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The 'Golden Compass' is no treasure for children

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By Mary Regina Morrell
Catholic Online

"It is not possible for a Christian to live in modern, secular culture and not be affected by it. The predominant mentality has ways of inserting itself into our ways of seeing things." Father Richard Veras, Jesus in Israel

Many years ago, while teaching pre-school in a local Catholic school, I asked my small charges to draw me a picture of God. I gave them no introduction to God, no adult explanation of who God was or hints about how to draw their pictures. Some were from worshipping families, but others were not.

As they set about creating their masterpieces, they worked in almost complete silence, totally engaged in the process. One budding artist with a profound love of purple had filled up his page with rainbow trees and purple animals, candy cane clouds and butterflies too numerous to count - purple, of course. Sunbursts and flowers and smiling children danced on the page.

"Where is God?" I asked.

"Here," he said, picking up his whole picture and holding it close enough to my nose to smell the crayon. For him God was all things beautiful, all things good, all things that made him happy.

His little friend sitting next to him, all of four years old, had created something different. She had drawn herself in the center of the page with a pink heart on her chest. Inside the heart were a pair of lips.

"How beautiful!" I exclaimed. "Does your heart talk?"

"No," she laughed, "That is God. He talks to my heart."

The hair on my arms stood up and I filled with tears at the privileged glimpse I was given into a child's intimate relationship with the transcendent.

These children are not the exception, but the rule. Anyone who has read the works of Maria Montessori or Sofia Cavalletti would be well acquainted with the idea that children are graced with a metaphysical intuition and that their relationship with God is a mystery that must be respected.

Yet, in this day and age, in this culture, the religious dimension of the child not only garners little respect, it is obviously under siege.

Take for example, The Golden Compass, the newest fantasy epic due out in theaters in early December. The movie is based on the first book of a trilogy, His Dark Materials, written by Philip Pullman, a British author and avowed atheist. To date his trilogy has outsold the Harry Potter series and has won both the prestigious Carnegie Medal for childrens' literature and the Guardian Award.

Pullman's own words from his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech explain his desire to use stories to teach: "All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts and instructions."

So just what is the intended lesson of The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials trilogy?

Pullman, himself, says it in a 2003 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald: "I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

Killing God? Obviously this storyteller has a very intentional lesson, one which evidences a profound disrespect for the interior life of children; a storyteller who, again in his acceptance speech, highlights what he really thinks of the young people who will read his books and bring him untold profits in the box office: "Now I don't mean children are supernaturally wise little angels gifted with the power of seeing the truth that the dull eyes of adults miss. They're not. They're ignorant little savages, most of them."

Another story told. Wise parents won't miss the lesson, but hopefully, they will skip the movie.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus told stories as well, but always with the intention of leading us into a loving relationship with God, being especially attentive to the children.

For those who do otherwise, his lesson was clear: "It will be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and to be thrown into the depths of the sea than to lead any of these little ones astray." (Luke 17:1-2)


Diocese of Metuchen NJ, US
Mary Regina Morrell - Associate Director, Office of Religious Education, 732 562.1990



Golden Compass, children, treasure, God, stories,

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