For the record, I’m not hopping on an evangelical anti-everything bandwagon. I avoid that stuff. Why are we so shocked when the world acts like the world? Why should we expect the world to value what followers of Jesus value?
“And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14, NKJV.
Still, I offer my analysis of the book, not having seen the movie. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have read only book two of Philip Pullman’s trilogy. The three books together are called His Dark Materials. The books are: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass.
I read The Subtle Knife. It is the only book I could find in our whole county. I have a hold placed on the first and third, but they haven’t been returned yet to our library. The only way I would change my position is if book 1 or 2 dramatically changed the worldview created in the books. Otherwise, the books peddle a blatant anti-Christian message. In these ways:
[SPOILER WARNING… I WILL GIVE AWAY SOME PLOT DEVELOPMENTS…]
First, the church is depicted as intensely evil, domineering and ruthless–reminiscent of the communist KGB or Nazi Gestapo. The Church people are the bad guys. They place spies in every organization; anybody who speaks against the church is “disappeared.”
“Tell us about the child, witch,” said Mrs. Coulter [played by Nicole Kidman].
“You will suffer.”
“I have suffered enough.”
“Oh, there is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly. Tell us about the child,” Mrs. Coulter said, and reached down to break one of the witch’s fingers. It snapped easily.
The witch cried out… (p. 38).
Second, witches are depicted as good and loyal. A main character, a good witch who helps save the day, goes by the name of Serafina Pekkala, which if my Hebrew and Latin aren’t completely rusted out, roughly translates to Angel of Sin (seraphim/Hebrew plus peccare-to sin/Latin).
“What of the other witch clans?” said Serafina Pekkala. What news do you have of them?”
“Most have gone back to their homelands. All the witches are waiting, Serafina Pekkala, with fear in their hearts, for what will happen next.”
“And what do you hear of the Church?”
“They are in complete confusion…” (p. 42)
Third, angels [fallen ones, though we aren’t told that] ally with witches for a Great War. The reason for this great war is that the first time the angels tried to overthrow the Authority (God), THE WRONG SIDE WON (see another quote below).
“And he invited us [witches] to join him, sisters. To join his army against the Authority [God, the Creator]. I wish with all my heart I could pledge us there and then. He showed me that to rebel was right and just, when you considered what the agents of the Authority did in his name…. And I thought of the Bolvangar children, and the other terrible mutilations I have seen in our own southlands; and he told me of many more hideous cruelties dealt out in the Authority’s name–of how they capture witches, in some worlds, and burn them alive, sisters. Yes, witches like ourselves…
“He opened my eyes. He showed me things I had never seen, cruelties and horrors all committed in the name of the Authority, all designed to destroy the joys and truthfulness of life.” (pp. 271, 272).
Fourth, an atheistic worldview is promoted. The history of civilization is described as a constant battle between SCIENCE/LOGIC vs. FAITH/DOGMA.
“There are two great powers,” the man said, “and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we hvae has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.” (p. 320).
Fifth, the book contains gruesome violence making it unfit for kids. From the beginning we are treated to torture in which the church leaders begin breaking the fingers of a witch, whom is ultimately killed (by a witch trying to help her). The reader hears the bones crack and the witch scream in pain. Just because a story has kids in it doesn’t mean it’s a story for kids. I would not let my kids read these books or see the movie. If they were older and I could process with them the cosmic conflict between good and evil, maybe. They could see the dark side unmasked; Pullman’s trilogy is showing us the true nature of the forces aligned against Jesus and his message. We have to know our enemy, but this is too much for kids.
Sixth, God is named the Authority. He must be overthrown and killed. This, by all accounts, is accomplished in book 3. The Authority is killed and the world is set free.
