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The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Christian Objections (with Responses)

The Golden Compass

Three objections that Iʼve heard concerning Pullmanʼs “Golden Compass” (the movie), and “His Dark Materials” trilogy:

Objection #1: Catholics object to the authorʼs use of the phrase, “The Magisterium”

Objection #2: Protestants object to the way John Calvin is portrayed in the novels as being connected with “children” being “killed.”

Objection #3: Protestants and Catholics both object to the way “Original Sin” is portrayed as somehow being connected with adolescent sexual awakening.

Objection #1: Catholics object to the authorʼs use of the phrase, “The Magisterium” to depict the governing body on his alternate earth. According to Catholics using such a term is an affront to “The Magisterium” which is defined today as the living teaching authority of the Catholic church. So using such a term to depict the controlling forces of a totalitarian society in Pullmanʼs fiction is a form of bigotry and prejudice.

Response to Objection #1: Even the late Pope John Paul II admitted that the Catholic church had a lot to apologize for over the centuries, including a thirst for political influence, wealth, power, totalitarian-like teachings and activities. Hence the late Pope John Paul II set up a commission to tally up the churchʼs questionable teachings and misdeeds over the centuries, though it remains doubtful that they will ever formally complete such a task. But if anyone wishes to study the question of totalitarianism and the Bible and the church fathers, then a prime example of the type of reasoning employed can be found in/

De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmineʼs Treatise on Civil Government by Saint Robert Bellarmine Doctor of the Universal Church.

Just read chapters 18-22:
The Defense of Religion Pertains to the Political Magistracy
It is not Possible for Catholics to be Reconciled with Heretics
The Books of Heretics Should Be Abolished
Can Heretics Condemned by the Church Be Punished with Temporal Penalties and even with Death
The Solution of Difficulties

Bellarmine covers a host of questions any Christian might ask pertaining to how one can interpret the Bible and the church fathers and arrive at something akin to totalitarianism.

Objection #2: Protestants object to the way John Calvin is portrayed in the novels as being connected with “children” being “killed.”

Response to Objection #2: True, the historical John Calvin in our cosmos was not known for killing children willy nilly. And even in Pullmanʼs fiction there is a reason or threat that the Magisterium finds compelling enough to make them conduct experiments on children that lead sometimes to a their deaths—though killing the children is not the object of such experiments which are attempts to find a way to avoid people attracting “dust.”

On the other hand, the historical John Calvin did teach that the disciplining of unruly children was necessary, even unto death. Some modern day Calvinists agree, even unto the death penalty for disobedient children in their mid-teens. See the materials below, beginning with verses from the O.T. that Calvin himself is known to have cited and expounded upon:

He that strikes his father or his mother shall die the death.
-Exodus 21:15

He that curses his father or his mother shall die the death.
-Exodus 21:17

If any man has a son that is stubborn and disobedient, which will not hearken unto the voice of his father, nor the voice of his mother, and they have chastened him [The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”], and he would not obey them, Then shall his father and his mother take him, and bring him out unto the Elders of his city, and unto the gate of the place where he dwells, And shall say unto the Elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and disobedient, and he will not obey our admonition; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him with stones unto death: so thou shalt take away evil from among you, that all Israel may hear and fear.
-Deuteronomy 21:18-21

How Children Were Treated At The Height Of Calvinism In Geneva

In 1563, a girl named Genon Bougy, who had insulted her mother by calling her “japa,” was condemned to three days in prison on bread and water, and she had to make a public apology after worship services. In 1566, Damian Mesnier, a child from the village of Genthod, for insulting his mother by calling her “diablesse, hérège, larronne” and by throwing stones at her, was whipped in public and then hanged from the gallows with the rope passed under his arms, as a sign of the death he had deserved, but which was spared him because of his youth. Philippe Deville was beheaded in1568 for having beaten his father and step-mother. Four years later, a 16-year-old child tried to strike his mother, and was also condemned to death; but the sentence was reduced in light of his young age, and he was only banished, after being whipped in public with a rope around his neck. [SOURCE: Jean Picot [Professeur dʼhistoire dans la faculte des lettres de lʼAcademie de cette ville] Histoire de Geneve, Tome Second (Published in Geneva, i.e., A Geneve, Chez Manget et Cherbuliez, Impreimeurs-Libr. 1811) p. 264]

