Sunday, December 02, 2007

Golden Compass Part Two: Faith in Fiction

Can fiction be a danger to faith? This is the implication of the growing furor over Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Material” trilogy and the film adaptation of the “The Golden Compass,” the first volume of that trilogy.

Most liberals scoff at this notion: If one’s faith can be shattered or even wounded by a novel then it was a pretty flimsy faith to begin with. True enough, but it misses a much more interesting point: One person’s fiction IS another person’s faith.

I am watching the You-Tube Republican debates on CNN and cannot help but think of Governor Mitt Romney’s faith in what the vast majority of his fellow Americans consider the fiction that is the Book of Mormon. Or of Governor Mike Huckabee’s faith in what most of the world’s peoples believe to be another great piece of fiction, the Gospels. And then there are the great narratives of the Hebrew Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.

So, please don’t scoff at faith when it feels threatened by fiction. Fiction is one of the most powerful tools humans have to explore and explicate the perennial concerns that haunt us: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? And Why? Fiction, far more than any other form of discourse, has the power to change minds.

Look at Sartre, Camus, Kafka, and Ayn Rand to name but four. Their stories carry their truths in ways no other vehicle can. Look at Jesus: Why did he tell stories instead of delivering theological lectures? Parables, story, myth are the timeless teaching tools of humanity. Whether these are spoken, printed, or enacted on stage, screen, or radio—is secondary; it is the story itself that matters.

So do Christians have a point when they worry about the power of “The Golden Compass” to make their children think outside the box of their religious tradition? Yes, they do. They know the power of story to transform lives, and they themselves are devoted to promoting their story over and against the stories of others in order to do just that. Of course they insist their fiction is fact and all other so-called facts are only fictions, but that is just the politics of piety. The truth is that story matters.

I celebrate the power of fiction to help us think. I am not afraid of fiction because I am not afraid of thinking. I want people to be free to entertain any idea they wish. I just want them educated in such a way as to empower them to do so rationally.

The best response to “The Golden Compass” isn’t to hide from it as so many Christian leaders are urging; this only says that their fiction is weaker than its fiction. Rather we all should use the film as a catalyst for deep conversations about the issues it raises. You don’t respond to story by blocking your ears, but by telling more powerful stories.


Leore_Joanne said...

Finally, someone who is keeping whithin proportions. I agree with your opinion. Yes, I can understand how people could be threatened by this, but it's still odd to me.
I'm a 20 year old Israeli girl, and this trilogy has been one of my favourites for over eight years now. It has hurt me to see the way it is being spoken of now, as devilry, and an atheist ploy. A lot of things in it were misinterpreted. It seems as though we've gone right back to medieval ages!
In a free, democratic world, everything should be open to criticism, including religion.


Bill Reichart said...

I think that as followers of Christ we should engage the culture and be thoughtful in our criticism and not just reactionary. I keep hearing all this talk about banning the movie...I think that is a big mistake.

We shouldn't be threatened by ideas that are contrary than ours. We should be able to talk through our differences.

I posted some thoughts about the Golden Compass on my blog here:

Also, ChristianityToday posted a helpful piece by Jeffery Overstreet that give a balanced view and addresses questions and concerns Christians have about the books and movie.

Joyel said...

Reminds me of the line in the bible about having faith of a child. I hate that line. So, we are supposed to act dumb and not question anything? I like questioning. I like teaching my six year old to find his own belief. If you are looking - I think you are more spiritual than those who acknowledge a god and live in hypocritical evil. Why do beliefs have to be different? Does anyone else see that they are all the same? The Golden Compas, the Bible, Buddah... it's all the same....
So, ban the movie. Go ahead - you fearful self righteous freaks. I have pity on you. You are the same as those who kill abortion doctors. Killers. Killers of thought. In the name of fear. In the name of God. In the name of the Lucifer. Do you all get that? The only thing I like about a catholic mass is when they Give peace. Peace be with you. And all of you. God I pray.

AaronHerschel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AaronHerschel said...

Faiths are only identical if you stand so far away you can't really see them--the way all people seem like ants when you look down on them from a height.

Still, most faiths do have at least one thing in common: they all claim to be true while condemning other faiths as false.

All of them, that is, except my faith, which is unique in claiming to be false while condemning all the others for being true. That's literature for you.