WARNING: This post is going to be meaty (as I previously mentioned), and it is going to cover a lot of factors that cause me a great deal of righteous indignation. I will not only praise my mother for her excellent use of book-watching, as well as praising my dad for his intelligent attempt at peacekeeping, but I will also discuss an event where I felt some people in my church community at the time were mishandling a conflict that surrounded the book in question (it was actually the movie that was causing the immediate issue, but the book is obviously bound within the conflict). I will do everything in my power to express my views in a healthy, mature, fashion, but I will be honest, and therefore, something offensive is likely to be stated. You have thus been warned.
Ahh, another trilogy, and one that came under greater scrutiny because of its cinematic debut. Now, unfortunately, the film was not terribly successful, and having seen it myself I understand completely. The filmmakers took too many liberties and changed so many of the details that the plot had too many holes. The book did an excellent job connecting the different events so that the world could make sense. The Golden Compass made #2 on the top 10 list of challenged books in the year 2008. The reason most cited was “anti-Christian” and “satanic” messages within the text. Also, the author is an outspoken atheist who made it clear that he wrote the book with his own beliefs in mind.
Okay, first, I would like to share a tale that exemplifies a healthy parent-monitoring of a book. I was a huge reader when I was a kid, often reading things way beyond my age level. My mother basically turned me loose in bookstores, and she rarely denied me a book. This book was an exception. I picked it up on a whim when I was 10 years old. I proudly showed my mom, who gently requested that she give the Golden Compass a read before I did. Having other books in my queue, I happily agreed and almost forgot about the text in the midst of my other adventures. When I finally did ask my mom (who had finished pre-reading), she told me honestly, “Sweetheart, I know you are a mature reader, and it’s not that I don’t think you could understand this book. I would just prefer that you wait a couple years before you try it because I think there are some things in here that you would find really frightening right now. But, when you are older, I have no concerns that you would enjoy the book more fully.” I will admit I was disappointed, but mom so rarely refused to let me read something, I just let it go. When I finally came around to reading the trilogy in high school, I was so glad she asked me to wait. The books are well written, and the world is certainly fascinating, but there are some very dark concepts that would have terrified me when I was younger. My mom managed to properly monitor what I was reading without making me feel like I was being held back, and her instinct was entirely correct.
Now, for the tale that deals with something that still fries my egg. I would like to make it clear that I have processed this event and have fully forgiven the people involved, but I think it’s an important story that helped develop my faith and my personal relationship with God.
Earlier in the post, I mentioned that this book was turned into a movie, and this was around the time I was a sophomore in high school. By that point, I had read the trilogy, and while I thought the author allowed his agenda to eclipse the completeness of his world, I really did enjoy the books and was looking forward to seeing the movie. Emrys had also read and enjoyed the books, and he was also looking forward to the film that we determined to go see together. We also went to the same church, where my father pastored, and we had the same Sunday School class. It was in this class that some major silliness happened. I knew there was a controversy surrounding the movie/book being anti-christian, but I didn’t think anything of it. I had read all sorts of things like Harry Potter, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Da Vinci Code. Thus, books that were about topics not necessarily praised in the Bible did not affect me because I understood them as fantasy and fiction (a.k.a just stories). However, the controversy surrounding the Compass ended up smacking me in the face.
One of the girls in my class started the attack. She claimed that she had researched the book, and that her mom had shown her articles about how nasty the book was towards Christians and Christ in general. The girl made it clear that the book was evil and that reading it or seeing the movie was against God. I was shocked to hear that others in my Sunday school class were agreeing with her. None of them had even picked up the book so where were they getting this information? Before an argument could start, my dad stepped into the fray. He was substituting for our usual teacher, and he had heard about the impending conflict. He graciously pointed out a group of verses in Romans 14, that basically said that some people have the ability to do things like reading controversial books without their faith being affected, while others needed to refrain. “The point Paul makes,” Dad went on to say, “is that we need to not judge each other for what we do to maintain our faith. Ultimately, it is between you and God. So, don’t judge each other on both sides. If you feel like you can read the book, or see the movie without your faith wavering, then do so, but don’t throw that in the face of your fellows. If you feel the opposite, then don’t see it, but at the same time, do not judge others who do. Please, let’s just have this end here.” I was still miffed, but I appreciated my dad’s point, and considering he was the pastor, I thought that would be the end. As you can guess, that thought was very far from correct.
After missing a week of Sunday School (I think I had a show or something, very rare for me to miss), I came back feeling wary. Emrys, the only one of my classmates who had read the books and felt as I did, had told me something disturbing. ” The girl brought up Golden Compass to our Sunday School teacher (who was our youth pastor as well). Our teacher completely backed her up and told everyone that we shouldn’t go see the movie.” I was thunderstruck. I really looked up to our youth pastor, and I could not fathom that she of all people would encourage what I still considered a completely ludicrous attack on a text that no one had even read. That day in class, people were proudly proclaiming that they had told others in their secular school classes not to go see the film, and my youth pastor just went into a short speech about how going to see the movie was ultimately giving money and support to an anti-Christian establishment. I was utterly furious and miserable, and I did not say a word. Emrys also kept his head down, making eye contact with me every now and then to make sure I wasn’t going to burst open and spill myself all over the table. We eventually moved on with the lesson, but I just remember every part of my brain throbbing.
Of course, Emrys and I chose to see the movie. More importantly, my parents did not stop me because they understood my position and did not worry about the state of my soul. The movie was mediocre, but I am glad I saw it. The experience taught me the following:
– I do not get angry when people hold different opinions from me. I get angry when I feel that people are ignorant about the subject they are discussing, and then flout that ignorance as something that safeguards their faith/position.
– I am glad that my dad pointed out those verses. They are not only a comfort to me, considering I am pretty unconventional in the practice of my faith, but they also challenge me not to treat others with disdain simply because their relationship with Christ is different.
-In the same vein, I learned that I cling to pride and arrogance as a defense when I feel at a loss of how to express myself. I was so distraught by the people around me that, rather than extend love and listen to the words God could give me to express myself, I just wrapped myself in the pride that I knew what I was talking about and They were all ignorant jerks who were to afraid to pick up a book for themselves. I was wrong to use that kind of hateful thinking. I could not control others around me, but I could certainly have allowed the Lord to guard my heart rather than nasty thoughts.
I am glad I read the books. I am glad I saw the movie. I am glad my parents treated the whole situation as parents rather than pastors. Finally, I am glad that a simple book provided a way for the Lord to show me so much.