Today’s Boston Globe has an article looking at the history of Mormon history and its relationship with the church. From the 1940s onward there have been slowly spreading cracks in the wall of official Mormon mythology as academic historians, some of them with ties to Mormonism, have been looking at what actually happened as opposed to the official story. The piece points out that Mormonism, unusually for a large religion, has the problem of being such a recent innovation that large parts of its actual history are documented in some form. Reading it made me think of the tempest in a tin pot over The Golden Compass and Phillip Pullman.
The assertions that Pullman’s Dark Materials books aren’t entries in the long line of British anti-Roman Catholic propaganda are pretty flimsy. He announced his intention in no uncertain terms by calling the source of all evil The Magisterium. Anyone with the gumption to look the word up will find one definition in most English dictionaries, The Magisterium is “The teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church”. It couldn’t be clearer if he just came out and said the Pope was the whore of Babylon. They share something with the products of Chick Publications, though at the high end.
But what of if? The Roman Catholic Church has a checkered history, no doubt about it. Throughout the long centuries of its existence many of the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and clergy of the Catholic church, many of its members, especially those holding political power, have provided so much ammunition to its enemies that you wonder why they would feel the need to make stuff up.
That long history and the enormous number of members also mean that along with the horrible acts of murder, theft, injustice, etc. there have been Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, clergy and lay members of the Roman Catholic Church who have been great examples of morality. Some consistently, most somewhat less than constantly. While those members can be asked to account for their membership in such a compromised church it shouldn’t be forgotten that few of us haven’t been associated with organizations with a checkered past or present. Being a citizen of the United States, Britain, etc. leaves us open to exactly the same questions.
If the Catholic hierarchy and it's fronts want to fend off this movie it shouldn’t resort to trotting out William “rent a religious reactionary” Donohue to come up with a non-starter like a boycott of the movie. It should finally get out front and admit to its sins. It should do what it has insisted to its members is the only way to expunge its guilt, it should confess and repent and it should do so in public. It should do so or it shouldn’t be surprised when it is susceptible to these kinds of attacks.
I will add that, as people familiar with me know, I’m not a fan of the kind of neo-humanism that Pullman promotes. I will have more to say about this in the future.
Note: You might want to consider this before deciding what you think.
While Pullman himself has said he believes 'the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done', the National Secular Society - of which the author is an honorary associate - has now spoken out against the changes.
'It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of Pullman's book,' said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. 'In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America's cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.'
So Terry Sanderson thinks Pullman doesn't know when his own material is being censored?
Kidman has said the critical stance of the film 'has been watered down a little ... I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence,' she told film journalists in Australia in the summer. 'I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.'
What a muddle. I think I'll forget about this stuff and read more history instead.