Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Apparently Broken Compass

A good friend sent me an email about The Golden Compass which has apparent anti-God and anti-religious themes.

Here are a couple of observations:

Opposition to “God” is different from opposition to the triune God of the Old and New Testament. Some years ago I learned that when people say they don’t believe in God, I should ask, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in”. You can imagine that when people describe their idea of God it is very different from how God reveals himself in scripture. This is an opportunity to help someone reevaluate their thoughts and feelings about “God” in general and consider YHWH, who is slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, proven Christ.

I see this movie as perhaps a similar opportunity. With college students, any opportunity to talk about God is a good thing. Pointing out the differences between the “God” and “religion” of The Golden Compass and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could be fruitful.

I think this is possible because that which is good, true and beautiful can’t be made otherwise. The God of the Bible is good, true and beautiful and the only way to say otherwise is to describe him falsely. Just because this author criticizes God and religion, doesn’t make him anti-Christian, it makes him anti-false God and anti-false religion.

Let me illustrate with this paragraph from the Snopes article:

“His fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife, regardless of creed.” As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, “Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

This sounds serious and it is but mostly because it is such a narrow minded view of religion. Let me play with the quote to show why:

“His fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny “

Really, does he think father’s exercise ideological tyranny over their children when they instruct them that it’s wrong to hit other kids in class or to refrain from touching a hot iron? The God of Scripture is a loving father who acts for the good of his children like many fathers. I guess from one perspective this is ideological tyranny but one that almost all humans recognize is necessary to protect and provide for the weakest and most vulnerable of the human race.

“His fundamental objection is to… the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife”

What a relief that the God of the Bible is so interested in this world that he sent his only son to live right in the middle of it to redeem not just creation but even humans, who most people recognize are responsible for destroying this world. Perhaps other beliefs require rejection of this world through lifestyles of cloistered meditation or vows of silence but not the Bible. And about the afterlife: will Adolf Hitler experience justice in the afterlife? What would Pullman tell a cancer victim about the afterlife? Many recent atheist authors are quick to write about how God (and the afterlife) does not exist. I would take their views more seriously if they wrote books for those facing death that actually provided hope and comfort. Also, a rejection of the afterlife is a rejection of justice, because every adult knows there is no justice in this life.

As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, “Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

How about this, “Every family is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.” This kind of statement is clearly bigoted and reflects the limited experience of an individual. It is probably born out of painful experience. It certainly doesn’t reflect on my family or undermine my belief that families are a good idea. In the same way, any statement that starts with “every church” should be met with the derision as statements like “every Jew” or “every Asian” or “every government”. Moreover, when someone says something so extreme, it’s a great opportunity to respond with hope of relief from such an extreme. I would encourage Pullman to come to my church and get involved with our mercy ministry, and join a community group. I’m pretty sure he will at least experience good feelings. Or he could read The Rise of Christianity to learn how churches renewed the Roman Empire by refusing to murder infant girls and feeding plague victims at the cost of their own lives. All of this came as a result of their belief in a King who mandates that the world be reconciled and redeemed and promises an idealized afterlife.

I don’t know whether The Golden Compass is a well crafted book or movie. But I know that I’d rather be talking about God with students than sports or fashion. This movie might be such an opportunity.

By the way, this will be a tremendous resource for helping people know the difference between the God of the Bible and other, less true and good gods: The Reason for God

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