The Golden Compass - 'malevolent caricature' of religion?

  (02 January 08)
  by Greg Spearritt

Barney Zwartz, blogger and religion writer with the Melbourne Age, sees The Golden Compass - the newly-released movie based on Phillip Pullman's novel Northern Lights - as involving a "malevolent caricature" of religion. Pullman, he says, "stands against religion".

Zwartz's blog post on The Golden Compass reveals clear Christian sympathies as he duels with atheists ready to condemn anything and everything religious.

Perhaps Pullman does caricature the present-day Catholic Church, though his picture fits the Church of the Middle Ages pretty well. I have doubts even about today's Church, though, in light of the recent Sydney Morning Herald story about the Vatican vowing to train more exorcists:

"Under plans being considered, each bishop would have a group of priests in his diocese who were specially trained in exorcism and on hand to take action against 'extreme Godlessness'."

But Pullman is not against religion as such. The Gyptians clearly have their beliefs and rituals, as do the witch clans, and both are portrayed as groups with integrity. What irks Pullman - and many thinking Christians, including Catholics - is the oppressive authoritarianism often associated with religion. In many repects, the shoe still fits the Catholic Church on this one: just ask former priest Michael Morwood! The religious thought police are alive and Pell well.

In the third book of Pullman's trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, the corrupt being known as 'the Authority' is shown to be behind the 'Magisterium' and its repressive ways. I see that not as anti-religious, but as a fair assessment of where we are now in the 21st century. Unquestioned authority from on high - be it Catholic, Conservative-Evangelical, Muslim or Communist - does violence to individuals and to society. This is a democratic age, an age of religious autonomy where we should take for ourselves the power to create meaning. I'd argue that's still a religious task, but it doesn't involve forcing our conclusions on everyone else.

If you still crave Authority, you could always move to Iran or Burma.

2 comments

The Vatican system of exorcism does not work.I have all the proof you need. Just look at the Vatican. The Pope is still there! No amount of bell, book and candle and the burning incense hoop-la has worked.
The devil isnt in the fine print. There's B16 isnt there?

Posted by robert halsey

Having seen 'The Golden Compass' twice, I'd have to agree that the 'Magisterium' seems to be the embodiment of the hierarchy of the Catholic church. The Catholic church of today seems, to me, to be retreating to medieval times. Thank goodness there are small pockets of catholics who appear to be evolving instead of regressing to a more fearful time in history. Good on Pullman for taking such an obvious side-swipe at 'authority' gone power crazy.

Posted by Margie Conley

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