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Why attack "Compass" but not C. S. Lewis?

From Jonathan D'Ambrosio, Fairfield, CT:

I loved "The Golden Compass." What a wonderful film. Not since I was a child had fantasy worlds like this one so effortlessly absorbed me. I was afraid my adult imagination could no longer afford such luxuries at the cost of my maturity and cynicism. But, thankfully, "Pan's Labyrinth" and now "The Golden Compass" have both proven me wrong within the last year. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to be proven wrong. "Pan's Labyrinth" is, of course, a superior film, but "The Golden Compass" is without a doubt in the same league.

Today came the news of the films disappointing performance in the box-office and usually a film's success or failure does not bother me. This had, though. After seeing it Friday, I walked out of the theater thoroughly satisfied and convinced it would be a classic for all children. It wasn't until I had told others about the film that I heard various second-hand accounts of parents refusing to bring their children to see it. I was inspired to surf the net and see how far, and deep, this epidemic had spread. I found countless posts from parents and Catholics warning others how dangerous the impact of this film's popularity would be. Some students from various schools posted letters from their principals and deans sharing the same fear.

Many of the letters claimed, in different words but with the same sentiment, that "The Philip Pullman film, the first of a trilogy called His Dark Materials, has been compared to 'Lord of the Rings' and C.S. Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia' series. Well, it's not. 'The Golden Compass' is the exact opposite of the Christian-based classics. The film is viciously anti-God while weaving messages of atheism, witchcraft, evolution, divination, homosexuality, and immorality. The author himself boasts that, 'I am of the Devil's party and know it!'"

Now, I must not have seen the Director's Cut of the film. Where is it playing?
I am a Catholic. I have read the bible from cover to cover. But I found nothing wrong with the film. And trust me, I looked hard. Maybe my bible is missing as many passages as the version of "The Golden Compass" is missing the scenes that bare the messages described above. But I am positive that Atheism is the belief that God does not exist, nor the Devil—so if they have quoted Pullman accurately then they have disproved the validity of their every accusation.

I was disappointed to find that not one Atheist or any advocates of atheism were so offended by the attack on their beliefs that they felt the need to rebut. Maybe they are too busy prepping the attack on the next film that supports Christianity.

But I do find it entertaining that Catholic Groups champion the works of C.S. Lewis, most specifically "The Chronicles of Narnia," however they fail to list "The Screwtape Letters," which depicts Lucifer as the good guy, when they speak of Lewis. I am sure if it were anyone else who wrote that novel, not the legendary and devout Lewis, the same groups would gather over milk and cookies to picket a film version.

I suppose the word "Censorship" is the wrong word, but it is the first one that comes to mind. It's a shame that such an innocent film must be persecuted for crimes it has not committed. But when an optimistic and hope filled film like this one—one that tells a tale of a world where anything is possible, where good overcomes evil, and filled with characters willing to sacrifice everything to do their best and help others—is demonized to the point where I can use the term "boycott" loosely, is a form of censorship. And for anyone who does not know: Censorship is the prophylactic that ensures our lives are not impregnated with culture and truth and knowledge—no matter how obscene that truth may be.

We are a civilization of great faith but poor beliefs. Yet it is not our beliefs that are poor, but the way in which we define them and use them and claim possession of them as if they are of our own making; to believe that what is true for us is true for all.

Every religion is based in the practice of faith. It seems that all religious scripture remains intentionally unfinished and leaves room for doubt. It is this way because it is our task and journey to believe in divine powers without having proof of their existence. Seeing is not believing; believing is seeing.

That is why the ideas of fanaticism and religious conflict are paradoxes. For a person of great faith to dispute or discredit the beliefs and faith of another is essentially destructive. Faith is the soul's ability to believe in things beyond reason or logic and yet we constantly find ourselves defining the faiths of others as absurd, unreasonable. After the events of 9/11, the terrorists' belief that they would receive 72 virgins when they arrived in Heaven was publicly mocked by many as a preposterous notion. But how ridiculous is it when compared to ideas such as reincarnation, or a man walking on water, or women being the product of Adam's rib, or that humans evolved from apes, or that our souls can travel beside us in the form a talking animal?

In the end, criticism of any faith becomes criticism of all faith, by claiming that the absence of logic in a single belief discredits one religion, it is a claim against the illogical faith of all religions.

The practice of this sort of ignorance is not only unproductive to our ongoing quest for meaning but dangerous in its most extreme forms. It has caused violence, war, and bloodshed as it seems a religion wants to decimate all other religions – as if there can only be one. But fanaticism of this kind, which has believers lashing out at any and all opposition it can find, seems to be the last resort of those without faith, because fanaticism and religious intolerance in basic terms are a response to an implied threat – a threat implies fear and a fear implies doubt. But it would be a paradox for doubt and faith to coexist in people who claim invincible bonds with a divine being, especially in such a strong dichotomy.

If a person is going to use a man that died on a crucifix as a symbol for sacrifice and martyrdom, they should not forget that the same symbol means more than just that; it recognizes the idea that one man's faith can be greater than the doubt of many.

Or a film can be well made and carry pure intentions, no matter how many people tell you otherwise.

And still I hope that these Catholic groups keep fighting until the day that our world is void of pornography, drugs, atheism, abortion, homosexuality, and films like "The Golden Compass." Because maybe then they will realize that they created a world without temptation or evil, and their children will have no faith, because in that world—why would they need it?

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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