More on 'The Golden Compass'
Following my deist reading of the films in the post below, I thought I'd offer up two differing interpretations.
First, a Protestant take:
The irony, though, is that because the film never attacks religion eo ipso, its supposedly atheistic critique of the Magisterium is indistinguishable from a very traditional (also several centuries' worth) Protestant critique of Catholicism. If anything, Lyra's position as a savior figure, foretold in the witches' prophecies, implies the existence of an alternative religious structure--not the opposition of religion to no religion at all. And the film condemns the Magisterium's attempt to legislate behavior from above on the same grounds as Protestants have condemned the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation: such external control promotes both legalism (that is, it emphasizes obedience to a law imposed from without, instead of spiritual rebirth from within) and denies the importance of the conscience. Effectively, we have "tradition" opposed to a kind of private judgment, represented in both Lyra's apparently inspired ability to interpret the alethiometer and Lord Asriel's quest for scientific truth. For that matter, Asriel's interest in alternate universes takes on a distinctly Galileo-esque tinge. All of this overlaps with a secular or skeptical critique of religion, of course, but is hardly confined to it. Even the Master's demand for "free inquiry" has solid religious roots, as well as secular ones.
Second, a Catholic one:
These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of "His Dark Materials" is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings - the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now. This is a rejection of the more classical notion of a detached, transcendent God, but I am a Catholic theologian, and reading this fantasy trilogy enhanced my sense of the divine, of virtue, of the soul, of my faith in God.
The book's concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman's work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman's work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman's work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.
I've yet to find a convincing atheist one.
UPDATE: I think the final word should go to Jean Kazez over at 'Talking Philosophy', who (in my opinion) manages to sum up the "message" of the film quite nicely:
A moviegoer could come away thinking Pullman is for witches and demons and multiple universes, talking polar bears and mysterious dust. The movie’s real theme, though, is truth. Good in the movie is lined up with free inquiry and the unimpeded search for the truth. Evil is the monstrous institution of the magisterium, which battles against the truth- seekers.
But wait, if the movie is pro-truth, why shouldn’t it be construed as pro-God, or even pro-Jesus. (Wasn’t it Jesus who said “I am the way and the truth”?) It will take any moviegoer a moment of honest reflection to admit the power of the movie’s message. All religions claim contact with truth, but they don’t empower members of the religion to be truth-seekers themselves.