"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
November 8, 2007

Aimless Culture Wars – Round 769,873

It looks like the next unavailing front in the culture wars will be in response to the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. The film, The Golden Compass is due for release soon and although my expectations for the film are low (we could start with the cast and the director/writer), it […]

It looks like the next unavailing front in the culture wars will be in response to the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. The film, The Golden Compass is due for release soon and although my expectations for the film are low (we could start with the cast and the director/writer), it may well be that the ire and scorn poured on the film could be vast indeed.

If you are not sure what all the fuss is about, well here it is in a nutshell; the original books and of course, the film as well, say some not nice things about the church, theology and even God. Add to that the intended youthful audience and you can see the reasons for the potential backlash. As we all know, the proper role of youth “entertainment” is to present young minds with a totally uncritical world-view, so that when they finally reach adulthood and the secular world, they are totally unprepared to face difference and intellectual conflict and their faith collapses like the sorry second-hand pack of cards that it always was.

All sarcasm aside, there is a lot to said about this topic, if for no other reason than the original trilogy was rather good and several bright Christian minds have had thoughtful things to say about them, especially with regard to the critique of institutional church. So, in the absence of an extended commentary, here’s a set of worthwhile links for you to peruse at your leisure. Take and read,

The Dark Materials debate: life, God, the universe…
Third Way Interview with Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman Interview Religion (video)
Literary Review with Philip Pullman
A dark agenda? (another interview)
Philip Pullman’s childish atheism
Christian and a Philip Pullman Fan? No Contradiction, One Author Says
The Man Who Dared Make Religion the Villain; In British Author’s Trilogy, Great Adventures Aren’t Pegged to the Great Beyond

[tags] His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman [/tags]

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Toni 17 years ago

I read a little of The Subtle Knife long before I knew anything of his religious stance, and to be honest, it just seemed a rather disconnected mess.

But as you say, it’ll cause a furore in the US, which will automatically mean a huge box office and WAY more publicity that the studio could ever afford. If those opposed to the film wanted to be successful, the best thing they could do is stay quiet and not go to watch it.

Regarding comments on how one teaches Christian youth, *personally* I don’t think feeding them this stuff is going to be helpful, because the nature of most children/teens is to absorb, rather than question and critique. Much better to teach them to see WHY and guide them in understanding their faith: tell them the right way and explain with examples of the wrong way. Training, rather than just force feeding with bunnies and a blond haired Jesus is, to me, a better way (I’m thinking especially of teens).

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Toni – I agree that the approach of creating a high profile campaign to oppose low key and often non-mainstream artefacts seems very poorly thought-out indeed.

As for teaching and training kids; there is perhaps an important difference between children and teenagers? Certainly with kids under 8-9 the filters do need to be fairly strong. But, teens can well develop critical faculties if they are given room to do so. I’m not advocating a free-for-all, but I do feel its pretty important to have adulthood as the clear goal in approaching teens and for me, adulthood is not just being able to navigate the good and bad, but also being able to take in a lot of the stuff that is grey in constructive ways.

Part of why I struggle with being a little cynical is because although I’ve often *heard* good intentions, my experience has been that parents (and by extension churches) want to postpone the transition to a critical outlook as long as possible and thereby extend the insulatation, often well into adulthood. Given that the jury is now back in on the failures of many youth ministry approaches to develop an adult faith (instead faith is just dropped when adulthood sets in), it makes sense to take a different tack.

Or, to put it another way, if kids can handle Macbeth or Hamlet, why couldn’t they handle His Dark Materials?

Marc 17 years ago

I’ve received two chain-emails on this movie. I did a “reply to all” to one of them, suggesting that a better alternative to an alarmist one (boycotting the film) is to discuss with your children what they’ve seen and heard (if they have seen or want to see it). I can’t imagine this movie being more influential than, say, Star Wars (which has religious overtones) or everyday interaction with a secular world.

I note that the Wikipedia article on the Pullman has Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, finds Pullman’s criticisms of the church helpful and often accurate. Perhaps Williams isn’t your cup of tea, but it is useful to note that there is no universal Christian response to this film.

Judy 17 years ago

As the mother of a teenager and a twenty-year-old, I agree with you, Fernando, that teenagers can develop critical faculties if they are given room to do so. I would also suggest that the education system, at least in Australia, actively encourages them to develop these faculties, so they can and do critique what they hear in church and it is very frequently found wanting intellectually, as well as being deeply boring. Our twenty year old has been actively critiquing things he has seen and heard in church and in the media since he was about 10. Our seventeen year old, who is more concerned about peer opinion, took a little longer to do this, at least out loud. We find it much more useful to let them see/read things and talk to them about what they see/read than to ban things, although we certainly banned things when they were smaller. Although I must admit that there are some TV shows that I still ban on the grounds that I find them deeply offensive and I do not see why I should have something that offends me playing in my living room. Mostly, when the offspring watch them elsewhere they admit that they agree with my assessment.

Steve 17 years ago

I do hope you’ll agree though, that there is no intellectual credibility in denouncing a film before you’ve seen it…..

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Steve – thanks for your comment.

I would say that there is not only potential intellectual credibility in commenting on a film you might not have seen, but, there is also potentially moral credibility as well. First, if someone’s morality would plainly not permit them to view certain kinds of material, or if they would find certain kinds of material potentially harmful, then should they be forced to see it before they can make any comment? That seems abusive to me. Second, films do not come to us in a vacuum, but rather, we read films socially. For example, the popular horror film 1408 was morally abhorrent to me because a technicality in the plot (which I outlined on this blog). Had someone pointed that out to me before seeing the film, there is a 50-50 chance I would have passed on it. I don’t feel any need to see the film to confirm that plot device is nasty in my moral framework (especially if the comment or review from a third party is credible). Moreover, we often have prior sources (like books in the case of adaptations) to guide our impressions of what a film *could* be like.

It’s a frequent complaint that people speak out against films they have not seen and that objection really only flies when there is a significant interpretative requirement from the audience – what e might call the old “justified because of the story” argument. I would agree that a lot of controversial issues in films, especially with regard to sex and violence, fit into this category.

Coming back to HDM – it does seem like there might be some ignorant reaction at work here. But, if someone has read the books, is familiar with the cosmology of the author and has followed the critical debate about the film adaptation do they *have* to see the film before they have any permission to participate in the public debate? I don’t think so.

Now, that they should campaign loudly, engage in name-calling and vilification and generally-speaking help the promotion of the film by the heat they generate – well, that’s another debate entirely.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Judy thanks for your comment and I find your words encouraging. My daughter is now six and I really hope we can grow together to have the kind of relationship where we share the type of critical conversation you’ve illustrated.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Marc – I agree with you. A low-key educate and discuss campaign seems a lot wiser.

The first of the links I put up in the final list is a panel discussion with Pullman and Williams. It’s really fascinating to read the points on which they agree and disagree.

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