Posted by: nickgerlich | December 3, 2007

Moral Compass

This is bound to be a controversial week for the silver screen. In just four days The Golden Compass opens in theaters nationwide, but for the last two months, our inboxes have been littered with cautionary missives. And preachers in pulpits have been alerting their flocks, in some cases mobilizing them to action.

So what’s the problem? It’s just that the author of the book inspiring the movie, Philip Pullman, is an avowed atheist and church-basher. Originally titled Northern Lights, this is the first installment in the His Dark Materials children’s trilogy. It’s the atheist response to Narnia and Lord of the Rings, and we should not be surprised if we see well-meaning people picketing outside theaters this weekend.

Golden CompassAnd that’s what gets me riled up. I remember back in 1979 when Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released. I was in college, attending a private religious school in Indiana. I took my girlfriend to the movie, and was shocked at the number of poster-toting protesters outside the venue. Feeling like Judas Iscariot, I kept my head down and escorted my date inside. We laughed hysterically, not because of sacrilege, but because the Python troupe was genuinely funny.

It doesn’t bother me that people might find The Golden Compass offensive, and thus avoid it. But it does bother me that folks get flustered when an atheist gets his moment in the spotlight, yet it was OK to bless Mel Gibson when he had his. Atheists had to endure the hype and hoopla surrounding The Passion of the Christ, as did everyone who is not of the Christian faith. Apparently this is allowable.

I am not opposed to personal boycotts. But when we make them public, we invite scrutiny, ridicule, and curiosity. PR is PR, and when we are busy tring to extinguish one flame, we very well may be fueling another. Organized boycotts, bellicose badgering (thank you, FreeRice.com) by preachers and pundits, and public picketing serve to bring more attention to the movie. In a twisted kind of way, one might speculate that Pullman’s publicists paid some preachers to be preachy about it.

I am reminded of the Baptist’s boycot of Disney a number of years ago, primarily over the fact that Disney supports alternative family arrangements. I almost fell off my bike when I was passed by a pickup truck bearing a bumper sticker proclaiming, “To hell with the Baptists. I’m going to DisneyWorld!” And so did we. We love Disney, even if we disagree with them on some things.

I am not an atheist, and I never played one on TV. But I have friends who are atheists, and I will support their right to free speech. I vehemently disagree with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al, who spew hateful anti-Christian rhetoric on the printed page, but support their right to publish their views nonetheless.

This is one thing on which the Church must take the moral high road. To make a big deal about this movie will only demonstate to everyone else that our compass is not pointed exactly where we think it is.

Dr “See You At The Theater” Gerlich

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