Monday, December 03, 2007

Movies and Atheism, Ecclesial Politics, and Other Random Thoughts

As I understand it, a torrent of protest is currently rising among evangelical Christians who want to see The Golden Compass banned from theatres because of its "stealth atheistic message." But I say "bring it on!" The free exchange of ideas is, after all, a highly held American value. Plus, from what I've seen of this film, it will only serve to remind clear thinkers that atheism never had an original thought.

The movie is based on the first part of a fictional trilogy written by British atheist Phillip Pullman called "His Dark Materials." In the third and final installment of Pullman's trilogy, the protagonist characters, in a Nietzschesque fashion, manage to kill a character who is simply called "God."

Although the cinematic version reportedly toned-down the novel's strong secularist edge, many Christians fear that this movie will encourage children to move from the silver screen to the book and subsequently be highly influenced by atheism.

Bill Donohue, President and CEO of the Catholic League, claims that these books "denigrate Christianity, thrash the Catholic church and sell the virtue of atheism."

But those willing to take a closer look at this movie and its print-media counterpart will discover that John Milton's Paradise Lost is among the main literary influences behind Pullman's work. And although Pullman vehemently denies that his writings are for the purpose of countering Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, his own vitriolic criticism of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia as "Blatantly racist" and "monumentally disparaging to women" together with the metaphorical similarities between the books betray his desire to set up his trilogy as a literary antithesis to authors such as Lewis.

These "behind the scenes" observations demonstrate both Pullman's dependency on Christian fantasy writers, and the larger reality that atheism, as a worldview, will always be defined in terms of its negative and reactionary foundations. The simple fact that this series was written in response to a dearth of atheist fantasy literature reveals the lack of true intelligence and creativity among the atheist community, as well as their dependency on Christian sources to produce anything of true quality.

My guess is that most children whose parents allow them to view this film will simply enjoy a good fantasy movie. Those who choose to read the books, if guided by mature Christian parents and church leaders, will simply discover what previous generations have discovered; namely, that atheism is intellectually disonest, categorically incomplete, and ultimately ethically bankrupt. I don't think that's a bad conclusion for our kids to reach.

And in other news, the emerging church and politics was a hot topic of conversation last week on NBCs nightly news. Tom Brokaw interviewed Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary, as well as Tadd Grandstaff, founding pastor of Pine Ridge Church in Burlington North Carolina.

Ed Stetzer has already pointed out the most crucial of the misleading comments by the media in this regard, which you can find here. Overall, this is a good discussion.

Although my status as a Gen-Xer probably inform my own opinion of what I heard, I am largely in agreement with Tadd and his contention that younger evangelicals will not be sold out to either political party. While in the short-run this may result in the wrong people in power, in the long run, it should result in both political parties coming more closely in line with Christian principles. And as Ed has already stated, the philosophical chasm between Grandstaff and Mohler as described by NBC News isn't nearly as wide as a casual observer might think.

So, one group is pushing the idea that there is no God while those who believe there is a God display some slight differences regarding how He would have us get involved politically. Meanwhile, my local Wal-Mart greeter met me at the door two nights ago with a warm "Merry Christmas."

There are still many things that are right with the world!


Brother Bob said...

I appreciate what you are saying, but I think the weakness of your viewpoint is where you say, "Those who choose to read the books, if guided by mature Christian parents and church leaders, will simply discover what previous generations have discovered; namely, that atheism is intellectually dishonest..."
The key phrase is, IF GUIDED BY MATURE CHRISTIAN PARENTS AND CHURCH LEADERS. That is a huge "if." Many will read the books without such guidance, and children will be deceived by the anti-Christian worldview.
I am in favor of Christian adults engaging atheists and agnostics in dialogue, but I am not in favor of exposing unsuspecting children to an agnostic and atheistic worldview in movies and books.

Joel Rainey said...


Thanks for chiming in. I agree . . .its a big "if," and I presuppose the maturity and Biblical literacy of Christian parents.

On the other hand, I think we have to face the reality that tons of kids are going to see this movie.If I could prevent it, I would, but reality is I can't stop the parents in my neighborhood from taking them to see it. I think in light of this, adults should definitely be prepared to engage in this conversation, and our kids (depending on their own level of maturity) should also be equipped in this way.

Al Mohler has a great post on this at his site that is much more eloquent than anything I could write, and I think he also does a better job at "striking the balance."

In the end, you and I may be closer than we think . . .even opposite sides of the same coin. I along with you am aware of the deception. It is real. It is also shallow, dishonest, and intellectually absurd, and if we can equip parents and mature kids in how to engage this movie, this absurdity will be made apparent.

Always good to hear from you.