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An Atheist on The Golden Compass

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Apparently, word is out in many Christian communities that the new movie, The Golden Compass, is anti-Christian. Well, the advertisements I have seen for the new movie show arctic adventure, talking bears, witches and battles. That does not seem very different from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which the Christian community embraced with open arms.

Christians do have reason to be worried; the book upon which the movie is based is about something very different from what I see in those 60-second ads on TV. It is about original sin and the road to a new religion

From the first chapter to the final pages, the book is about the search for Dust, which is a physical particle that is original sin. The Dust, which cannot be seen by the naked eye but is picked up on images developed with special emulsions, comes from the Aurora Borealis and is strongest at the North Pole. It is evident only on adults; children are free of it as they have not yet experienced original sin for themselves.

The two main adults in the book, the parents of the heroine Lyra, are both seeking to research Dust and to find ways control it, and even get rid of it entirely. Her mother wants to do away with sin so that people will become easy to lead since there would be no passion, sex or love. People would follow the rules set out for them (by the Church, whose corrupt leadership is called the Magesterium) with far less bother, conflict or distraction. Meanwhile, her father knows that there is great power in Dust, perhaps great enough to allow for travel through time and space.

As an atheist, I do not believe in original sin. Humans are not broken because of a fall from grace which is the understanding of procreation. The garden of Eden seems to me to be a horrid, lonely place -- far from the perfect setting it is supposed to be. How could it be perfect without sex? Sex is what gives us children, so how could a garden be blissful without generations of family gathered together? For that reason I fail to see why the knowledge of sex is ever seen as sin.

In fact, I do not believe in sin at all. I think that there are bad thought and deeds in the world and in all of us. But I do not see that as sinful. Evil does not equal sin, it is just evil. Anger, lust and envy -- feelings that are strong or frightening -- are not sin. They are part of human nature and need to be understood, addressed and hopefully controlled, not done away with.

The magic of The Golden Compass is the critical look that author Philip Pullman takes at religion. Why do we continue to believe certain things? What will it take to bring about change in these beliefs, some of which are antiquated? Can there be a new way to believe, as Lyra sets out to find out?

To those who assert that The Golden Compass promotes atheism (as I heard on Fox News recently) I say that critical thinking is not the same as godlessness. We should all be more critical, and what we believe in should not be out of the sphere of what can be criticized.

I am glad to see that The Golden Compass is a movie. Just as I was glad to see The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe come to life on the screen. The two actually go well as a pair, one meant to strengthen the myths of Christianity and one meant to call them into question, and both have talking bears.