So The Golden Compass (a movie based on the first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy) opened yesterday, and there has been a lot of controversy about it. There is an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about it (and also an accompanying article online), and also one in this month’s Christianity Today. Matt Barber has also written critically about it in the Examiner.
Many Christians have been critical of the books because Pullman is an atheist who has told interviewers that his books are about killing God. The gist of the Atlantic articles is that Hollywood, now aware of conservative Christians, has toned down the explicitly atheistic tone in the movie. But some Christians (and I must admit, I’m one of them) are not interested in seeing the movie because they don’t want to see the next two books made into movies, and don’t want to give Pullman any more money or success or encouragement than he already has (You may notice, however, that off to the right-hand side of this page it says that I am reading The Golden Compass. This is true. I checked it out of the library. Because while I am not interested in supporting Pullman, I am not against reading books that are popular both for entertainment and to see why they are popular).
Some Christians, though (some quoted in the Christianity Today article and others, I am told, which include Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams), have a more positive view of the series. They see in Pullman’s books a criticism of things that should never have become part of Christianity, or are Pullman’s own misunderstandings of Christian doctrine. An example is Pullman’s caricature of the Christian understanding of sexuality, which he talks about in the first Atlantic article:
This is exactly what happens in the Garden of Eden,” Pullman told me. “They become aware of sexuality, of the power the body has to attract attention from someone else. This is not only natural, but a wonderful thing! To be celebrated! Why the Christian Church has spent 2,000 years condemning this glorious moment, well, that’s a mystery. I want to confront that, I suppose, by telling a story that this so-called original sin is anything but. It’s the thing that makes us fully human.
It is true that some stripes of Christianity have viewed sexuality as something bad. It might even be true that some stripes of Christianity have equated original sin with sexuality (though I have gone to church all my life, and the first time I ever heard of such a thing was when I was talking with a group of Moonies). But if this is true, it is not because they got this from the Bible.
The events that Pullman refers to occur in Genesis 3, when the serpent tricks Eve into eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God had told Adam and Eve not to eat. Eve gave the fruit to Adam and “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen 3:7).
But the fruit can’t represent sexuality, as Pullman thinks, because sexuality came about before these events occurred: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (1:28). And also, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (2:24-25). If these two verses don’t refer to pre-sin sexuality, then I would like to know what they DO refer to.
From reading Genesis, it is hard to believe that sexuality and sin could ever be equated. Yet, sometimes in the history of Christianity, it has been. So I thank God for people like Philip Pullman who criticize ridiculous ideas like this, because they’re not Christian (or Jewish, for that matter). I only wish Pullman knew that.