The Golden Compass (both the book and the film) have stirred up a good deal of controversey. Critics charge that their author, Philip Pullman is an atheist (true) and that his work is a thinly disguised attack on the Catholic Church (much more problematic.)

Nevertheless several Catholic school boards in Canada have pulled the book off school library shelves and the New York based Catholic League is urging a boycott of the film and the book.

The problem seems to be that in the story, a girl named Lyra, becomes a pawn in a power struggle waged by an all-powerful group called the Magisterium. That body, which critics say as a fictional stand-in for the Catholic Church, seeks obedience through social control, especially of children as they reach puberty. The God figure in the novels (there are two others in the trilogy) is called the Authority.

However other Catholics interpret the trilogy as a denunciation of organized religion dominated by a distant, impostor God. Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Centre for Media Studies in California says Pullman is denouncing a kind of religion that should be denounced:

« That’s his image of religion that he’s doing away with and frankly, we can all do away with that image of church and religion because that’s not the church in Christianity that we believe in today. That God, that he kills off, he’s doing us a favour. »

Gisele Baxter of the University of British Columbia says Pullman’s trilogy centres on an anti-authoritarian parallel universe where the characters are antagonistic to authocratic religious institutions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, says the series should be used in religious education because learning about other spiritual perspectives nurtures a more mature faith.

Have you seen The Golden Compass or read any of Pullman’s work?

Do you think people who have not seen the film should boycott it and should school officials who have not read the book (which has been out for 10 years) should take it off school library shelves?



  1. 1
    John Says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly rational adults can think that this kind of kneejerk reaction does anything but the exact opposite of what they intended.

  2. 2
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    I’ve not read the book nor seen the film, but I agree to the fact that condemnation by the Church or extremist groups are the best publicity a book or a film can get…and for free to boot. For instance, Dan Brown’s da Vinci Code would not have sold so well if the Vatican had shut up. That book I enjoyed a great deal along with the Da Vinci Code decoded.

  3. 3

    It’s the liturgical season of Advent, wherein we Catholics ought be focused on hope. In too many cases we’re overcome with fear. We can get so obsessed with what the devil can use for our spiritual demise that we forget that God can use those same things as means of grace. Are the Pullman books spirtually dangerous? Could be, I haven’t read them to form an opinion, but I can imagine that some readers could find that their faith shaken while others could find their faith renewed.

  4. Paul Costopoulos:

    Your comment made me sad, because you are doing exactly what you denounce: you are condemning something without getting your facts straight.

    You say that the book « da Vinci Code » would not have sold so well if the Vatican had shut up. The only « statement » I can find even remotely from the Vatican was from Cardinal Bertone of Genoa, regarding a conference that was organized in his diocese to address the historical claims within the book. It was dressed up by The Times to be more than it was, but a clarification/rebuttal was issued through ZENIT.

    I might also add that, by the time this false news meme had spread, the book had already sold over 18 million copies. While the news might have resulted in a few more sales, I think it is hardly fitting to blame the Vatican for the popularity of the book through statements it never even made.

    You say that the Vatican should have shut up, even though it never actually said anything in the first place. I think a retraction would be in order.

  5. 6
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Father, If I had my facts wrong be sure I sincerely apologize. However going back to my adolescence, 60 odd years ago, the Index was a strong inducement for us bad kids to access those books. I took some articles at face value. I was wrong to do that without checking further.

  6. 7

    Father Tom,

    Great to have your comment. I have read your very thorough and interesting review of the film. Thanks..

  7. 8
    Chimera Says:

    I gotta laugh. It used to be that « Banned In Boston » was the slogan artists looked for to guarantee critical, social, and financial success. If the Puritan Bostonians were afraid of it, it had to be good!

    Nowadays, everyone looks to see if a religious group (any religious group) is quaking in the corner, shaking their protest signs and crying foul. You can’t get a better barometer for success anywhere!

    Does that not tell us something?

