Saturday, November 17, 2007

"The Moral Compass" vs "The Golden Compass"

I have been getting several emails about this "Golden Compass" movie, due to be released soon. Initially, I was unwilling to add any more to its already huge publicity stint. However, the growing interest makes it quite necessary for me to say something about it. In summary, while I have my reservations about the movie/book, I think Christians must play fair when critiquing anything.

The most popular posting AGAINST the movie is this. Snopes is often used to check against hoax messages on the internet. This time, it looks like people are using them as a warning label against the Golden Compass movie. The Catholic League condemns the movie outright. They are unhappy that the movie targets the Catholic Church institution directly, and that the movie is an insidious invitation for unsuspecting minds (especially children) to read Pullman's other books. If the "Golden Compass" is considered mild, the other books are worse, so says the Catholic League. They also argue that the timing of the release of the movie is an affront against Christian values, since it coincide with the coming Christmas season. The logic is this: Children will be confused that the coming of Christ gets meshed up with the 'killing of God'. Can children able to link the two together? Even adults can sometimes be confused. How much more our kids?

Some groups feel that it is blown out of proportion. There are those who see the movie as an opportunity to talk about the pros and cons of atheism. The National Catholic Register has this to say. There are also scholars who while normally moderate, tilt towards asking people to "avoid the movie like a plague."

There are plenty of arguments for and against the banning of the movie. For me, it is certainly not safe for people (not only children) who are biblically illiterate to read and draw conclusions just by reading the book. It will be like eating bad pizza and concluding that all kinds of pizza are equally bad. For those who have biblical grounding already, this book serves as an opportunity to engage the cultural mindset of this age. For those of us who fall into neither of this camp, and would like good family read-together, may I suggest that the reader read "The Moral Compass" instead. Perhaps all parties in dispute ought to read BOTH books!

My plea to Christians will be this. If you want to criticize a movie/book, do so credibly, and not simply quoting a source and assume its accusations are gospel truth. The Snopes warning seems to be bordering on the sensational.

If there is one reason to avoid watching any movie, it will be this. Children needs books like "The Moral Compass" by William J Bennett, more than the "Golden Compass". The former encourages children to develop family virtues like courage, friendship, love, trust and goodness. The latter on the other hand seems to put into children the ability to criticize what they see, to be suspicious and ultimately cynical of life and society. Do our children need to learn how to criticize others? If we groom a new generation on the basis of questioning authority for the sake of questioning, how do we cultivate healthy respect for one another? Even though the book/movie tells a story for the sake of entertainment, does that justify slaughtering the character of people and institutions? A book written for children, no matter how entertaining, needs to have their own moral bearings. Writing an entertainment book without any consideration of a child's moral development is downright unethical. If the Golden Compass is such a book, I will agree with Ben Witherington that it should be absolutely avoided. I have yet to read the book from cover to cover, so I cannot make any conviction to ban or to recommend it absolutely. Having said that, some fundamentals still hold.

For Christians, read the Bible daily and pray. That is the best way to wear and train ourselves to use the armour of God. No earthly book can ever pierce this armour. In conclusion, if our kids have not learned how to waddle in the swimming pool of the bible, why throw them to the deep waters of secular beliefs? They may drown.

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