Saturday, December 1, 2007


Even as the film The Golden Compass is garnering award after award even before its December 7, 2007 US release we are now seeing hysterical headlines filled with rage like, “Horrifying for Christians", "It’s About Killing God", "Warn All Parents", "Don’t Let the Children See This Movie” in e-mails, blogs and even in printed media. It appears that the Catholic Church, The Catholic League and some right wing Christian elements are warning all Christian parents that if they allow their children to see this movie they may be condemned to eternal damnation or, heaven forbid, they and their children might form an independent conscious thought outside the realm of Christian protocol. Gads!

I was raised in the Episcopal Church, even considered the ministry and still profess my faith and belief (roughly) along those theological lines. I have studied and filtered the Anglican doctrine accepting and embracing (and sometimes rejecting) those many tenets that I have engaged over my sixty-four years. My church wouldn’t think about telling me how to cast my vote (US Catholic bishops do) or hammer me with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Now comes atheist Philip Pullman with his bestselling and award-winning novel, The Golden Compass based on His Dark Materials trilogy. Not unlike Tolkien or C.S. Lewis the setting is a fantasy adventure, “in an alternative world where people's souls manifest themselves as small animals, where talking bears fight wars, and Gyptians and witches co-exist.”

In The Golden Compass the church (no doubt) is in the business of kidnapping children and conducting some rather unpleasant experiments on them. Mercy, could the Catholic Church ever be criticized for abusing children?

The fear that our more alarmist Christian neighbors and Friends espouse is that since in their estimation a boy and girl kill God in Pullman’s final book, there is little doubt about his intentions. I say, so what?

Nothing good can come of censorship. Many folks disagreed with most everything that Kurt Vonnegut said or wrote, but I sure admired him and was entertained and motivated by his messages. Some attempted to censor Vonnegut who commented about librarians back in 1983 that, “Many of them may hate what I write, even though I am, at my worst, no more dangerous than a banana split. They defend my books because they are law abiding and they understand, as did our Founding Fathers, that it is vital in a democracy that its voters have access to every sort of opinion and information.'' Right on!

The recent enabling and elevation of dullard, cowboy wanna-be Don Imus of “nappy headed hos” fame who was heretofore known only as a mundane, mediocre morning show caricature with little if any redeeming qualities, punctuates this point. Now the comatose, muttering (now censored) Imus has press that has rewarded him with an even wider satellite radio audience and filled the pockets and agendas of the hypocritical Al Sharptons of the world who continue to insult in even more vile terms.

I intend to see The Golden Compass in order to satisfy my own curiosity and also because I don't have a "burn the book" mentality. I'm not going to cut and run or, "be horrified" because some movie espouses a premise or theology that I don't personally embrace (I saw the movie Reds and I’m not a communist).

That's just not how the United States works or how the world should operate. I will determine if my children are mature enough to understand The Golden Compass and maybe even engage in some good conversation following the flick.

I remember the similar reaction in the Jewish Community to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Look at the current idiotic (and staged) uproar in Sudan because a British schoolteacher and her seventh grade class innocently named a classroom Teddy Bear, "Mohammed." These extremists have actually demanded that the school teacher be put to death. Insane! This is same song, different verse. We have to be above that while embracing our own faith and belief systems. As I heard someone say the other day, “Have faith in your faith.”

I do agree that we need to strongly differentiate between mature adults who can intellectually survey the movie and its attendant landscape and then make up their own minds as opposed to impressionable children who may not understand the metaphorical intent and belief system (such as it is) of Philip Pullman. Meanwhile the atheist community sees nothing wrong as the movie would, "encourage children to question authority." That's all I need - my eight year old grandson, questioning my authority?

I wondered if the stars of this flick (Kidman, Bacon, Elliot, etc) understood the storyline (and embraced it) or was it all just about money? If they have that belief I will not condemn them but engage my right to forever couch my impressions, reactions and support of their work based on their personal protocols and agendas as I sure have with Susan Sarandon (does she look good or what?) and the incredible but woefully stupid Dixie Chicks who can now write a book on how to expertly paint themselves into a corner.

In response to this criticism, however, Nicole Kidman was recently quoted, "The Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic". The film is perceived by some as "anti-establishment", as reflected in the oppressive “Magisterium”. Apparently the movie has been somewhat sanitized to the point that even the atheists are also very upset. Sounds like we have a draw?

At this point I am not so sure that people almost want to be offended because they enjoy being victimized, kind of a knock this chip off my shoulder mentality. People of goodwill and (yes) faith will have to work around this unlike some communities that are now considering banning not only the film but Pullman’s book.

When I heard this I was reminded of a successful censorship when a very popular Frisco, Texas schoolteacher with 28 years under her belt was censured and then fired from her job because she took her fifth grade class on an approved field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) where despite a pre-tour visit and assurances from DMA, there just happened to be some nude statuary. Apparently on the way to their exhibits the teacher and her class passed by the nude marble torso of a Greek youth from a funerary relief, circa 330 B.C. and Auguste Rodin’s famous tormented sculpture “Shade”.

That Texas school district and the principal are now (thankfully) laughably derided and held with contempt by many inside and out of the district. I wouldn’t move to Frisco if you paid me and I suspect they wouldn’t want me. It certainly appears that the citizens of Frisco let this happen and for you insiders, no, she wasn’t wearing flip flops, rather designer sandals. Despite smiles, some DMA folks remain appalled that this embarrassing and eye-opening incident ever occurred. No wonder we grow up so many maladjusted children to adults who hold the bodies of their opposite numbers in some neurotic, voyeuristic synapse rather than the pursuit of normalcy.

I say who the hell are those who would challenge the First Amendment's guarantee against such ignorance and arrogance? Historian and two time Pulitzer Prize author Barbara Tuchman put this whole issue in perspective when she wrote, "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."

Aside from the above-referenced Rodin bronze, Greek marble bas relief and the film, I have an answer to our little dilemma. Ban paper. OK, not really…

Kurt Vonnegut made a statement about those who are quick to criticize and may have even been directed at those who criticized his works by saying, “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” I guess such is the power of ideas…


Ned Buxton

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