A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from one of my new parishioners. It was a chain-e-mail warning that the movie The Golden Compass was basically a tool to recruit youth to atheism. At that point, I pledged to that parishioner that I would go get the book and read it, and I would try to see the movie, and then, and ONLY then, would I feel qualified to judge the merits of the argument.
Two weeks later, I got a very similar e-mail from another current parishioner. I replied similarly to them, but adding the statement that I hadn't yet gotten the book.
This weekend, I got a third very similar e-mail, this time from a parishioner at a church I used to serve. At that point, I still hadn't gotten the book.
I take the hint! I am going to Delaware this week, and I have a gift card to a bookstore down there. I will use it to buy as much of the series as I can.
After that first e-mail, I read a few articles online about the author, Phillip Pullman. (Don't worry, they were from repuatable sites like regular British newspapers.) Indeed, he is an atheist. From what I gather in the articles, he is a much more genial atheist than guys like Christopher Hitchens. He personally chooses not to believe, but he doesn't seem to mind particularly that others do. His big beef is with a monolithic church that demands assent and seeks to run people's lives. In the books, apparently, he has created a "magisterium", which functions much as the worst parts of organized religion do. And in England, where he's from, the organized church means the state church, the Church of England. That particular church is invovled in the official and governmental life of England in a way that is foreign to us in the US.
A few things about me as I begin this project--I enjoy fantasy, though my patience runs out quickly with certain formulas (Robert Jordan, anyone?). I also enjoy movies. This project will not be entirely a chore. I am not going into it with the attitude that sin and heresy are present, and I am seeking it where it lives and destroying it. I do, however, have the ability to name what I consider to be theologically suspect, even as I enjoy the storytelling.
So, I am going to read the whole series of three, and I will see the movie of the first one. But I will warn people--I approach controversies like this from a very skeptical angle. Often, I believe, books like this, The Last Temptation of Christ, and the like are protested because one particular scene or idea is taken out of context, and made to be heretical. Usually the controversy is kindled by folks who never actually even try to see what the author/moviemaker intended. And the intended statment of the movie turns out to be entirely orthodox, devotional, or something that religious people probably should hear. Don't get me started on one of my favorite TV shows ever, Nothing Sacred, about an inner city Catholic priest, which lasted one season on ABC 15-20 years ago.
It may happen that I will blog periodically as I am trying to fit in reading these books along with the rest of my vocation as a pastor. If they are a quick read, then I will write less.