afraid for my nation
I am somewhat frightened for the soul of my nation. You might think I am being dramatic, you might accuse me of being dim-witted for taking so long, but the occasion of my fright is specific and I would like to detail it before I am subject to your ready judgments and insults.
A well-written young adult novel with a strong female lead and a theme of the value of free will is being touted as being atheistic/satanic and a corrupter of children’s values. The book itself is a fairy tale, and at it’s darkest it perhaps goes as far as the story of Job — it warns against arbitrary authority, the mistaking of a powerful leader for God, and asserts that for good to truly be done, it must be done by a free will. Admittedly, this last point is revolutionary — it led to protestantism… some hundreds of years ago.
If people feel the need to protect their children from this message, then I shudder to think of what world they are preparing those children for. I wonder if the myth of the suicide bomber (and by myth I do not mean that there are not suicide bombers, but rather the whole collection of stories about them, and pictures and movies and so on) has elicited a kind of guilt on the part of our own religious leaders. Their flocks are not capable of such devotion. Not that I think anyone is thinking this consciously, as I said, I fear for the soul of my nation, not it’s mind.
The movie is The Golden Compass — a first class adventure story that takes place in a universe consisting of fantastic elements from modern science fiction (the concept of multiple universes), and old fairy stories (talking animals, witches and familiar creatures) combined in a moral universe which might have come from Dickens. There is a rigid and authoritarian power structure, which is viewed cynically (in the tradition of all folk writing) and numerous autonomous societies attempting to live within it. The balance between these societies is shifting and governed by negotiation. The center of this imaginary world is a structure that bears a great deal of resemblance to the medieval church. In the book it is a bad thing.
But it was a bad thing, right? It is not defaming of Catholics to observe that having burned people alive for promoting the experimental method was wrong, is it? Surely having burned complete cities (some under their own jurisdiction) is still viewed as having been, well, extreme, right? Or maybe that kind of zeal is something we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, because we might need it for the burgeoning clash of cultures we are supposedly engaging in.
Well, some of them are saying that this characterization of the church promotes atheism. Which sounds a great deal to me like the argument Cat Stevens made when he advocated for Salman Rushdies death after that author wrote a book condemning negative aspects of Islam. His Dark Materials (a title taken from Milton) is highly intelligent, but hardly revolutionary. It is as anarchist as Huck Finn, and as atheist as Meister Eckhart — which is, honestly, not very. It is as anarchist as the heart of it’s audience, the young adult. It characterizes the bonds of love and loyalty, the living quilt of society, as superior to the bonds of fear and obedience. At some point in the last 33 years, when my back was turned, did this concept become radical?
Because when I was 6 years old, and reading Sinbad, it was fucking obvious.
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