Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Catholics so scared of Golden Compass, they're suppressing their own praise

According to IMDb today:

Without explanation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has retracted on its website a positive review of The Golden Compass that appeared in Catholic newspapers last week. The review had appeared to counterbalance claims by the Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic lay group, that it served as an introduction to atheism expounded in the trilogy of books on which the movie is based. The League had urged a boycott of the film. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Jim Lackey general news editor of the Catholic News Service, run by the bishops' conference, acknowledged that he was told to remove the review from the CNS website. "It's hard for me to categorize whether or not it was a surprise," he told the newspaper. Meanwhile, the church's Raleigh, NC diocese on Tuesday warned pastors in a letter about the possible ramifications of the film. "The concern is that once a child gets 'hooked' on the film or the books, then the next film could resort to the true atheistic nature of the books," the letter said.

And we all know how bad it would be for business if children around the country had an epiphany from reading the books that there's no invisible magic man in the sky and the church is simply a self-perpetuating authoritarian money machine. Plus, if the kids turn atheist and stop coming to mass and catechism and all the other little rituals we have for them, there won't be so many of them around to molest! Gasp! Martin! You mean mean man! What a cheap shot! Yeah, well, it wouldn't be so easy if they hadn't done it.

Now I know I didn't care for the movie much, but it also happens to be true that the grounds on which the Catholic League (has the odious Bill Donohue even seen it?) is condemning it are wholly bogus, and part of me wishes people would go see it just to realize that all the hysteria in the press is much ado about nothing. Then perhaps folks will be less likely in future to say "How high?" whenever Donohue says "Jump!" But what I find most amusingly ironic about this whole Catholic war on the movie is that they're basically walking right into it and validating the themes of Pullman's original books: that the Church is repressive and even punitive towards ideas which challenge their long-held dogmas, and that humanity's real growth lies not in those dogmas but in embracing free thought and fighting authoritarian rulers and institutions that keep people cowed and submissive. I've heard Pullman's religious critics attack his humanism as somehow "elitist." But what could be more elitist than a bunch of men in expensive robes and pointy hats claiming to be the emissaries of a deity and telling everyone what to think and how to live thereby?

Anyway, it appears the movie is doing better business in Europe (where theistic demagogues generally hold less sway than here), adding an additional $51 million to its lackluster $26 million domestic take. In Pullman's home of England alone, the movie had a per-screen average of $29,129, compared to $7,308 in the U.S. New Line foolishly overspent on the movie, as studios are wont to do with "event" pictures, but the overseas gross could help put the movie in the black.


  1. Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read.

    I was a bit dissappointed in that your post was largely an ad hominum attack on Catholics. You made several powerful statements like " the grounds on which the Catholic League ... is condemning it are wholly bogus", but then fail to list those same grounds and the proof that those grounds are bogus.

    I thought "... but in embracing free thought and fighting authoritarian rulers and institutions that keep people cowed and submissive" was interesting. You seem to be pro intellectual freedom, except if Catholics use their intellectual freedom to decide that God exists.

    After reading your post I still have no compelling reason to spend two hours of my life and my hard earned cash watching the movie. If you want to see Pullman's second book made into a movie, you might consider investing your own funds along with other atheists to help make that happen.

  2. Well, Timothy, if you had scanned a few earlier posts other than this one, you'd have stumbled upon my actual review of the movie, wherein I reveal I didn't like it. So there's no surprise you didn't find any reasons given to see the movie in this post. This one wasn't the review.

    As for the bogosity, here's the short version: the Catholic League has been putting it about that the movie is some virulent anti-Christian tract, which it most emphatically is not. The role of the Magisterium in the movie has been dialed down to that of a generic oppressive government. (The books are more overtly critical of Christianity, especially the last one, but not hatefully so.)

    Your second paragraph is a complete straw man and bizarre non sequitur rolled into one. Where you get the stupid idea that I "seem to be pro intellectual freedom, except if Catholics use their intellectual freedom to decide that God exists" is beyond me. (And being supportive of people's right to choose to believe whatever rubbish they wish hardly disqualifies one from attacking authoritarian institutions that compel loyalty through exploiting superstition and fear.) In any case you've missed the entire point of the post, which was that a Catholic website that praised the movie was forced to take its positive review down. So who's really against intellectual freedom here? I don't see the Catholic church encouraging intellectual freedom among the Catholic laity if opinions that don't toe the party line get stomped on.

    I'd love to be the one to film the rest of His Dark Materials, but I don't have $180 million handy at the moment. For the time being, you might try harder to understand what's really being said in a post before lashing out at it.

  3. Wagner,

    What a joke you. You sound so self important. That is, you need to make your distorted and polluted world view fit the lives of others. Surely, a true believer like you must feel some guilt over imposing your will, intentional or not, upon others.

  4. Methinks the lady doth project too much.


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