Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mat 24 watch, 41: The Golden Compass 2 -- the neopagan dimension

Philip Pullman's controversial Dark Materials trilogy and the about-to-be released movie that we discussed last time around, have another side -- a neopagan aspect that at first sight does not seem to fit in well with an atheistic-agnostic, evolutionary materialist worldview.

For instance, if you go to the Movie's web page, the teaser begins with a picture of the anti-heroine, Lyra, standing amidst ice and snow, with an armoured polar bear. Then, a shadow of a weasel runs across the picture to the right hand side, and materialises into a solid animal [a daemon -- pronounced "demon"]. Right next to is is a caption: Meet your Daemon.

Click on it and you will go to a Flash Animation page, that in two panels presents a message that reads in part:
In Lyra's world, a person's soul lives on the outside of their body, in the form of a daemon -- an animal spirit that accompanies them through life . . . .

In our world it is possible that people have daemons as well, only that they are invisible. If you would like to learn more about your daemon, and create a daemon avatar to take out with you into the world with you select 'Meet your Daemon.'
On clicking through and answering as set of twenty socio-psychological profiling questions, your daemon is duly assigned, along with a descriptive personality profile.

So far, it seems only to be a playful version of the harmless Sunday magazine type "profile yourself" questionnnaire. But, all is not so simple as that, as we can see from the informational panels' remarks: (1) a daemon -- an animal spirit that accompanies [a person in Lyra's world] through life, and (2) In our world it is possible that people have daemons as well, only that they are invisible.

Such a description is instantly recognisable to one with even passing familiarity with the occult or pagan or animist worldviews. The Daemons are in effect familiar spirits.

Now, couple this with the declaration by the rebellious angel from the Novels:
The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty – those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves – the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.
In short, we see here a synthesis between the pagan-style view of the world, and anti-theistic evolutionary materialism -- a world in which Yahweh is made out to be a lying spirit, merely the first angel pretending to be God and Creator. Thus, Pullman creates an imaginative world in which evolved, semi-material spirit beings at a higher stage of evolution are made plausible for children reading the books or viewing the movies or even just innocently clicking on the web site.

Multiply that by a pattern that starts with the very name of the heroine: Lyra. Not only does this echo Lucy in Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, but it brings out a telling contrast. In Narnia, a critical point shortly after Lucy discovers Narnia after trying to hide in a Wardrobe, is that she is challenged as being untruthful. The professor in whose house she is staying takes the four Pevensie children through a process of critical inquiry that leads to the conclusion that Lucy is most likely telling the trustworthy truth, however strange it may seem at first. In short, the Narnia cycle hinges on Lucy's being truthful and testably trustworthy in her claims.

By contrast, I doubt that it is an accident that Lyra closely echoes the way we pronounce "liar."

For, we may observe how Ted Baehr (founder of Movieguide) points out that, from the very outset of the movie, Lyra . . .
is immediately established as pugnacious, willful, rebellious, lawbreaking and deceitful. A witch tells Lyra that she is the fulfillment of a prophecy about a girl messiah who will overthrow authority, especially the Magisterium, a thinly cloaked reference to the Catholic Church . . . .

Lyra is known for her lying so much so that her bear friend calls her "silver tongue." In the story, this is a positive adjective . . . Lyra's lying is often a useful pragmatic device to solve the story's plot problems . . . .

While Lyra is opposed to all authority, including her mother [i.e Mrs Coulter], she easily befriends strangers and accepts their authority and their directives.
He also notes on the impact of such a twelve year old heroine:

While most commentators are focusing on the atheism and paganism in the book [which the movie in effect invites the viewer to seek out, read and value], the movie has been slightly toned down so that the more troubling elements are the person of the heroine herself and some of the movie's themes. Children learn their scripts of behavior from movies and entertainment. The more intelligent the child is the more likely he or she will encode the behavior.

The role model for children in this movie is the heroine, Lyra . . . . Do parents really want their children hate them, rebel against them and want to kill them? Mrs. Coulter may be the villain, but all she really tries to do in this movie is to save her daughter's life. Although the story's character motivations are not well developed, Mrs. Coulter and the rest of the Magisterium contend they are trying to protect the children, establish order and give peace to society. The way they express these statements, however, it becomes clear the audience should not trust them.
Observe: Children learn their scripts of behavior from movies and entertainment . . . . The role model for children in this movie is the heroine, Lyra.

In short, the message is all too obvious -- children are being invited to fear, suspect and rebel against parents and other authority figures who represent traditional views, whilst easily opening themselves to new ideas and friendly-seeming figures who represent opposed, allegedly liberating views. Multiply that by the invitation to associate with familiar spirits, and we see the rise of a troubling, strangely materialistic neo-paganism that fears, suspects and rebels against the heritage of the Judaeo-Christian tradition [which in the books only appears in a negative light], the putting up of an anti-messiah, and rage against Yahweh God, the ultimate authority figure in that tradition.

Rebellion against parents, an unbalanced view of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, loathing of the church, dismissal of the teachings of the scriptures and a blasphemous characterisation of God are not to be trifled with either. Nor is opening oneself up naively to friendly-seeming strangers who feed such rebellion (especially if they invite one into sexual experimentation) a very wise thing to do. The repackaging of pagan views -- complete with inviting the company of Daemons or familiars -- in an evolutionary materialist, multi-universe framework then lends a veneer of scientific plausibility to the emerging neo-pagan worldview.

This is a potent brew, and one we need to think carefully about and assess then respond to. That we will do over the next little while.

But in the meanwhile it seems unwise to spend time and money indulging in the company of such ideas and examples; save to learn how to understand and redemptively respond. END

UPDATE, Dec 6:
Lucy Pevensie, not Pevensey.

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