Nicole Kidman and is based on the first of a trilogy of books for children called “His Dark Materials” written by Phillip Pullman of England. Phillip Pullman is a proud atheist who belongs to secular humanist societies. The movie is based on the least offensive of the three books, and they have dumbed down the worst elements.

    The concern is that unsuspecting parents will take their kids to this movie, and say “this wasn’t troubling” and then buy his trilogy books where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please. So basically the movie is bait for the books. In the movie God is at times called Yahweh, that was done on purpose so the movie would seem a little milder when viewed. Phillip Pullman is hoping that unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie, they will enjoy the movie, and then the children will want the books for Christmas. Writer Phillip Pullman says he wants the children to read his books and decide against God and the kingdom of heaven. Pullman also made the remark that he wants to kill God in the minds of children, and that’s what his books are all about.

    The movie is a watered down version of the first book, which is the least offensive of the three books. The second book of the trilogy is “The Subtle Knife”, and the third book is “The Amber Spyglass”. Each book gets worse and worse regarding Pullman ‘s hatred of God. In the trilogy, a young girl becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle against a nefarious church known as the Magisterium. Another character, an ex-nun, describes Christianity as “a very powerful and convincing mistake”. In the last book, a boy and a girl are depicted representing Adam and Eve and they kill God.

    Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview that “My books are about killing God.” Conservative British columnist Peter Hitchens labeled Pullman “The most dangerous Author in Britain” and described his as the writer “the atheists would have been praying for, if atheist prayed”.

    You can Google a synapsis of the The Golden Compass, you will be surprised to find that in a children’s book part of the story is about castration and female circumcision.

  19. **You can Google a synapsis of the The Golden Compass, you will be surprised to find that in a children’s book part of the story is about castration and female circumcision.**

    I am 26yr old and have no children, but I would think that a movie or book that discusses the above topics would be inappropriate for a child. But, as was mentioned it is up to the childs parents or the individual who view the film.

    I appreciate the heads up, as I will be making sure I avoid this film/books and the promoting of its ideas.

  20. I have read the postings here, and in many other places. I have read anything from what sounds like fanatic preachers pounding on a podium during a revival to lectures given by professors at high-ranked universities and everything in between. Why can’t we just do what we like and let others choose what’s best for them? Respect each others opinion and move on. And, FYI, this movie is rated PG 13. At 13 years of age, even though people are not mature enough, a lot of the ground work for what would be our future belief system is already there, even more so if parents have taken the time to instill their beliefs in the home. So a book or movie which are a work of fiction should not sway their beliefs easily. Not even if Pullman’s agenda is to promote atheism. Even churches have an agenda, and not everyone falls for it…

  21. Why can’t we just do what we like and let others choose what’s best for them?

    Why would you ask that, Alex? Who has suggested that we not “let others choose”? I’ve not physically stopped anyone from seeing the movie. I’ve not suggested that anyone attack theaters. I’ve merely suggested, along with others, that it’s not in the best interest of parents to expose their children to it. I’ve made information available.

    Based on your post, I’d assume that you’d be open-minded enough to see the legitimacy of my expressing my opinion. Mercy, if you’re really for the right of people to make up their own minds, why would the discussion of this movie be a bad thing?

    The responses this discussion has spawned are amazing to me. We’ve come to a place where we’re not content to have freedom of speech, but in which we think any disagreement with anything someone says or does is somehow lack of respect, or even oppressive. Others have suggested that any effort to shape a child’s thinking rather than allowing any nonsense that people want to throw at them to shape it is unreasonable and unkind.

    As a Christian, I believe that it is my responsibility to train my children to know the truth about God from the Scriptures. I believe that this movie and these books are at odds with that agenda, so we won’t be seeing it.

    But even if I weren’t a Christian, the lack of logic from those opposed even to the discussion of the movie would be staggering.

  22. I did not say you don’t let others choose. As a matter of fact, I think yours are one of the most intelligent comments I have seen so far, even if I do not agree. But I have to say that there has been people outhere in cyberspace, pro and con the movie and books, who are not being respectful. I can agree to disagree, right? And regarding your children, I could not agree more. It is our job as parents to teach and guide our children. Even though I do not oppose the book or movie, I still will not take my child to see it. She is too young. When she is older, she can read the book under our guidance and supervision.

  23. Dr. Albert Mohler provides what is by far the most thorough and biblical perspective on The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials that I have read. He brings a distinct gospel focus to the discussion, as well. If you’re at all interested in the discussion of Pullman’s works and why they have been the source of concern for Christians, this is a must-read.

  24. Anything that allows for opening the minds of narrow minded people is always welcome in my book!

  25. John, your attitude toward people who believe in absolute truth seems so…well, narrow minded. Ironic.

  26. While looking for information about where to see this movie, I stumbled upon this site. I told all my friends to check out this blog. They won’t be bringing their kids to watch this movie and neither will I. Thanks for the heads up =)

  27. Christians, avoid “The Gold Compass,” like the plague. At all costs.

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