    I have recently read the books (and yes, it was because of the controversy — I had never heard of them before all this fuss by the Catholic League — I oughta send them a thank-you card), and I saw the movie last night. Wonderful stuff! Can’t wait for the second one, and they’re all on my buy list.

    Sister Rose Pacatte is right on the money. Likewise Gisele Baxter. These stories are not about our world…yet. With outfits like the Catholic League, though, we’re getting there!

    Rowan Williams’ thought about using these books in religious education is interesting, and rather provocative. I don’t think they would teach much about other spiritual perspectives, because they don’t contain much in the way of other forms of religion or faith — and that was probably deliberate on Pullman’s part. I do think they would serve as a warning to all paths, though, about what could happen if they hold the reins too tight and try to control too much of their constituents’ lives.

    « Do you think people who have not seen the film should boycott it and should school officials who have not read the book (which has been out for 10 years) should take it off school library shelves? »

    I think people can, and should, do whatever they want. But if they continue to bray about it without knowing what they’re talking about, they’re only showing themselves for the utter imbeciles they are. That makes it much easier for us thinking folk to identify and avoid them.

  8. 9
    John Says:

    Once again, I must be on another planet.

    Let me say up front I have not read the books or watched the movie. Will I ? Probably not (although this hullabaloo is going to make it difficult). I haven’t even gotten myself to the world of Harry Potter yet.

    Can someone explain to me again what this most recent rally to boycott the movie and ban the book is all about?

    It’s about some adults trying to protect kids? Right?

    Or it’s some adults trying to protect other adults whose faith might not be as strong as theirs? Right?

    Or it’s both? Right?

  9. 10
    Chimera Says:

    « It’s about some adults trying to protect kids? Right? »


    « Or it’s some adults trying to protect other adults whose faith might not be as strong as theirs? Right? »

    Nope. Not that, either.

    « Or it’s both? Right? »

    Three for three, and you’ve got a hat trick!

    What it’s about is that some people, being dissatisfied with how much attention they are otherwise not getting, have gotten their panties in a bunch over a fantasy they don’t understand, and they’re raising a howl about how they’re being oppressed over it.

    That’s what it’s about.

  10. 11
    John Says:

    Thanks, Chimera.
    Not sure I got a hat trick or struck out because I still don’t get it.
    Who’s being oppressed? School kids? Catholics?

  11. 12
    Chimera Says:

    LOL! I was giving you the hat trick to keep on the positive side of things!

    Nobody is actually being oppressed. The Catholic League is saying that Catholics are being dissed (oppressed, made fun of, discriminated against, booed, and generally un-liked — oh, the horror of it all!) because Pullman actually uses some words in his books that the Catholic organization also uses. Words like « magisterium. » And « Authority. » And « angel. »

    Pretty bad, eh? 😈

  12. 13
    John Says:

    Thanks for trying to keep it on the positive side, Chimera, much appreciated and for trying to help me understand this. I know at times I sound like I’m being facetious, but I really do struggle with this kind of thing…as you can tell.

    So the League thinks that if other people (Catholics? adolescents? children?) go to the movie/read the book they will also think badly about the Church and be led to atheism? (I know you don’t speak for them).

  13. 14
    Chimera Says:

    That’s my take on it, yes. That’s a pretty handy nutshell compactor you got there, John! 😆 Your first comment on this thread is bang on, as well. And as annoying as the knee-jerkers are, they can sometimes be useful in pointing out things of interest that might otherwise escape my notice…

  14. 15
    John Says:

    Well, well isn’t that something?

    You know what shakes the faith of young people?
    When they see the Church running scared because of a silly movie.
    They can’t handle an institution that’s foundation seems so weak and whose members seem so paranoid. They really, really can’t.

    And BTW Fr. Tom I have a 5 yr. old grandson who actually knows that real trains are nothing like Thomas the Train (as far as fact & fiction go) and if I had a dime for every adolescent who gave two hoots, one way or the other, about the Magisterium I still couldn’t buy a double-double at Timmy’s.

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