A “Golden” controversy

Some of you may know that in a previous life, I wrote movie reviews for a couple local papers in Louisville. It was a great job: getting paid to eat popcorn and write about movies. That’s a lot easier than writing about God! In fact, sometimes when I’m stuck or looking for inspiration, I’ll go see a movie.

The difference for me now is, instead of watching a movie through a critic’s eye, I’m watching it through a Christian’s eye. So many movies today contain deep spiritual truths embedded in their compelling storylines and explosive special effects. And of course, many others convey an anti-Christian message.

Take, for example, the recent controversy over “The Golden Compass,” the movie based on a book by atheist author Philip Pullman. Opponents claimed that the movie was anti-Christian and was based on a series of book in which a God-like character is killed. While I didn’t see the movie, I did read the first book and plan to read the other two in the series.

But would I let my kids read them? That’s the question I want to answer when I finish them, and one I think we as Christians need to think about. Our children and grandchildren are saturated by popular culture at a level we can’t even imagine. The explosion of the Internet and other media technology have put virtually millions of songs, images, and videos out our fingertips. When it comes to the larger culture, what’s a Christian to do?

Some people think Christians should completely divorce themselves from anything outside the realm of the church. This approach of alienation seeks to cut off Christians from the evil influence of society. But my experience has been that the best way to get a kid to do something is to tell them they can’t do it. Because pop culture is so pervasive, alienation is not a realistic strategy unless you are willing to go to extremes (like the Amish, for instance).

The opposite end of alienation is accommodation. Some Christians are open to the outside culture, but in a naïve or uncritical way. Instead of processing what’s coming into their eyes and ears through a Christian filter, accommodators devour whatever they can get their hands on, and often their lives don’t look much different from the lives of their non-Christian friends. Their faith has little or no bearing on their life.

The middle ground, which I strive to stand on, is what is called engagement. Instead of alienating myself from the culture, or uncritically taking it in, I like to try and participate from a Christian perspective. Jesus called this being in the world, but not of it. The only way we can redeem and transform those around us is by engaging them at their level. As a pastor, I try to stay conversant in what’s popular in today’s world, for the purpose of being able to discuss it and help people think about it from a Christian mindset (as we have done here at CCC with “The DaVinci Code” and “The Life of Pi,” among many others).

For example, Leigh and I are reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” with our daughter Sydney. The derogatory name for African-Americans (the “n-word”) is used liberally throughout the book. When I came upon it the first time, I mumbled and stumbled and finally replaced it with “that guy.” Later, I talked with Sydney about what that word meant and why we don’t use it anymore. Was I going to accommodate the word and say it? No way. Was I going to completely avoid it? I could, but I would miss the teaching opportunity.

Engagement means meeting the culture where it is for the purpose of education and transformation. Don’t miss the teaching opportunities our culture presents us every day. I plan on seeing “The Golden Compass,” and then I hope to have some really good conversations about it afterward.

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6 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality, Pop Culture

6 responses to “A “Golden” controversy

  1. Ed Angel

    Excellent thoughts!

    I’m tempted to say you’re wise beyond your age, but then I don’t want to get into that “age thing” discussion.

  2. Susan Bracken

    I agree with educating ourselves on the oppostion it is why Jesus went to dinner with the tax payers and sinners to save them.

    I just have a really hard time spending money books and moives that support work done by those who speak out against Chrisitianity as the author of the Golden Compass has done, which has been quoted in many articles, which is why my family will not see the Golden Compass. I have explained to my children why we will not support a movie made by a man who speaks out against our faith.

    It isn’t actually until the third book, or so I am told, that the God killing comes into play in this series of books.

    The boycotting by Christians of this movie has already shown that that movie is not doing well at the box offices. I feel that by boycotting this moive we MAY play a role in stopping the making of the 2nd and 3rd series of this trilogy of movies which means less anti-Christianity messages, less merchandise, etc.

    Just my thoughts……

  3. Ginny

    I have read all three books and saw the movie. These books are clearly fantasy, and the first is particularly entertaining. The “church” described is nothing like our church, nor is Jesus mentioned. If your child wants to read them, I would recommend that you read them too. It could spark good discussions about religion, our purpose in life, etc.

    The movie is only fair; book one is much better. Interestingly, they take death out of book one. I have no idea how they would ever move to a sequel that would be true to the book. Perhaps all the hype is to sell books and movie tickets to non-believers!

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone. Leigh is in the midst of the third book, and says that’s where most of the anti-religious stuff takes place. Ginny makes a good point about the kind of church being referenced. “Anti-religious” can mean a lot of things, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the religion being critiqued looks anything like the one you practice! Susan, I can appreciate your sensitivity to the motives behind things like “The Golden Compass.” My fear is that too much boycotting could make it look like Christians are sticking their heads in the sand instead of actively engaging and confronting the anti-religious voices out there. But, as you so smartly point out, that takes a lot of responsible work on our part to education our children about what they are seeing. If we don’t do that well, we could inadvertantly send the wrong message.

  5. Dear Kory,

    I believe this is the first (and only?) sane piece by a Christian blogger about “The Golden Compass”. I agree with your chosen route of engagement with the world around us.

    Regarding the argument that Pullman’s books will convert children to atheism, what does this say about the faith in which we are raising our children? Obviously, such a faith is non-reflective, non-enagaging, and very, very shallow.

    Thanks for your wise thought.

    Peace,
    Rachel

  6. richard

    All men are level at the foot of the cross. and setting a good example reveals a wise parent.

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