Dec 092007
Authors: Ryan Nowelll

There’s been a lot of umbrage lately over this season’s newest bombastic PG fantasy epic, The Golden Compass.

For you umbrage aficionados out there, it may be very reminiscent of the controversy a few years back surrounding a then-pretender to the Potter throne, not-so-coincidentally titled The Golden Compass.

That Compass was the first in a trilogy of children’s books written by Philip Pullman.

An atheist and ardent critic of organized religion, Pullman tied together some typical fantasy standbys (a struggle between good and evil, a child who turns out to be “the one the prophecies spoke of,” wuddly talking animals that normally would maul you and dirigibles) and created a saga reflecting his views, acting as a Nietzsche-flavored retort to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Naturally, such radical-circa-1870 ideas didn’t sit well with some folk.

During the Potter-spurred witch-hunt against “questionable” religious content in children’s books, the philosophical commentary in Pullman’s work made him an obvious target.

The Catholic Herald stated his trilogy was “worthy of the bonfire,” and many religious groups considered him, if not actually Satan himself, than at least earmarked for eternal pitch-forking. Pullman had the dubious honor of becoming the children’s section’s Salman Rushdie.

But the books were well-received by their target audience (kids), became bestsellers, and without secular youth movements cropping up in middle schools and playgrounds nationwide, the controversy subsided.

Until, of course, a few weeks ago.

With the recent release of the film adaptation, the news has had its fair share of mothers clutching their 2.5 children, vowing boycotts and deriding the film’s stance as just darn awful. Leave it to hysterical, overbearing parents to pick out philosophical nuance.

The studio has been assuring parents that the movie has been intellectually castrated to the point where all controversial subject matter was lost in the transition to the screen, marking perhaps the first time a studio has used inaccuracy to source material as a film’s major selling point.

By making that statement, they’re retreating from a stance they took by making the film in the first place, a statement I don’t think they should be apologetic about.

Atheism is not something children need to be protected from.

To make that claim is to make many dubious assumptions about the function of religion in society, and while you can always say that as their parent you simply don’t want them to know about it, doing so would be willfully small-minded and speaks more to placating your own anxieties than it does protecting their best interests.

The argument against atheism I usually hear contends that religion is the source of morality. Frankly, This idea went out with Cain.

While many are quick to point out that we are, by majority, a Christian nation, we have one of the highest crime rates of any First World country. Countries with the lowest crime rates don’t have religion or devotion in common as much as they do a healthy GDP.

Further, atheism and agnosticism are not theories that simply cropped up out of nowhere. The words and laws claimed to be God’s, and therefore immutable and transcendent, have over the centuries been used to justify countless contradictory value systems, and have instigated a fair share of immoral behavior on their own.

People stopped viewing religion as a moral absolute because the claim empirically disproved itself.

This is not to trivialize religion. It has a valid function to its practitioners, and what I’m saying shouldn’t make that personal belief any less meaningful. Even if you don’t buy that theory, though, it still only behooves kids to know what atheism is.

First, it doesn’t speak much to the faith they had if a friendly CG polar bear can talk them off the path of righteous. More importantly though, how authentic is faith if it’s a result of ignorance to the alternatives?

Does belief in God mean anything if it’s the only thing you’re allowed to know? Allowing a free exchange of varying ideas credits religion with being able to hold up under scrutiny, whereas censoring contradictory beliefs seems the act of someone who has grave doubts about the merits of their faith.

There is the possibility that this is all irrelevant, and that parents are truly upset over the lack of choices in holiday viewing.

The other big-budget family picture this season, the live action Alvin and the Chipmunks, does nothing to help the case for God either, if for entirely different reasons.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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