More on The Golden Compass

I emailed Philip Pullman via his website to see if he’d have time for an interview, but I haven’t heard back from him. I suspect he’s really busy with the movie promotion and premier and all, so I’ll continue to post a few things to discuss about the book and movie and the whoopla surrounding both.

A Canadian school has decided to pull Pullman’s (sorry) books from circulation, becasue the author is an atheist. If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is. If you don’t think so, just imagine the outcry if they’d pulled books saying they didn’t want kids reading any books written by Jewish authors.

The Centre for Inquiry and the Canadian Secular Alliance is calling an Ontario school board’s decision to remove a children’s book from its library shelves, “an overt example of the discrimination against atheists by the religious.”

The Halton Catholic District School Board ordered “The Golden Compass” to be removed from library shelves at dozens of schools after receiving a request for review from a member of the community.

At least they give Pullman his say in the article. It doesn’t sound like they contacted him, though, they just quote from his website.

Pullman, known for his “legendary atheism” in the British press, has never shied away from his controversial views on religion.

“The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people’s lives in the name of some invisible god (and they’re all invisible, because they don’t exist) — and done terrible damage,” Pullman writes on his website.

“In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.”

I love it when I hear about idiots in other countries. It makes me not feel quite so bad about living in the US.

Hat tip to PZ, who said it better, ” I’m sure glad we can still find an occasional non-American to do something asinine and let us know that pissant prudery is a global phenomenon.”


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I've just read the whole trillogy. What they call "Atheist agenda" does get worse as the story progresses. The whole trillogy is based on the similarity of the Adam and Eve story to the Science/Church relationship. The forbidden fruit represents science, the opening of eyes, which the Authority doesn't want us to do. It makes you think that throughout the Bible, God does seem to favor blind faith over free thought and works in mysterious ways that in no way help the Chosen Nation help themselves.

    His Dark Materials portray God not as nonexistent, but as a real control freak and, once you think about it, so does the Bible.

  2. I still am a little wary of the way this film will play out in political consciousness. No matter how well it does (and there is no guarantee that it will be well made or successful) folks like drudge are going to hype it as a failure and compare it to things like the Narnia movie… all to "prove" that films made by nonbelievers or with non-believer-friendly themes can't hack it, suck, are just bitter nasty messes, etc. Some reviewers will be extra harsh and nasty period because of it.

    And man, realistic animated talking animals are 99 times out of 100 totally fricking annoying.

  3. Wow, I am shocked to see something hit this close to home. I know a few people who have attended these schools, and yet this is the first I have heard of this.

    I will have to ask around, I think… That, or… you know… start reading local papers.


    "His Dark Materials portray God not as nonexistent, …"

    My take on the series is that the Authority wasn't the actual Creator God, but an angel who passed itself off as the Almighty when the worlds were new, and eventually got so fragile and senile it had to preserve itself inside a crystal. Its illegitimate dominion had passed to another angel by the time of the series.

    So, technically, the actual all-powerful Creator never appeared, and by implication never existed.

  5. Hi Kids

    I was of course angry and shocked when I read this in the news but as I read further I saw that in fact the process for that board is that as soon as one complaint is raised, they assess a book. The head of the board of inquiry for the Halton School board was interviewed and downplayed it as a normal procedure. The books are still in the library but just not on the shelf. Anyone who wishes to take them out can just ask at the sign out desk. The head of the board went on to say that he had just finished chapter three and found the author engaging and the story entertaining, so chances are it will be back on shelves soon. Just remember, this is the Catholic School board in Halton, not the public board. We crazily fund both systems in Canada.

  6. Hrmm.. aside. Maybe one should as a retort request a public school board review the Narnia books because of over the top pro-Christian bias.

  7. Gorthos, what I've found is that most people cannot begin to fathom how a pro-Christian bias could possibly be offensive to anyone.

  8. Firstly, I think this story is an excellent example of the dangers of government support for religious instruction. Canada, often cited by many here in the US as a shining paragon of justice and freedom, clearly has its head stuck up it's proverbial a$$ by providing financial support to Catholic schools.

    Secondly, I keep seeing people on this blog refer to the Narnia series as having a pro-Christian bias, even being "over the top" this way (e.g., Gorthos). If we leave out the last book in the series (The Last Battle), which I would even argue does not fit this description well either, I don't think the Christian-bias argument has much of a leg to stand on.

    Although the mythic themes in the Narnia books are certainly aligned with many of the themes in Christianity, those ideas clearly extend back beyond Christianity, to the start of human storytelling. I think this is the fundamental reason why they have remained popular for so many years, independent of whatever particular religious beliefs they author may have had.

    This is not to say that the books don't contain some serious flaws. I think Lewis often treats women badly, for example. But even then he has women performing heroic acts often enough for me to give him a pass on that one.

    I would be happy to have people here explain to me what I am missing in regards to the proposed bias in the Narnia series. I am hoping that those making the comments have, in fact, read the books and not fallen into the trap of parroting criticisms leveled by others. I would advise any tempted to follow such a path to leave that well-trodden approach to Christian fundamentalists, who seem to do it almost by default.