“Girl” (?) Beheaded

A child was whipped for calling his mother a thief and a she-devil (diabless). A girl was beheaded for striking her parents, to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment. [SOURCE: Philip Schaff [Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York] Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation = Vol. VIII of History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, third edition revised, 1910) — Schaff does not footnote the “beheading” incident, though he does provide on that page and the next a few footnotes regarding other incidents of prohibitions and their penalties in Geneva. He also lists the sources he consulted when writing his book (sources are listed at the beginning of each section). In this case, judging by nearby footnotes and by his source list for that particular section, he most likely obtained his information from either the Registers of the Council of Geneva, or, “Amedee Roget: Lʼeglise et lʼetat a Geneve du vivant de Calvin. Etude dʼhistoire politico-ecclesiastique, published in Geneve, 1867 (pp. 92). Compare also his Histoire du people de Geneve depuis la reforme jusquʼa lʼescalade (1536-1602), 1870-1883, 7 vols.”]

[Picot and Schaff do not agree on the gender of the beheaded child, and my first source, Dr. Henry, only mentions that it was a “child,” not specifying its gender. Picotʼs History of Geneva provides the most complete information concerning the incident, including the childʼs name and the date of the beheading. The archives of Geneva are vast and include not only the Registers of the Council and the Registers of the Consistory, but many other records as well (that the Calvin scholar, Robert Kingdon, lists by category in Vol. 1 of his English translation of the Registers of the Consistory). Though massive, the Genevan archives could probably be searched by focusing on the year of the beheading and the childʼs name that Picot has given, and they could probably supply more information, such as the childʼs age when s/he was beheaded. — E.T.B.]

Calvinʼs Teaching On The Execution Of Rebellious Children From Calvinʼs Day To Our Own

The same year that the Libertines were overthrown (1555) and pro-Calvinists ruled Geneva, Calvin preached on the execution of rebellious children in a sermon that advocated it (in order to “remove the evil from among you” as it stated in Deuteronomy). The sermon was recorded (by a secretary in shorthand) and later published and is even available today in English on the internet at a site run by Theonomist Evangelical Christians who are some of Calvinʼs biggest modern day admirers. In his sermon Calvin cited verses from the Bible that taught that parents should both love and discipline their children, advice that you would normally hear in any sermon or read in a Parenting magazine today, with one crucial difference of course, the added Biblical necessity of having some disobedient, parent-dishonoring, rebellious children executed “to remove the evil from among you.”

Also during the 1550s many editions of French Bibles were printed in Geneva that contained notes based on Calvinʼs teachings. In 1560 an English translation of the Bible was published in Geneva, the famous “Geneva Bible.” Like the earlier French Bibles it featured notes that reflected the teachings of Calvin and Calvinism. Each book in the Geneva Bible was preceded by an opening “argument” — for instance the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy were preceded by “arguments” that said the laws revealed to Moses were “temporal and civil ordinances,” “necessary for a commonweal,” and to “govern” His “Church.” And a note in the Geneva Bible, concerning the command in Deuteronomy to execute rebellious children, added: “Which death was also appointed for blasphemers and idolaters: so that to disobey the parents is most horrible.”

Robert Kingdon [a modern day Calvin scholar who not only edited the Registers of the Consistory of Geneva, but also wrote a book about Adultery in Calvinʼs Geneva], noted that during the early 1560s: “We find in the surviving dossiers of Genevan criminal trials a cluster of several cases of adultery punished with the death penalty in 1560 and 1561. That was when the Calvinist Reformation was at its peak… Calvin too, was at the peak of his career, with a new and definitive edition of his masterwork, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, just off the [Genevan] press.”

In 1563, Calvinʼs Commentary on the Five Books of Moses was also published in Geneva and it reiterated what he had previously taught in his sermons in 1555 concerning the necessity of following Godʼs rules of discipline and the necessity of magistrates to obey and enforce Biblical laws, including the execution of rebellious children. It was soon after that when the harsh public disciplinary actions toward children took place. Moreover, during those same years, a string of witches were killed (not a one was banished, all executed, one right on the spot), several adulterers were executed, and a few people even committed suicide rather than face the Consistory. It was Calvinism in its most heightened state of belief and triumph.

