Religious attitudes to knowledge

Golden CompassI have been vaguely aware of a mild controversy around the newly-released film The Golden Compass but didn’t pay much attention until I heard an interview with with Philip Pullman, the author of the book the film is based on. He’s an interesting person. His beliefs are non-religious (he doesn’t like labels like “atheist” so I won’t use any) and humanist. As a writer of children’s fantasy novels he attempts to bring his philosophy into his stories which in some ways can be seen as a counter to The Chronicles of Narnia. by C. S. Lewis

Pullman’s comment on religious mythology was interesting. For example, he is critical of a common interpretation of the Genesis story. In particular, the concept that the “Fall” is attributed to Adam and Eve eating fruit from the tree of knowledge – implying than knowledge is a bad thing.

I know that different groups have different interpretations of these myths. However, there does seem to be a section of modern Christianity that is opposed to knowledge, or at least demands that theological dogma must come before empirical knowledge and modern scientific theories. This comes out most strongly when we discuss ideas relating to morality, humanity and origins of life and the universe.

While some Christians have campaigned against this film and Phillip Pullmans books (see for example Petition to Ban movie “The Golden Compass,” The Real Golden Compass and Toronto-area Catholic School Board Bans Pullman Fantasy Trilogy) others, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams actually give support, seeing Pullman’s message as an attack on dogmatism (see also the golden compass – to ban or not to ban).

I don’t know how good The Golden Compass is as a film. However, Phillip Pullmans fresh take on religious mythology is interesting. I am encouraged to take my grandchildren to see the film and read the books for myself.

See also:
Institute for Humanist Studies interview with Phillip Pullman
Freethought radio interview with Phillip Pullman

3 responses to “Religious attitudes to knowledge

  1. Hi Ken, I have posted some stuff about this on Christian News. Here is the link. The MP3s give a good MATURE Christian response to the film/books and their worldview.


  2. CN,
    You don’t actually give your own comments either on the film or on my point about interpretation of Genesis myth to discredit knowledge.

    However, I am intrigued by your site’s description of Christian News as “Sponsored by the Elusive Brethren & Right Wing American Fundamentalists”

    Is it a spoof?


  3. Hi Ken,

    I’ve heard that the Golden Compass isn’t doing too well in the US, but am interested enough (because of the ‘controversy’) to go see it (but am wondering if it’s worth the $15!).

    The ‘anti-knowledge’ interpretation of the Genesis story is… to say it nicely… theologically uninformed (or ‘ignorant’). I’ve heard some strange interpretations before, but that’s just silly, frankly. 🙂 Is he serious?

    We need not let our modern opinions (i.e., ‘Ooh, look at that controlling Church – the opium of the masses, controlling people’s thought…’, etc.) colour our interpretation of ancient stories & literature.



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