The fantasy trilogy encourages critical thinking in kids, not atheism.
You don't have to be a kiddie lit maven to have heard about the tempest over Friday's theatrical release of "The Golden Compass."
Those who've debated Philip Pullman's award-winning trilogy since the first book's publication in 1995 will tell you they're all riled up about the author's so-called atheist agenda – and its potentially damaging effects on young, impressionable minds. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, urging a boycott, is even promoting a pamphlet called, "The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked."
That's wasted ink. Because it's not religion that Mr. Pullman takes aim at, but a society in which children are raised in a spiritual and intellectual torpor. Not only does Pullman want kids to think for themselves, but he also respects their ability to do so. And this has the "authorities" on what children should and shouldn't be thinking terrified.
For those who haven't read the trilogy, here's an overview. The three books follow pre-teen protagonists Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry on an epic journey through multiple worlds, harrowing adventures, and the beginnings of puberty.
Lyra and Will undertake this journey for different reasons, but it's soon apparent that one thing is compelling them both. That thing is Dust. And what Dust is – and what it does – has Pullman's dozens of characters choosing sides and suiting up, waging war not just against one another, but for the salvation of all mankind.
Before this battle of battles is over, the Church is crumbling from within, the new Eve has succumbed to temptation, and the Authority is dead.
Fair game for theological debate? Sure. After all, Pullman, a noted British atheist, once told The Washington Post that he was trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief. And though you wouldn't be alone if you took umbrage at this agenda, be careful.