“There is a war coming, boy. The greatest war there ever was. something like it happened before, and this time the right side must win. We’ve had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It’s time we started again, but properly this time….” (p. 319)
Seventh, everybody has a demon/daemon. The daemon is good. It is an aspect of each person’s life and personality. Dependent yet independent. There to help you. It takes the form of a bird or snake or other animal. It can morph shapes during childhood but locks in a shape when a person grows up. When a character dies, his or her daemon dies.
“Where do you come from?”
“From my world. It’s joined on. Where’s your daemon?”
His eyes widened. Then he saw something extraordinary happen to the cat: it leaped into her arms, and when it got there, it changed shape…
“I haven’t got a demon,” he said. “I don’t know what you mean.” Then, “Oh! Is that your demon?” (pp. 20, 21)
Eighth, living beings, including angels, are depicted as mechanical beings. In keeping with the atheist line of a mechanical universe.
Nor did she [a witch] knowhow far their [angels] awareness spread out beyond her like filamentary tentacles to the remotest corners of universes she had never dreamed of; nor that she saw them as human-formed only because her eyes expected to. If she were to perceive their true form, they would seem more like architecture than organism, like huge structures composed of intelligence and feeling. (p. 140).
Growing up a fan of science fiction, I read many years ago Isaac Asimov’s attempt to define life. What made an entity alive? His answer: ORGANIZATION. A certain organization of molecules and atoms that created an illusion of what we call consciousness. Pullman seems to have read the same theories. What is life? What are we? ORGANIZED MATTER AND ENERGY. Pervaded by and composed of subatomic particles and dark matter (known as “Dust” in Pullman’s books) capable of organization and consciousness.
What are we? Creatures in the image of God? No. Outcroppings of the laws of physics. In one scene, the subatomic particles commandeer a computer to speak to a scientist and give her marching orders. The Dust speaks in capital letters.
Angels are creatures of Shadow matter? Of Dust? STRUCTURES. COMPLEXIFICATIONS. YES.
Did you intervene in human evolution? YES.
Vengeance for–oh! Rebel angels! After the war in heaven–Satan and the Garden of Eden–but it isn’t true is it? Is that what you . . . . YOU MUST PLAY THE SERPENT. (pp. 249, 250).
Nice stuff for kids, huh. Just in time for Christmas. Oh, I mean “the holidays.”
Supporters of Pullman and his trilogy argue that his detractors are missing the point. They argue that Pullman is not attaching God or Theism or Christianity per se. Instead, he attacks the perversion of religion. He attaches corrupt Christianity. In fact, everything he says about the church, its violence, its anti-scientific stance, its controlling nature, is true. His charges are historically verifiable… and we Christians should agree with Pullman.
First, if Pullman intended to be that nuanced, he would had given the church SOME redeeming qualities. So far, none. If this nuance exists, it is a nuance no reader will get.
Second, we grant the sad history of abuses done in the name of the One who came to wipe away all abuse. We repent. Yet, have not Christians repudiated these things? Have we not repented and changed our ways? Have we not launched hospitals and universities for the expansion of knowledge and the broadening of science? We are far from perfect, collectively speaking. We are also light years from the church Pullman depicts. To him, we are still the church of the Inquisition. No doubt, his readers/watchers will think the same.
Third, the entire worldview is mechanistic, atheistic, materialistic, and anti-Christian. Many advocates say that Pullman accepts a supernatural worldview–after all, the world he creates is replete with angels and demons and witches and spells. I answer that Pullman explains away all supernatural or transcendent elements by making them expressions of the laws of physics and quantum mechanics. In the end, the message remains materialistic atheism.
Fourth, I seriously doubt that movie-goers will be treated to a nuanced critique of the foibles of Christianity. This will be yet another salvo in a very long war aimed at undermining our Judeo-Christian heritage and worldview. It is part and parcel of an invisible war in which the right side has already won. We simply await the full revelation of that victory.
Other than all that, it was a pretty good read. Bad lies cloaked in engaging words. Sounds like a tempter I once read of…
All quotes come from Philip Pullman. The Subtle Knife. 1997. Knopf.