Newsweek's Devin Gordon is certainly not objective when it comes to Philip Pullman, the atheist children's author behind the new movie The Golden Compass. He really appreciates it when the atheist denounces conservative Catholic leader William Donohue as a "nitwit."
At this point a critic must ask: as much as he enjoyed the denunciation of Donohue, did Gordon check out
"I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," says
"I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. 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."
In the third book of his "Dark Materials" trilogy,
But Gordon is interested in spin, not facts, and he clearly sides with the atheist and against the Catholics and other Christians who oppose
The villains in the books serve an all-powerful theocracy called "the Magisterium," which some people believe, incorrectly, is a stand-in for the Roman Catholic Church.
As Brent Bozell has noted in his Golden Compass column, the name for these evil theocratic forces is a term specific to the teaching authority of the Catholic church, the keeper of Catholic dogma. It was not described as "the Caliphate." Would Gordon enjoy
Let's rewind to see how Gordon winds up to his enjoyment of
The film stands accused of being both anti-Catholic and not anti-Catholic enough—though no one making either claim has actually seen it. The loud, bristling organization known as the Catholic League is urging families to boycott a film in which the word "Catholic" is never uttered.
It hasn't been scrubbed of religion, either. While references to "the church" are gone from the film, no one over four feet tall could mistake the Magisterium for anything but an oppressive theocracy. Accusations of "heresy" abound. Buildings often resemble cathedrals. At one point, Kidman's character, the diabolical Mrs. Coulter, alludes to the story of original sin to justify a ghoulish purification rite that separates children from their daemons. But the film is not, Weitz says, an attack on people of faith; like the books, it tells a story "that attempts to rescue the religious spirit from its perversion into political power." In any case, says Deborah Forte, the film's producer, "when you talk to young people who are passionate fans of the books, they only talk about the golden monkey, and the armored bear, and Lyra, and daemons." Of course, that hasn't stopped Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, from accusing the film of being "bait" to lure children to the novels, where they will be ensnared by
Newsweek pulled out one quote for bold emphasis underneath publicity photos of the film: "No one over four feet tall could mistake the Magisterium for anything but a rigid theocracy." (You might notice that the pull-quote editor replaced Gordon's use of "oppressive" with "rigid.") In other words, no one who's made it out of grade school (or midgets and dwarves, oh the political incorrectness!) would see the film as anti-Catholic in general.
Gordon's dismissal of objections from religious readers is endorsed by his editor Jon Meacham, the constantly self-confessing Episcopalian, in his promotional "Runthrough" video on the Newsweek home page:
Devin Gordon writes a terrific essay about The Golden Compass. It had an interesting back story. A lot of people in the religious world, particularly the Catholic world in
So both Gordon and Meacham play the Haven't Seen It card. So the first question to Gordon and Meacham is: Have you seen it? Have you read the trilogy? Playing the Haven't Seen It card should be a trickier gambit when a film is based on a book or books, especially when those books have a glowingly obvious agenda and point of view. When Warner Brothers makes its movie based on the Valerie Plame book, would it be unfair to suggest before it's been screened that it will be anti-Bush?
The second question is just as obvious: did Newsweek wait to see The Passion of the Christ before it critiqued it? No. In fact, Meacham wrote a 5,000-word cover story commenting on the film two weeks before the film came out.
In the October 30, 2003 Newsweek, Sean Smith reported on the immense controversy over that movie, and which studio would dare to pick it up, and noted calmly, not critically, that it hadn't been seen by "loud, bristling groups" on the secular left.
Gibson's film -- a traditional Roman Catholic portrayal of Jesus' death -- has inspired more hostile attention than any movie in recent history, with accusations that it could foster anti-Semitism, even when few have seen it. Although supporters of the film are just as vocal, the film could prove a PR ulcer for any large, publicly held company.
Unlike Gordon's taking delight in
Gibson's camp would not comment about the potential sale, beyond saying it could happen in the "near term." It's possible, though remotely, that Icon, which distributes most of Gibson's films in the
The Gordon Golden Compass article was hopelessly devoted to promoting the
In her previous life as Mrs. Cruise, Kidman was often required to handle sensitive questions about his connection to Scientology. So it's not a surprise that she's well prepared for the controversy surrounding the film and doesn't even wait for a reporter to bring it up. "The story is more about authority now, rather than religion, which was important to me. I've been raised as a strong Catholic, and my grandmother would not be happy, or my dad for that matter, if we'd followed that part of the book." Kidman will deliver some version of this answer in just about every press interview she gives over the next year.
This raises another question for Gordon: if Kidman cared so passionately about what Pops or Grandmum thought about their faith, why did she go ahead and marry the fervent Scientologist? Gordon did not seem to ask her whether her relatives would approve of her appearing in a watered-down anti-Catholic movie that promotes the reading of a viciously anti-Catholic set of books.
One expects that religious parents will keep their children away from the film.
"But why?" the question arises from liberals. "What are you afraid of?"
My children losing God, especially before they have a firm hold on Him, that's what. At some point they will question the existence of God. I did. It's normal to do so. I want more than anything else I want for my children, even their own happiness in this life, for them to believe in God, Who is their salvation. If you believe in God, and that the loss of God is the worst thing that can happen to a person, then you would sooner give your child a rattlesnake to play with than expose him or her at an early age to the work of a man who openly says he wishes to destroy God in the minds of his audience.
Because so many liberals refuse to take God seriously, they have trouble understanding people -- Jews, Muslims, Christians and others -- who do.
Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the