Skip to comments.'Golden Compass' an attack on faith? (Nah, says Rabbi, it's a good message movie for our children)
Posted on 12/12/2007 11:41:17 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o
The controversy surrounding the recently released film, The Golden Compass, is in part because of the author's avowed atheism and in part because of the message of the film and its potential effect on children.
This is a "fantasy Western," complete with Sam Elliot in a cowboy hat. There are good guys and bad guys with a confrontation and battle between the two (good wins). In addition to the human beings, there are also demons and witches and goblins some good and some bad. Compare The Golden Compass to the first Star Wars film and to the Harry Potter series: in all three there are humans and demons and all manner of non-human and supernatural creatures, the adult world is locked in a battle-to-the-death between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and at the center of the story is a child who saves the world from evil.
The "bad guy" in The Golden Compass The Magisterium is clearly the Catholic Church and its hierarchy. Indeed, I found the parallels between the Magisterium and the Church to be rather heavy-handed. Many of the early scenes take place in cathedral-like structures, complete with stained glass windows. The women of the Magisterium wear caps similar to nun's caps; many of the men wear high collars resembling a priest's collar. There is a single supreme leader who rules over a sophisticated hierarchy, mostly intent on increasing its power and on dictating "truth" to the masses. There are classrooms supervised by nun-like instructors. Children may not get the connection, but adults surely do.
In this fantasy world, people have souls (called "demons") that are outside of their bodies in the form of animals. The conversations between a person and his or her demon are like our own internal dialogues. It is the Magisterium's goal to strip the soul/demon away from the body, leaving the individual without the ability to reason internally and thus without free will.
The most prized and guarded substance is dust, the film's metaphor for reason. The forces of good are on a quest for this dust; the forces of evil are doing everything in their power to keep the dust from settling on anyone. The forces of good are trying to bring reason and free will to the world. The Magisterium is using all of its considerable power to keep reason from the people and to replace free will with "indecision."
Judaism celebrates both human reason and the importance of free will. The Golden Compass takes a strong stand against any institution that seeks to deprive human beings of their free will or to try to diminish the importance of reason in our search for truth. This film unfortunately targets the Catholic Church in particular. But its broader message is an attack on all religious (or political) orthodoxies that purport to dictate truth to their adherents. As a Conservative rabbi, I feel that this is a worthy message for our children.
Rabbi Mark Fasman serves Shaare Zedek Synagogue in St. Louis, MO.
Ping to read later
Sounds like the Rabbi doesn’t understand who the “good guys” in this movie are.
Good letter. Your tone and content are fine.
Not that we care not into that type of entertainment.
Still have never seen a Harry Potter movie.
Fantasy movies just are not of interest to us.
And that Nicole Kidman has creep-ed me out since that masks and group sex movie she did with Tom.
She is just kinda creepy. JMO
Come to think of it so is Tom and now his new wife (she should have stuck to her Catholic faith).
I dont usually pick on innocent babies but even there kid has a dark looking essence about him.
Had a “date night” with my 17 year-old daughter this last weekend. I was really pushing to go see August Rush (on my mother’s recommendation) - but my daughter finally won, so we went to see the “GC”.
1. We are not Catholic, but hearing that there is anti-Catholic language, I was keeping a lookout for any potentially offensive language. I couldn’t spot any. Color me ignorant I guess...
2. After the movie was done, my daughter stated “Dad, we should have gone to see August Rush”. She wasn’t terribly impressed.
If dust is a metaphor in this movie for reason, then it is an extremely poor one. No wonder the movie flopped.
Didn’t Nicole make another creepy movie?
Not familiar with that one.
Then again I have never been a fan of her movies/acting.
I think Kidman has sexual problems. Too many of her movies have themes of deviance. I don't know why she chooses these scripts (almost all of her movies tank), but she seems drawn to the dark side.
When I watched the movie, there was no way anyone could clearly or even bluringly, tell that The Magisterium was any church, much less the catholic church.
‘Children may not get the connection, but adults surely do’...I believe that’s because children went to see a movie, and some adults went to see what they wanted to see, whether it was there or not.
I’m on book two right now. Its difficult to figure out who the bad guys and good guys are. Which I think is part of the point, along with the discussion of What is God?
I can’t fully commit to an opinion till I finish reading the entire series.
It does seem a little “heavy” on the philosophical for kids, but that being said, I read well above my grade level when I was younger, so there may be some kids really into the discussion.
It is interesting, however, the author’s whole take on “The War on Heaven” and souls.
