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Take that, Pullman, er, Hollywood!

December 4th, 2007 | Skip to comments

If you don’t happen to read Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for, you may not have seen his scathing commentary on the movie derived from Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass:

. . . Recent anti-religion best-sellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens read like Middle Ages papal bulls, pronouncing a new orthodoxy in which everything about faith is bad, none of religion’s good points and virtues are permitted to be mentioned, and godlessness is the new God you must obey! TMQ pal Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic just had a wonderful line about this: “Religion may confer a preposterous cosmic significance upon the individual, but atheism is the true friend of egotism.” It is one thing to suppose there is no divine power, the universe coming into being solely through natural forces; this might turn out to be correct. It’s quite another to suppose God is impossible — that nothing can possibly exist that is greater than a 21st-century pundit with a book to sell. Pretty egotistical, huh?

Meanwhile, TMQ asked in August whether the three Golden Compass books would carry their very strong anti-Christian view onto the silver screen — the first big-budget installment opens this week. In the Golden Compass trilogy, God is both a fraud (a space alien pretending to be divine!) and the source of every evil in the universe; Christianity is “a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all”; God has created not heaven but hell and sends all souls, even those of the righteous, to hell; Christian churches are run by corrupt power-mad conspirators whose goal is to abolish pleasure in life; the quest of the astonishingly competent English schoolgirl who is the trilogy’s heroine is to locate ancient magical objects that will allow her to kill God and free the world from religion.

So TMQ wondered whether this anti-Christian worldview would make it into the movies. Hanna Rosin reports in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly that every trace of religion has been removed from the first Golden Compass flick. God is never mentioned, and the Bad Guys — who in the books are priests of the Magisterium — are just generic smirking guys in black robes whose organizational affiliation is never explained. This seems to me an outrageous cop-out. I thought Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass books wildly overstated the case against religion, using the harebrained pretense that if faith disappeared, Earth would instantly become a paradise. But anti-religion views are perfectly valid and deserve to be aired; why shouldn’t moviegoers get to see a big-budget attack on Christianity? This would be the honest way to film the Golden Compass books.

Should the film series make it to the end of the trilogy, producers will face a real challenge. In the third volume, The Amber Spyglass, much of the action occurs in hell, where the innocent are being eternally tormented — the astonishingly competent English schoolgirl leads a commando raid into hell, with the goal of releasing souls to oblivion. In the third book, there’s also a phony cloud nine, run by the malevolent false God; a key character is an evil, sex-obsessed archangel whose mission, assigned by God, is to spread human misery; the action builds up to the good characters physically killing God. How is Hollywood going to pretend that has nothing to do with religion?

You may have read Easterbrook’s elegantly worded, “In Defense of Narnia,” several years ago in the October, 2001, Atlantic Monthly.


  1. Isn’t this little girl just acting out the Jesus role in this story, disarming the authorities, exposing false gods, going to hell to save us, etc.?

    In the very same spiteful story to “kill God” they only reinforce the Story of stories!

    It’s pretty much the most ironic thing of all time.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find that people see the Gospel more spelled out by this “pro-athiest” fantasy story than they do in their “christian” friends every day at work.

    I’m pretty sure Jesus is no respecter of persons when it comes to choosing people to tell his story, athiest or not.

    Comment by Justin — 4 December 2007 @ 9:41 PM

  2. Yes, seen in that light, the little girl is only killing the false god Jesus Himself has slain. His name is Satan.

    Comment by Bruse — 5 December 2007 @ 5:31 AM

  3. Natural forces? And just what are those part of? Hint: the universe. What did you think Nature was? For atheists, Nature is really just God disguised.

    Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could. Even Maria knew that.

    Comment by Bob — 17 December 2007 @ 9:43 AM

  4. You’re, right, the Sound of Music can answer Pullman, too.

    Comment by Bruce — 17 December 2007 @ 3:17 PM

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