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21 December, 2007

Buy Northern Lights and Upset the Vatican!

What idiots Catholics must be. I'm one of those people who never pay much attention to what new, blockbuster films are being released and I very rarely read a best-selling novel. Yet when the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano starts trying to suppress a book - and the film of the book - it really gets my attention.

The film is The Golden Compass (staring the strangely attractive Nicole Kidman) and it is based on a book by Philip Pullman called Northern Lights. The Vatican says the book is anti-religious (Big deal. So what?) and shows just how terrible it is to be without 'God'. To quote from l'Osservatore Romano, Pullman's writing apparently shows that "when man tries to eliminate God from his horizon, everything is reduced, made sad, cold and inhumane." Of course, if this is really what Pullman is trying to show, then he is simply wrong. All magical beings, including 'God', have been long since eliminated from my horizon and it has only made life more deep, cheerful, happy and humane. The idea that it could be otherwise seems nonsensical. Surely living in this real world of wonder and beauty has to be a richer and more rewarding experience than living in a bizarre fantasy world of gods and devils? What is wrong with these people?

On the other hand, it is possible that Pullman didn't havethat in mind at all. Perhaps he just wanted to write a good yarn – although it sounds like he did have a bit of a dig at the Church, God bless him – and he does belong to the British Humanist Association. (The cringing, wimps who made the film, apparently removed all references to the Church so that they wouldn't get into trouble with these fanatical nutcases. Serves them right, doesn't it, that they got their wrists slapped by Il Papa anyway!)

Of course, the truly stupid thing about the Vatican's rantings is that if The Golden Compass and Northern Lights really do paint such a bleak and terrible picture of what it is like to be without a god (on your horizon) wouldn't that make them great adverts for the Church? Wouldn't that make people want to give up their life of sense and sanity and start eating pretend flesh and drinking pretend blood like the Pope does? Yet the Catholic League in the USA is trying to organise a boycott of the film saying its purpose is "to bash Christianity and promote atheism.”
If only I thought that was the film's purpose! Then I'd rush out and see it. As it is, not even Nicole Kidman and what I imagine are great special effects will get me into a cinema these days. I might, however, buy the book. Pullman's membership of the National Secular Society being something of a recommendation. Sadly, Northern Lights is a fantasy and I don't really like fantasies unless they are allegorical or extremely entertaining. However, since Northern Lights appears to be both, maybe I will.

Which raises another issue. Why is the Vatican getting so flagellatory about a fantasy? Isn't the point of a thing declaring itself to be a fantasy to say ' Don't believe me. I'm not true.'? But then, the guys at the Vatican are used to reading fantasy and treating it as gospel. Maybe they just can't tell the difference anymore. Or maybe, since the film grossed US$26 million in its first weekend, they are getting nervous about competing products?

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