The Church in the novel is crooked, but its not “our world”. Should The Church always be portrayed in a positive light?
I find myself enjoying the series so far and look forward to the conclusion.
Who is this Mark Fasman? I never heard of him.
Think of making “Triumph of the Will” in order to get kids to by “Mein Kampf”.
Then either Sam Elliot is an imbecile, or thinks we are imbeciles. It's PG-13, target middle-schoolers. They'e doing promotions with Coca-Cola, World Wildlife Fund (which has set up a wobsite to help kids choose their favorite animal daemons), FAO Schwarz (absolute ultimate toy store), and Scholastic (largest publsher of children's books in the world, distributes through the schools K-12.)
Sam is also unaware, or hopes we are unaware, that author Philip Pullman is quite up=front with his oal of targeting children with atheism:
"I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."
(Wartofsky, Alona: 'The Last Word' in The Washington Post, 19 February 2001)
"I am all for the death of God." http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,773058,00.html
"My books are about killing God.
I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry [Potter] has said.
Pullmans December 13, 2003 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald
She was in a movie called 'The Other" which is a ghost movie and very, very depressing.
Golden Compass was installment #1, toned down to get the kids into buying the books (or sking for them for Christmas) and seeing the sequels, where it gets really poisonous. Did you read what I wrote to Rabbi Felsman?
And there's this:
An excellent letter, Mrs. Don-o. I note with satisfaction that this “rabbi” is not Orthodox.
President, St. Louis Rabbinical Association
He must be an imbicile.
By the way I wanted to order a gift at FAQ and they were out of stock so I found another internet store and called them, saved $20 and toy way in stock.
Hee Hee. Made my budget happy day and that was the last gift on the list. Done shopping.
Good letter! I’m Catholic, but having grown up mainly among Jews, I will say that I have never understood what makes “Conservative Jews” any more conservative than Reform Jews.
However, Orthodox Jews are a different ballgame. I haven’t read any reviews of this movie from Orthodox Jewish sources. Does anybody know if there are any reviews?
Of course not, he would be shrieking that the movie and the books must be banned, just like the ADL carried on about "Passion of the Christ."
Orthodox Jews, as a group, are not a significant movie audience, very few reviews are targeted to this audience.
Personally, I would not be interested in viewing this movie.
No, that’s true, most Orthodox Jews would never have considered it in the first place. (I wish I could say the same about the USCCB.)
Actually, I took a fairly conservative message out of Eyes Wide Shut, which was Stanley Kubrik's last film. The viewer is so shocked by the decadence of the secret society that engaged outrageous sexual behavior, that we barely notice all the lives that are destroyed by the 'normal' everyday behavior of people cheating on their spouses and the like. The point I took from that movie is it's the mundane moral failings of everyday people that destroy a society more than spectacular decadence.
But a movie like that is made for adults to think about and debate. The whole point of The Golden Compass is to manipulate the views of young people, which is why I find it so objectionable.
But its broader message is an attack on all religious (or political) orthodoxies that purport to dictate truth to their adherents. As a Conservative rabbi, I feel that this is a worthy message for our children.
What is the point of a religion that doesn't "dictate truth to its adherents"? If people don't agree with what a particular religion claims is true, then they're not going to be "adherents" of that faith.
Actually, Catholics know (or should know) that The Magisterium is the Tradition/Teaching authority of the Catholic Church so yes, we understand when they set The Magisterium as evil that they are referring to the Catholic Church.
What about everyone else?
Now everyone else knows.
But it's interesting that almost all the words which originally had to do with fidelity to the truth have been turned into terms of opprobrium: Dogmatic. Doctrinaire. Pontificate. Orthodoxy. Fundamentalist. Cult. Indoctrination. Even "propaganda" at one time meant only the propagation of religious truth, without any negative connotation.
Conversely, these have been converted into honorifics: Unorthodox. Maverick. Revolutionary. Heretic.
Well done, Mrs. Don-o.
"After the movie was done, my daughter stated Dad, we should have gone to see August Rush. She wasnt terribly impressed."
As were many of the reviewers of the movie. After the blizzard of emails from various organizations concerning this movie, I have kept an eye out in the print media.
The movie bombed its opening weekend. [Source]. At this point, it still has to make 100 million, just to break even, which at this point is highly unlikely.
Although some of that may be attributed to Conservative organizations calling for a boycott, that has not had a big impact before, because the controversy just generates interest.
