I thought that I had linked to Jeffrey Overstreet's writings on this, which came out a week ago, but perhaps I didn't. In any event, it's worth linking to again. Anyone who has read Through a Screen Darkly knows that Overstreet loves movies and doesn't require them to toe the Christian party line to convey a message that is worthwhile. He also has written an excellent fantasy, Auralia's Colors which shows among other things that he has a deep understanding of the genre.
Specifically, he has read all three books and has some intelligent commentary and also answers people's questions, including how to approach this subject with your children. Read it all here.
He also gives us as much of a hint as an ethical movie reviewer can as to content without breaking promises about not jumping opening dates with a review.Okay, so we shouldn’t start boycotts and complain.These recommendations come from my humble opinion, and you’re welcome to disagree.
But what should Christians do?
- Educate yourselves. And equip your kids with questions… lenses, so to speak… that will expose the problems in these stories.
- Respond with grace and love. And truth.
- Worried about putting money in Pullman’s pockets by investigating the books? Fair enough. Here’s a little secret I’ve discovered: The Public Library!
- Admit that, yes, Christians have committed grave sins in the name of Christ, and that those shameful misrepresentations of the gospel have made many people fearful of, and even repulsed by, the church. But Christians have been called to serve the oppressed, proclaim freedom for the captives, bring healing to the sick, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, and to bring good news of “great joy.” And by God’s grace, many are living out that calling. They paint quite a different picture than what Pullman has painted.
- Encourage the artists and storytellers in your church. If you see talent and imagination, provide resources and opportunities for those artists. We don’t want visionaries abandoning the church because they are tired of being misunderstood or having their talents exploited for the sake of evangelism.
- Do not get hysterical, mount massive boycotts, or behave in ways that the Magisterium in Pullman’s books would behave. You’ll just make Pullman’s stories more persuasive, and you’ll confirm for the culture around us that Christians only really get excited when they’re condemning something.
- Equip yourself and your kids with sharp questions that expose the lies of this story. Here are a few examples:- If we cast off all “Authority” and set up “free will” as the ultimate source of guidance, where will that get us? Has the world shown us that the human heart is a trustworthy “compass”? Does free will lead us always to the right choice?- If the heroes accept the “truth” of the aletheometer (the compass itself), aren’t they letting themselves be guided by just another source of truth… another “Authority”? But wait a minute… the movie told us that “Authority” is bad and we should only follow our own hearts, didn’t it?- If there are “many truths,” then aren’t these heroes being as self-righteous and wicked as the oppressors by demanding that their version of the truth is better than others?- What is so inspiring about the battle between the bears? Hasn’t this story led us to a place where it’s just “survival of the fittest” all over again? Should we really hope that the world falls into the hands of the strongest fighter, rather than into the hands of love?
- Finally… pray for Philip Pullman. Pray about the influence of his work. And pray for humility and wisdom in your own response.Pullman is just a man who, somewhere along the way, got a very bad impression of the church.I also cannot help but note a detail from biographies published online: Pullman’s father died in a plane crash in the 1950s, when Pullman was only seven years old. I don’t know if that had anything to do with his view of God… but I do know that many of the men I know who have struggled with the idea of a loving, caring, benevolent god are those whose fathers abandoned them or died while they were young. Boys without fathers often grow up with deep resentment, and having no focus for that pain, they target God.I want to be careful here: I am not explaining Pullman to you, because I don’t know him. But that detail made me stop and think about how little I know about his experiences and motivations. Shouldn’t I be praying for him instead of condemning him? Shouldn’t I be looking for ways to show love and respect to the man, even as I look for ways to expose the flaws in his work? Pullman’s not likely to reconsider his notions about God if those who believe in God organize a full-scale assault against him and his work.
Today, I saw the movie. And I’m not going to change a word of what I’ve written as a result. If the filmmakers tried to “tone down” the anti-religious content, they pretty much failed. “The Magisterium” is not a term invented by Philip Pullman. It’s a reference to the Catholic church. And it isn’t hard to see that in the film.
But by professional film-critic standards, I cannot publish a movie review until the day the film opens. (That doesn’t mean that scores of critics won’t break the rules and post their own in order to win readers. But I’ve agreed to play by the rules.) So you’ll hear from me about the movie when it opens.