Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Golden Double Standard

Have you been hearing as much as I have about how upset various churches are about the cinema release of The Golden Compass? There's quite a hubbub surrounding it. It seems, you see, that the movie - I guess they're not so worried about the books the movie is based on, because, really, who reads any more, anyway? - "promotes atheism" and is thus a "direct attack on organized religion." Unlike the case of Harry Potter, in which they were in fact concerned about the books for some reason I don't quite follow, there does actually seem to be something to this particular accusation. Author Philip Pullman identifies himself as an atheist and no fan of religion, and having read the books, I can say two things quite definitely:

1) They're phenomenal, and everyone should pick them up. This is entirely independent of any religious issues surrounding them; they're just a really fun read. They're nominally children's books, but that only makes me wish I had kids to whom I could read them. Don't see the movie, either; from what I understand, the studio neutered some of the most integral plot ideas and made a disappointing hash of the entire thing. I particularly recommend the audiobook, for anyone interested in that format, because it's narrated by the author and a full cast of characters and for obvious reasons therefore does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the books.

2) There is definitely an anti-religious bias to the events in the story, but since this all takes place in a fantasy universe I really fail to see how that can be viewed as any sort of proselytizing. If anything, I think these books are more likely than almost any others I've encountered to lend to young readers a sense of wonder and curiosity that might lead them in virtually any direction, including to religion. Being rather unfavorably inclined toward religion myself, I actually rather hope that these books lead kids away from faith and dogma, but I just don't think it's the necessary case.

There's a larger issue here, though, that's being rather completely lost in the controversy: if the books are atheistic, so what? I didn't see worldwide outrage over the release of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, which is decidedly Christian. It's okay for children's movies to try to convert kids, but not to dissuade them?


Oh, I know why, trust me. That was a rhetorical question. I know that the Church and various Christian groups worldwide are quite fervently trumping up a "war on faith" to get upset about these days. Pope Ratzinger recently gave an address in which he said quite openly that atheism is directly responsible for most of the heinous evil in the world, even including the old nonsense about Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. (Let's just take a moment to address that, shall we, Joe? In the first part, all of the monsters you mention were motivated by essentially religious ideologies, and not some sort of evangelical atheism; and in the second part, you're quite conveniently forgetting some powerful counter-examples like the Inquisition and the Crusades. Or had those simply slipped your mind?) The release of a supposedly atheist movie at this time plays right into their hands, one more piece of evidence that the "godless secularists" are on the offensive, and this time, by God, they're attacking our children!

I hardly need say that this is utter hogwash. The issue is that it's beside the point even if it were true.

Obviously the Vatican is not a nation founded on religious freedom, and so the Pope can of course say whatever he likes. I really couldn't care a bit less what goes on over there. The issue is the effect it has over here. It's the American media that's propagating this nonsense about a "controversy," and it's American Christians who are up in arms about the movie's release and the Church's view on it, and this most certainly is a nation founded on religious freedom.

Let's say that the books do, as some claim, not only "promote atheism," but in fact "denigrate faith." Do you expect me to care? Did you see me rioting in the streets upon the release of The Polar Express, a film whose entire message was "Just believe!"? Do you see me boycotting the Narnia books or films, which are openly and unabashedly Christian apologism? As hard as it may be for these folks to understand, there are in fact any number of people who want nothing to do with religion and, indeed, don't view faith, much less a particular religion, as a virtue at all. This is allowed. That's what religious freedom means.

In short, my message for those offended by this film is this: GROW UP.

Yes, a story was released in popular media which disagrees with you philosophically. I know that's an unprecedented experience, but you're just going to have to deal with it. Adults do that, rather than throwing a fit about it. If you'd try being nonreligious for a month, you'd find that you have to get pretty good at dealing with it or simply spontaneously combust. So yes, Offended America, it's time to grow up and handle disagreement like functioning adults, instead of throwing a tantrum like spoiled children when someone, at long fucking last, violates your ridiculous double standard. If you don't like the film's perspective, here's an idea, free of charge: don't watch it.

And when it comes to that, I certainly won't. I've heard it's a cinematic mess, and I detest Hollywood in the first place. I'd much rather own the books.

ADDENDUM: The lovely and sagacious Rebecca Watson of Skepchick has tackled this issue as well, and provided a link to a Landover Baptist treatment of it. If you're not familiar with Landover Baptist, well... 1) You've probably been in cryonic stasis since the invention of the internet, and 2) I'll let you discover it for yourself. If nothing else, it's significantly more lighthearted (though even more caustically sarcastic) than my ill-tempered hand-waving.

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