From everything I've read, it was a lousy, tedious movie. Furthermore, in light of the failures of various "anti-war" movies in recent months, I think Americans, no matter what their faith/political background, have had it with Hollyweird's overt, obvious attack on faith, traditional morality, and American patriotism over the decades.
That being so, the only thing these producers understand is the bottom line, and the bottom line, as in this case with The Golden Compass, is hemorrhaging red ink. Oh, well, let the movie executives cry. Give me another 300 (almost $71,000,000 its first weekend), The Patriot, or Saving Private Ryan before I'll pay the outrageous price for a theater ticket.
Nice letter, Mrs. Don-o.
Ping, to read later.
from the rabbis website:
spirituality (pot smoking?)
inclusion (anything goes)
Jewish learning (Karl Marx)
tikun olam (see above)
community involvement (dhimmitude)
support for Israel (supports withdrawals from Yesha)
Ha! I think you got him there. And Thanks for motivating me to look up the meaning of “Yesha.” I learned something today.
back at ya!
I appreciate your comments on my review. You are correct - I have never read these books, so I was both incorrect in spelling (daemons) and in understanding the word "intercission." I was also unaware of the far-more-explicit language of the books (though I understand that the books were an attack on religion in general).
And yes, I would be deeply offended if the film had caricatured Jews. And with that in mind, I believe that you are correct that I should have registered more objection to the caricaturing of the Church. (In part, it was a matter of a 500-word limitation - I cut out some of my stronger words of objection.)
The only pre-conception that I had when I entered the theater was what I had heard through the general media - I did not consult in-depth reviews and only skimmed through some of the Internet pieces. I wanted to see the film with relatively "fresh" eyes.
My endorsement of the film was on the premise that I believe that most children would not have made the connection to Catholicism in particular or religion in general. Similarly, I was not offended by explicitly demeaning Jewish images in the media until I was in my 20's - as I recall, I did not even make the association with Judaism (and yet I see those negative images quite clearly as an adult, and can process them as such).
I suspect that there are thoughtful members of the Jewish community who would disagree with my premise that free will and reason are necessarily Jewish values.
Mostly though, I got the sense (perhaps mistaken) that this was really a good-vs.-evil film in which the world is saved by a child. I felt that the film concretized the otherwise-abstact concept of "soul." I may have theological objections to how the soul "works" in the human being, but I found it interesting that there was an explicit insistence that human beings have "souls," a term I associate with religious thought as opposed to atheism. And I had the feeling that children (and adults) would come away with the very American message of rejecting coercive authority of any kind. I personally do not believe that political and religious institutions are necessarily evil. Quite the contrary, I believe that their institutional intentions and actions are very good, far better than humanity would come up with if these institutions did not exist.
During the festival of Chanukah, the central miracle that is celebrated within each of our thrice-daily services is the victory of the weak over the strong, the few over the many, the pure over the corrupt, the innocent over the guilty. This miracle could only take place because God stood by His people in their "time of trouble, defended them, vindicated them, and avenged their wrongs." The film does not acknowledge God, but neither does it does rule God out. And in fact, it is only with the help of the (concretized-for-children) supernatural that victory is possible.
As an adult, I would have probably avoided going to this film for two reasons: I don't particularly care for fantasy films and I do not wish to financially support the author of the book series because of his stated views on religion. In a like way, I do not go to films made by anyone whose public statements and behaviors I find reprehensible. But as a child, neither of these reasons would apply.
I consider GC a mixed bag: some good messages for children and adults, some potentially offensive messages for adults, an engaging story line, but based on a more problematic text (though I have not read these books).
You gave me much to think about. I can certainly understand that this film could be found offensive by religious individuals and institutions. Yet I hope that you understand that, in my brief article, it was not my intention in any way to offend any religious community or individual. As a rabbi, I certainly do not wish to celebrate anything that drives people from faith or communal engagement. It would sadden me greatly to learn that my comments had any offended person of faith.
Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.
With all good wishes,
Rabbi Mark Fasman
Rabbi Mark Fasman
Shaare Zedek Synagogue
829 N. Hanley Road
St. Louis, MO 63130
Stu, honey, the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church is called THE MAGESTERIUM!!!
The Jews were up in arms over The Passion!!!...even thought there was nothing anti-Semitic. The ROMANS crucified Jesus.
Okay, I guess he didn’t object. Nice letter he wrote.
I didn’t know that. As I said, there was no way to tell that from the movie. Unless someone already knew that, then the movie didn’t appear to be against the Catholic church.