Thursday, November 29, 2007

A new film, The Golden Compass, has been accused of promoting atheism to children.

reposted from:
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.
James Ball

Golden delusions

A new film, The Golden Compass, has been accused of promoting atheism to children. But what's wrong with that?

November 27, 2007 3:00 PM | Printable version

The Golden Compass, the film of the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, is released next week. The books recreate Milton's Paradise Lost with God as the great adversary: they accuse the (fictionalised) church of numerous crimes against humanity in the name of control.

These religious themes have been excised from the film as far as possible but religious groups in the US are still not happy. Bill Donahue, CEO of the Catholic League, has accused

the Golden Compass of being part of a "deceitful stealth campaign" to "sell the virtues of atheism". The Catholic League is urging Christians to boycott the movie.

Much as I would love to disagree, Donahue is right, though more as a result of simple marketing rather than some atheist conspiracy. The film has been toned down in order to reach a wider audience and so make more money. It will almost certainly encourage some parents to buy the books for their children.

With any luck, their kids will read them - and start asking some awkward questions.

The extent to which these books are genuinely anti-religious is debateable: God may be portrayed as a senile despot, but he is at least real. A truly atheist series would set about disproving him - but that would be far less entertaining. If we're counting the Golden Compass as anti-religious, fair enough: provided we remember it is offset by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings, and, well, the entire machinery of Christianity.

Children of religious parents are often indoctrinated into faith from birth. They are baptised - and baptism is irreversible - before they can give their consent, told Bible stories from earliest childhood as if they are unquestionable truth, and taken to church each week. Why should atheism wait until kids grow up before mounting a fightback?

Atheists and those of a religious bent can live and socialise together quite happily - we're lucky enough to live in a liberal and tolerant society. This does not mean we should pretend there are no ideological differences between us. Christianity and atheism cannot both be right. If the former is correct, atheists are doomed to hell; if the atheists are on the money, Christians are allowing an aeons-old lie to restrict their freedoms and choices in their one shot at life. The stakes are high.

Christians have a biblical duty to evangelise and spread the faith. This was once backed up with harsh punishment for heathens and apostates, but thankfully those days are over. Spreading the good word remains a worthy way for the faithful to spend their time, though.
If Christianity is allowed to convert the heathens, I think it only fair that the heathens are given a chance to fight their corner.

This need not be a bad thing for the Church. Having seen, chatted to, and even socialised with several evangelists, I believe faith is stronger for being challenged. If believers don't hear contradictory views, they have little reason to truly consider what they hold dear. This mature faith is all the better for this challenge: socialised Christianity often falters under a life crisis - the death of a relative, say, or the breakup of a marriage.

Christian groups need to decide what they really care about. Does a religion's worth come from "bums on seats" - the size of a congregation - or from the number of people who accept it "in their hearts"? Whether you're a believer or not, any religion that says the former is worth no-one's time.

So, why not stop protesting against anti-religious material? Instead of campaigning against a children's adventure film that has actively attempted to mollify Christian groups, let families go and see it: if the film echoes any of the book's promise, it should be an epic adventure. If that leads some children to read opinions which differ to your own, why worry?

There's no need to stop there. Christianity has almost everything going its way - culture and art for the last two millennia have been subject to its influence. It is in the home, it permeates society, and it recruits young. You can try to keep the flock faithful by silencing critics - or, failing that, petitioning the faithful to boycott their works. Alternatively, you can hone your own arguments, rally your evangelists, and spread the good word: and let your rivals do the same.

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