In January of 1998 the Rev. William Einwechter composed an article titled, “Stoning Disobedient Children,” that was published in Chalcedon Report. The Reverendʼs article raised some eyebrows in the world of “church and state news” since it advocated the execution of rebellious children who were “in their middle teens [15-17?] or older.” The Reverend responded to his critics in a second article. Both of his articles can be googled easily since they are posted at various websites. I emailed the Reverend, asking him why he chose the “mid-teens” as a cut off point for execution when Exodus mentions executing children twice, once for “cursing” their parents, and once for “striking” their parents, but in neither case does it specify the “age” of “executable” children. In fact in some places the Bible says God himself killed, or commanded his people to execute, infants and pregnant women. Therefore, the “age” of a child does not appear to have played a very large factor when it came to the necessity of removing “evil” from the sight of God:

Their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.
- Psalm 21:10

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born… let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
- Psalm 58:3,8

As for Israel, their glory shall fly away like a bird, and from the womb, and from the conception… Give them, O Lord: what will Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts… they shall bear no fruit…
- Hosea 9:11-16

Every living thing on the earth was drowned [which no doubt included pregnant women and babies]… Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
- Genesis 7:23

Thus saith the LORD… Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
- 1 Samuel 15:3

Joshua destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD commanded.
- Joshua 10:40

The LORD delivered them before us; and we destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 2:33-34

Kill every male among the little ones.
- Numbers 31:17

The wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and… Samaria shall become desolate… they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
- Hosea 13:15-16

With thee will I [the LORD] break in pieces the young man and the maid.
- Jeremiah 51:22

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
- Psalm 137:9

I added in my email to Rev. Einwechter that Calvinist Christians whose “fear of God” ran deep could cite scriptures like those above and argue for executing rebellious children of a far younger age than he suggested in his article. Apparently the Reverend did not wish to argue the question of “age” any further with me, since he never replied to the second email I sent him.

This subject also brings to mind the related question of the Bibleʼs rules for the disciplining of children:

Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
- Proverbs 19:18 (The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”)

The blueness of a wound cleanses away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
- Proverbs 20:30 (The Hebrew word translated “stripes” means “beating.”)

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beats him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from Sheol.
- Proverbs 23:13-14

As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee (with blows).
- Deuteronomy 8:5

For whom the Lord loves he chasteneth, and scourges every son whom he receives.
- Hebrews 12:6 (The Greek word translated “chasteneth,” also means “beating.”)

Objection #3: Protestants and Catholics both object to the way “Original Sin” is portrayed as somehow being connected with adolescent sexual awakening.

Reply to Objection #3: In Pullmanʼs trilogy (His Dark Materials) “dust” is a powerful force, which causes the alethiometer to operate, flows around the Aurora Borealis, passes between parallel universes, and adheres to adult humans (but not to animals and not to juveniles whose daemons have not yet settled into final form). And because it is intimately connected to the changes that take place at puberty, which in the eyes of the Church (in Lyraʼs world) are a manifestation of Original Sin, it is seen by the Church and its Oblation Board as evil; therefore they want to find a way to protect humans from its actions.

“Dust is the embodiment of either Original Sin or the creative energy of humankind, which may be the same thing in Pullmanʼs world.” (Jacobs)

“Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.” (Pullman, The Subtle Knife)

In “His Dark Materials” trilogy Pullmanʼs interpretation of the garden of Eden tale is that after eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were awakened to full consciousness, curiosity, including sexual curiosity. Pullmanʼs explanation in the story is that “dust” is drawn to humans at the point where childhood turns into early-adulthood/adolescence, and that the moment of awakening [which some Protestants might call the “age of accountability”] is a sort of replay of the awakening of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden when “their eyes were opened,” and they gained “knowledge.”

For instance In the Genesis story the immediate consequence of eating from the tree of “knowledge of good and evil” was their awareness of being “naked,” and the first action reported after the expulsion from the garden is Adamʼs “knowing“ Eve.
(Genesis 4:1).

