Thursday, 29 November 2007
The Scarlet Harlot?
Holy Muddah Church - the one with corporate headquarters in Rome, Italy - is once again demonstrating how out of touch it is with the twenty-first century. This time it's over a book and a movie.
The Golden Compass is about to hit the big screens, based on the first book in Philip Pullman's amazing Sci-Fantasy trilogy for children.
Disclaimer: I'm respectful of Catholicism as a rule, and not only because Jared Olar gives me a swift kick when I have a relapse. It's suffered from constant misrepresentation at the hands of bigots. Some of the finest Christian scholars today are Catholic, and they're scrupulously honest with their research. Many Protestant objections are based on sheer historical ignorance. That said, it's unfortunate that the Enlightenment seems to have passed by the control freaks of the Catholic League.
I resisted reading Pullman for years, largely because my nephew recommended it so highly. Said nephew is a lecturer in economics, and one of those people I try not to engage in frequent conversation with 'cos the blighter makes me sound subnormal by comparison. Beside, what would an economist know about good fiction? Pullman's atheism was also another reason to avoid the series: being preached at by a militant atheist is every bit as irksome as a purple-shrouded bishop or a raving televangelist.
But I weakened at the start of the this month. Exams were over and I was looking for something to unwind with. Armed with a copy of Northern Lights (published in America as The Golden Compass) I collapsed into an armchair and started to read. I was hooked within minutes.
Pullman draws partly on the ideas in Milton's Paradise Lost to spin an incredible yarn about a renewed attempt to topple (the false) God off his throne, a sequel to the rebellion that saw Lucifer cast down, set in parallel worlds as well as our own. It's this that has brought down the wrath of Rome, and the sacred scarlet knickers have been well and truly knotted as a result. Only militant Catholics seem to be screaming and tossing toys out of the crib at this stage, though I wouldn't be surprised if one of the reactionary hacks in Cincinnati writes something inane in the GN.
I'm no atheist, as I keep trying to convince Bob Thiel, but I'd certainly recommend Pullman to anyone who loves provocative Sci-Fi. It's an excellent tale and, hey, it's written for kids, so it's not going to be too much of a mission for the average adult reader. I'll definitely be seeing the film when it's released. Will it corrupt minors? Less so, I expect, than many Sunday School Bible lessons.
But back to the Roman (or more properly, US Catholic) reaction. How much more credibility would "the Magisterium" have if it saw the Pullman books and film as a chance to dialog with postmodernism rather than indulge in prissy chest-pounding? If the church - any church - wants to look tired and frumpy, this is the way to do it. Catholics have been advised to stay away from the movie (which avoids the religious references so as not to cause offense), and the books are being removed from libraries in some parochial schools. Mother Church wants to censor the thinking of the faithful, but doesn't seem to have factored in the news that the Middle Ages have now passed. South Park, The DaVinci Code - it doesn't take much to set off the keening wails from the defenders of the faith. Surely there are weightier issues to obsess over?
Support freedom of thought, and indulge in a little yourself. See the movie, and try the books.
Related link: His Blasphemous Materials in the Irish Independent.