Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Hiding From The Dark
Darkness is the source of many a childhood fears, nightmares and boogie men under the bed. In the absence of light, the faint rustling of the wind and leaky facets are easily transformed into monsters. Ironically, a flashlight is usually all you need to fend off boogie men and closet monsters. Darkness is, after all, only the absence of light. It is not actually a thing itself, simply the absence of a thing.
Many people of late have been demonstrating a concern over the upcoming film, The Golden Compass, which is based off of the book by Philip Pullman. I have not read his books, not have I found myself privileged with an advanced screening, so my knowledge is based on second hand sources, such as the Christianity Today article, "The Chronicles of Atheism," by Peter Chattaway.
Many Christians are concerned about this movie because of the blatantly hostile comments that Pullman has made in reference to Christianity, and several critics point out that his stories contain a "death of God" theme, and depict established religion as being subversive, cruel and the source of all manner of evils. Since the film is about a young girl (as most all children's films these days, but that is rant for another time) and her adventures, it is being marketed to children. Many worry that interest in this film by children will result in increased readership of Pullman's books, which, it is feared, will in turn result in indoctrinating them in atheism.
Yet, is this movie something that Christian parents ought to hide their children from? Are Pullman's books something that a parent ought to dread finding on their son or daughter's book shelf? As with most dilemmas, the answer is "Yes and no." Parents should be involved in their children's entertainment choices. While, as my mother found out, reading every book your child reads becomes impossible, it is only responsible to be familiar with what they are reading and watching. However, what about material that is not Christian or even "Christian-friendly?" Should parents allow their children to read books beyond the authors known by all to be "safe?" The issue of safety is a big concern for evangelicals. That is why Harry Potter has become a bone of contention among so many Christians. "Will this book or movie entice my child away from Christianity?"
The obsession with "safety," in some respects, is a cop-out to the real issue, which I believe involves the training and discipline of children. Rather than sit down with them and teach them the skills they need to evaluate what they are reading or watching, and giving them a firm grasp of what is Good, True and Beautiful, we give them only safe materials. The problem with this is that when these children grow up, they have no experience at discerning good from evil and will have a harder time holding on to what little they do know to be true. It is no wonder that most Christian youth walk away from their Christian faith by the time they graduate from college if all we do with them is play games and make them feel good about themselves. If we actually took the time to instruct them in sound doctrine and right living, they would stand a much greater chance when faced with hostile views.
Regarding Pullman specifically, parents should not automatically strike it off the reading or watching list. Instead, they should evaluate how discerning their student is. At 15, my parents told me that they trusted my judgement when it came to media. I had demonstrated a good grasp of right and wrong, thanks largely to the upbringing they provided, which not only included spiritual instruction, but also provision for critical thinking. If a parent has a student who is discerning, is there need to worry if about whether or not they will be swayed by the ideas in The Golden Compass? If a child is not very discerning, perhaps Pullman is the perfect opportunity to teach them discernment. A parent might consider reading the book with their child or taking them to see the movie, then actively engaging them in discussion about the ideas contained in it. This will not only give you bonding time with your child, but will allow you to come along side a less discerning person and show them how to analyze what is going on. Yes, it requires work on the parent's part. Mom and/or Dad will have to think about the movie or book themselves.
Does this mean that a parent should let their child read just any book? No. There is a moral umbrella that must be maintained in all things. As my friend Jeff Baldwin teaches in his class on Christianity and the Arts, if something present in a kind of media tempts you or causes you to sin, you need to avoid it. The classic example he gives is Michelangelo's statue David. This particular statue is a nude, which means that David has no clothes. Now, to the average male, a statue of a nude man is not going to tempt him to sin. However, if the statue were of, say, a nude Greek goddess, there will likely be a problem and the man would be advised to act accordingly. The key thing here, is to be honest with yourself and with others about what is a source of temptation for you. Thus, if a particular movie or book contains morally objectionable content that will cause your child to stumble, then by all means, strike it from the "read" list.
There is also a fair amount of hypocrisy that threatens the Christian family that boycotts Pullman, but not other media. The most common objection that I have heard to his works is that they promote atheism and thus, children should not be subjected to it for fear of indoctrinating them in falsehood. I would be interested in knowing if these same families would also prevent their children from watching The Land Before Time, which contains as presuppositions, evolutionary theories. Certainly we do not want to indoctrinate our children in evolutionary naturalism, do we? Certainly not, but there is far more concern over Pullman than there is over Littlefoot and his friends. What about Disney movies? Most of them tell children to follow their heart and to believe in themselves. Do we really want to subject our children to indoctrination by empty, self-help feel-good philosophies that are probably more harmful to them than an atheistic fantasy story? The Lion King is clearly Buddhist in its worldview, but is enjoyed by countless Christian children with the blessing of their parents. Double standard? Hypocrisy? Ignorance?
We cannot hide from the darkness. While the atheism of Pullman's books is certainly false, we only do ourselves harm by avoiding it. Rather, we must shine our light into the heart of the darkness his books contain and show the monsters in the corner to be what they really are: paper tigers invented by sinful men who have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and who worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Romans 1). In the absence of truth, we should fear The Golden Compass, but in the presence of the light, our fears are shown to be false.