[Explanatory note in case someone brings up the “be fruitful and multiply” command in Genesis chapter 1 and uses it to argue that Adam and Eve had sex in Eden before they sinned, and thus sexual awakening had nothing to do with original sin. Genesis 1 which contains the “be fruitful” command is a story that contains evidence of later concerns, even ideas absorbed during the Babylonian exile, and it is more fully monotheistic as well, a later development in Israelite religion. Thus Genesis 1 is a later tale, so whatever it may say about God commanding the first man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply” that appears to be a later embellishment. While the earlier creation story found in Genesis 2-4 has God walking naked in the garden with Adam and Eve who are like children running around naked and doing some gardening—though the garden watered itself it was said from rising mists—and then the couple ate of the forbidden fruit (attaining knowledge—a more adult and mature view of things for the first time) and their eyes were opened and they hide their nakedness in shame and begat children after leaving the garden. Of course even in the later tale of the creation of man and women in which they are commanded to “be fruitful” the metaphor of “fruit” is employed and hearkens back to ancient Near Eastern sexual metaphors, as pointed out by Dr. Ronald A. Veenker (Post-doctoral Fellow, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbinic Literature (Tannaitic Midrash), Cantillation of Torah, Sumerian Grammar and Syntax, 1977), in his paper presented at The Society of Biblical Literature in 1993, Forbidden Fruit: Ancient Near Eastern Sexual Metaphors.

As for verses in the Bible and teachings of theologians and monks in the early church regarding celibacy as an extremely important means for attaining holiness, pleasing God and being in His presence, below are examples. Keep in mind while reading these examples that just because the author of the Song of Songs praised “well favored” women with “breasts like towers,” is no reason to think “the Lord” finds “favor” with them. Heʼs into virginity—into it deeper than any Protestant ever imagined. Take the following heavenly scene:

I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne [of the Lord]…and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.
-Revelation 14: 2-4

Why is it important that the 144,000 male harpists not be “defiled” with women? Likewise, why did Moses feel it was important for Israelite men to “come not at their wives” before “meeting the Lord?” (Exodus 19:15,17) What exactly is so bad about having a little nookie before meeting the Lord?

And why did Paul teach: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually]… Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife… The time is short: it remains that they that have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Cor. 7) And finally, why did Jesus say, “Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven?” (Mat. 19:12) Whatʼs the lesson behind all this?

There appears to have been some ancient taboo about a woman “spiritually defiling” a man by having sex with him. (I wonder if a single Protestant Christian still believes this or worries about any such biblical lessons? Do they “come not at their wives” before traveling to the annual Southern Baptist Convention? I doubt it.)

Further Teachings From Paul And Other Early Theologians And Monks

It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually]… For I would that all men were even as I myself… I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I… But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn… I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be… Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife… The time is short: it remains that they that have wives be as though they had none… He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit… that you may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
-1 Corinthians 7:1,7,8-9,26-27,29,32-35

In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage… chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship… they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, “What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?” Would that all would… Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened. For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, “I would that all were as myself;” or in that passage, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31) [SOURCE: Saint Augustine (c. 354-430), On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10]

In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wifeʼs breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wifeʼs virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings. [SOURCE: Saint Augustine, The City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26]

Nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the fondling of women and those bodily contacts that belong to the married state. [SOURCE: Augustine, De Trinitate]

I am aware that some have laid it down that virgins of Christ must not bathe with eunuchs or married women, because the former still have the minds of men and the latter may present the ugly spectacle of swollen [pregnant] bellies. For my part I say that mature girls must not bathe at all, because they ought to blush to see themselves naked.
- Saint Jerome (c. 342-420)

Saint Jerome conquered his carnal visions of dancing maidens by throwing himself in tears before a crucifix, beating his breast with a stone, and fleeing into the desert.
- John Dollison, Pope-Pourri

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux threw himself into half-frozen ponds to free himself from sexual temptation. He also wrote lengthy commentaries on the Bibleʼs Song of Songs (also called “The Song of Solomon”) “to prove it was not about sex”

Edward T. Babinski 12/5/2007

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