Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Wee Bit of Confession

I have some confessions to make. I while ago, I said that I would read The Golden Compass and its two sequels, which make up a trilogy called His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. I said in a previous blog that I was going to read them, and see the movie, because there were a number of my parishioners who had received rather alarmist e-mails about the content--in short, that the point of the books is an anti-religion diatribe, and that God is killed in the end.

That was right about mid-December, when the movie was released. My confession is that I have run aground halfway through the second book, and still haven't seen the movie. I lost energy in the project, and my attention was grabbed by other things, like about 4 other books, a personal effort to deepen my discipline of prayer, and beginning to learn how to pick my mandolin with proper technique. I guess I am not much the movie reviewer, and even less the great white knight of religious investigation and reason!

But here's the thing. The stuff I have read around the trilogy and the movies have confirmed many of my suppositions. I supposed that Pullman could not have been purely atheist in the sense that he was actively, malevolently and diabolically working to destroy the believers of God and ultimately God Godself. If he really was, good luck with that. And sure enough, he's not. Hanna Rosin, in the December 2007 Atlantic, writes: When pressed, Pullman grants that he’s not really trying to kill God, but rather the outdated idea of God as an old guy with a beard in the sky. I supposed that whatever is destroyed in the end was perhaps not God, but a demi-God type character that would be similar to a Gnostic emanation, and at least in that same article here, that seems to be true.

The original motivation for doing this little project was my instinctive reaction to the phenomena of e-mails from dubious sources dictating how Christians should react to popular culture. They all seem to have the same meta-message--bad, stay away, REAL Christians should run away, be very afraid. And I'm sorry, but that isn't helpful at all. It makes me nuts when someone says oh, this movie is evil, it is about doing _______________________(put conspiratorial opposition to ________________ here).

God is stronger than that, and so should our faith be.

Folks, this is is the United States of America. Our mass culture is shot through with religion, or the things which evoke religious imagery. We've not changed much since DeToqueville passed through in the early 1800's. We're a religious people, even those who aren't necessarily members of religions. Our mass market entertainment isn't going to mess with that. What may get a little tender and prickly is when our suppositions and assumptions, the things we use as connective tissue to make our faith work, get stiff and hard. It's exactly like tendons and sinews--they get hard, it's hard to move, and they really hurt when they are asked to exercise.

In San Francisco and Japan, buildings are built on flexible, moveable foundations in order to withstand earthquakes better. They've learned that there is greater strength in flexibility than immobility. Faith is meant to be strong, but strength isn't in a rock hard foundation. It's in it's flexibility. Stuff like His Dark Materials, or many other things in music, movies, books and the like, shouldn't shake our faith, but should be seen as opportunities to strengthen and stretch it. After all, if it is good for the body, if sudoku is good for the mind, why shouldn't we expect exercise to be good for faith, too?

I'll probably pick the books back up at some point, and it may be that I'll finally see the movie when it becomes a pay-per-view on DirecTV. And when the next alarmist e-mail comes across my computer screen, I'll check it out and pay some attention. But I don't think I will promise to do again what it was I said I would do around The Golden Compass. I don't want to fail to follow through again.

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