    I have just started reading Pullman's books. I have the Golden Compass waiting for me at home on the kitchen table. I really enjoyed The Firework Maker's Daughter, and have read it to my youngest daughter twice already. I know that he is an avowed atheist, and a decided blowhard as well (at least in some of his interviews), but that really doesn't affect my potential enjoyment of his works. If I only ever read things by people who agreed with me, my reading list would be pretty short!

  9. Good challenge , SteveT! Skepticism is about digging into the facts.

    Each of Lewis' Narnia series contains a different, significant bit of Christian dogma. The first book, "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe", revolves around the innocent messiah – Aslan – paying for the sins of Edward with his own life. Following the Christ analogy, Aslan is resurrected, but while he is dead, the rest of the believers must battle evil without his physical presence. These themes are straight out of Paul's letters where he explains that Christ's death freed mankind from the bondage of sin and that we must continue the fight until the final day which Paul figured was only a couple of years away.

    The idea of Jesus "paying for our sins" is a point that makes a lot of more thoughtful Christians start questioning their faith. It brings up questions that require a lot of theological dancing like, "Why can't God forgive sins without Jesus being killed?" "Why are sins a debt in the first place?" and "How can one person pay for the sins of another at all?" These are some of the issues that Lewis hammered away on when he was an atheist, so they were some of the first he wanted to address after he converted.

    You have a good point about the mythic themes of the Narnia series transcending Christianity. I would argue that the universality of the themes is a result of the fact that early Christians borrowed liberally from other religions, traditions, and myths when they were evangelizing. "You've got a big celebration at the solar equinox? Well, we have one, too! Your god rose from the dead? Well, ours did , too!"

  10. Ah.. Quick correction Durnett. The Magicians Nephew is the first book, chronologically, being a prequel published in 55 whereas the TLTWATW was printed in 51 or 50 I believe.

    SteveT, I loved the series as a kid. Still like it even though reading it 25 years later, they are obviously written for children (sort of like the Bible).

  11. Thanks, durnett, for you response to my "challenge."

    As in all discussions of this sort, much of disagreement can usually be attributed to questions of semantics. When I see the word "bias" I interpret it to mean some kind of prejudice which irrationally denigrates a group of people or philosophies. In this regard, I think Lewis is entirely innocent (at least in the Narnia series). Now if instead you see the word "bias" and interpret it to mean a particular perspective, such as in Lewis writing from a Christian "perspective," well then I would have to agree with that.

    I can certainly see the elements of dogma that you mention in the LWW book. I mean, they should be pretty obvious to anyone above a certain age (I missed them when I was young and first reading the series). I just don't see them as being what I would call "biased." I guess it depends on your definition of the word. Lewis's books are absolutely written from a Christian "perspective", but I don't see why any reasonable person would have problem with that. No author can fully divorce their writing from their own perspective, no matter how hard they try. You don't have to agree with his perspective to find value in his works. I think that potentially pejorative words like "bias" should be reserved for situations where the meaning cannot possibly be misconstrued. I will be very interested to see which version of the word "bias" that Pullman's Dark Materials books fall under.

    On the point you raised about Jesus "paying for our sins" being a troubling point to many thoughtful Christians, I would have to agree 100%. I wouldn't describe the resultant thought process as "theological dancing" in most cases, though. I think it is entirely possible to come to a satisfactory alternate view without having to "dance" around the idea. I don't think Lewis pulled this off particularly well, but there are certainly a sizable number of Christians (albeit a definite minority) who don't ascribe to the "substitutionary atonement" philosophy for very well thought out and theologically self consistent reasons.

  12. Yo SteveT

    Just to clarify (because of your above recent comment).. I was joking about banning the CS lewis books. I was just trying to play devils avocado by showing how silly one could be playing from the other end of the field.

    And while I am on the subject of football, Go Pats Go!!! Sorry, its Sunday, my mind is with Tom Brady today.

  13. Building on Gorthos' idea, I'd say there have to be childrens books with a much more obvious christian undertone, and possibly even a bias such as the one SteveT was referring to.

    Now would obviously be the perfect time to bring the sillyness to light by asking a book like that be reviewed as well.

  14. There are kids versions of the Left Behind series. I find that completely offensive. Talk about brainwashing and instilling fear into children.

  15. Rebeckah,

    I am about 1/2 way through this book…… I love it! Cant wait to see the movie! I hope you are enjoying it.

  16. But are these kids-versions of Left Behind books available in school libraries? That's the important question. If so, let's have the school board review those

  17. Me thinks it is our DUTY to counter the churchy peoples silliness and do the same. I mean, sure, its nice to be nice and tolerant but only so far. The religiofreaks have declared war on us so we need to fight back.

    On a side note, I made my youngest cry the other day. Took he and middle boy to a used book shop and said "pick out a few books each guys". Boy #3 brings me two BIBLE stories cartoony books. ARGH! I kindly said no and he freaked (he cannot yet read).. When he calmed down and picked out other books (and all the angry patrons stopped staring at me), I took all the bible books and snuck them over to the horror section of teh store and hid them there.

  18. And yes, I also make a point of removing bibles from the drawers in hotels and pitching them in the hallway garbage as soon as I check in.

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