Saturday, December 8, 2007

Thoughts on The Golden Compass

“Dude, this movie is cool,” was the unorthodox thought that kept coming through my brain as I watched The Golden Compass. I think ice bear fights and a different old world with futuristic gadgets and aerocraft is cool, even if it comes in a not-so-great context. Yes, I know the movie is subtlety (or not so subtlety) encouraging atheism, and I know that Phillip Pullman, the creator, is an avid atheist and is anti-Christian, and I know I’m supposed to think its bad, but I think it’s so much more than all of that.

Please understand that I am not negating the previous statements. There are elements in the story that are quite contrary to my Christian worldview. There were parts I don't agree with or like; there are scenes that don't hide the allusion of bashing Christianity. However, I think The Golden Compass should inspire the Church to action, rather than causing the Church to stay home doing nothing but complaining about Hollywood.

So here are my thoughts on The Golden Compass.

1) It is an example of a movie that has an compelling plot, great graphics and cinematography, and good actors.
2) It is a good example of a humanistic worldview and the problems presented by this worldview.
3) Therefore, it provides a great opportunity for Christians to present an alternative, better worldview to those impacted by the movie or books.
4) It’s a reminder to the American Church that ‘atheists’ are telling great stories and making great movies, and the Church really isn’t doing much to impact the arts. And that must change – now.

I’ve read the first book and I’ve seen the movie. I’ve also read interviews with the author and director, plus many reviews of both book and movie. I’ve also read many reviews based on hearsay and secondhand knowledge rather than a personal opinion of the material.

The story itself, sans religious themes, has many exciting elements. It is set in a universe parallel to our own, which has different mystical creatures. One of the best things about the movie was the setting; the parallel universe is both old-fashioned and futuristic at the same time, and they blended it all together well. Ultimately, it is a story of redemption, an epic struggle in which the bad guys fight the good guys, friendships are tested and found loyal, and heroes are developed from unlikely sources. Seriously, what kid (child, preteen, teen, or adult) wouldn’t want to set off on an amazing adventure, protect and avenge his friends, and be rescued by a fearsome ice bear who destroys the bad guys?

Yet, the story comes from a very humanistic worldview. The governing authority seeks to redeem the world not for freedom, but so that it can achieve greater power and control. The cost of this redemption is the separation of human children from their souls in animal form, causing death for both child and animal in experimental stages. The story’s conflict comes into being because mankind rejects God and tries to redeem himself, leading only to death.

So what is the Christian response? I think Christians need to take the opportunity presented by this movie to offer a greater worldview in which God took our death that we may know life. God redeemed the world by becoming the sacrifice Himself! This is a great opportunity for parents to discuss worldviews with their preteens and teens, though I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (PG-13 rating). Families should discuss the differences in beliefs between atheism and Christianity, why those differences exist, and why they are important. No one will become strong and confident in their beliefs if they aren't exposed to contrary ideas and forced to defend their own. Then take advantage of a cultural event (aka, a new movie with a lot of cool elements) to reach out to kids who don’t have such a learning environment. Introduce Christian themes while contrasting the beliefs of the bad guys in the movie.

Christians seem motivated to reach out to culture only when the controversy is a positive spin toward the Church, such as that surrounding The Passion of the Christ. Scripture urges us to “make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” The days we live in are evil. The entertainment of our culture is typically not supportive of the Christian worldview. But this does not mean we shouldn’t engage our culture! We seem caught off-guard when an alternate worldview garners attention in media. We want to send a mass email about how bad a movie is and then run to hide behind the walls of the church. The Church has no reason to respond with fear, for we have the message of victory and of life. Often we seem afraid of any other view being presented, but if the Church does its job of showing who Jesus is in a world that needs Him, there isn't much contest. Reality trumps counterfeit every time. The world needs LIFE, but it will not receive it until they understand the gospel, as lived out in the lives of believers: living in the world but belonging to Christ.

The Church needs to impact people on a personal level, in daily relationships, but Christians also have an obligation to affect the culture as a whole. Christians have not taken a forward role in the arts, in producing music and movies and books and plays that appeal to mainstream America. Therefore, we have no right to be surprised or frustrated when people of other worldviews create media that represents their beliefs and thoughts. Pullman is a good and influential author who is also an atheist. I should be able to list a dozen authors who are also good and influential in their craft, but who are Christian and write out of their Christian beliefs. The Church cannot limit Hollywood involvement to remakes of the Easter and Christmas stories, with a few stories of implausible plots and weak budgets and casts thrown in for fun every now and then. We have to impact people where they are, and for many, that means taking our message out of Sunday School classrooms and into the cinemas, into the best seller charts, and into mainstream culture.

In an oft used quote, St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." This is the challenge the Church faces today. First of all, we must be willing to preach the gospel in church, not a watered down self-help course. The gospel must be known before it can be spread. Then, we must know the truth and power of the gospel personally in our lives, so that it naturally flows out of us as we interact with the world. Handing out a tract and telling someone they're going to hell isn't the best way to reach people - reach people around you through relationships. By the same token, however, don't be ashamed of telling the Truth in those relationships; the emphasis is on living and 'preaching' together. The third thing is a natural step-up: as the gospel flows out of us in relationships, it must also be seen in our workplace - for some, this may be business ethics or in a classroom. But we also need to encourage strong Christian youth to influence the arts: movies, books, and music, but also video games, journalism, and Internet. Christian influence doesn't mean all the characters have to be Christian or become Christians. It doesn't mean Jesus has to be mentioned or an altar call given. But the themes and values should reflect the gospel - the greatest story of all time.

We have the greatest story of all time. What are we going to do with it?

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