Gregg Easterbrook: Even his sportswriting bores me

Oh, no…not Easterbrook. Haven't I dealt with him sufficiently in the past? He's got a
long-winded column in which, while quantifying the nudity in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, he also whines about those godless authors that have offended him so much.

Regarding the "Golden Compass" volumes, in them God is a central character -- but is actively evil, obsessed with causing people to suffer. The plotline of the books is that Christianity is a complete fraud and the source of all that is wrong with society; the final "Golden Compass" volume concerns a desperate attempt by the heroic children to kill God and obliterate every trace of Christianity from several universes. I found Pullman's arguments against Christianity puerile -- like recent anti-Christian books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the "Golden Compass" volumes resort to the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about religion while pretending belief has no positive qualities. Pullman, Dawkins and Harris are anti-faith jihadis: they don't just want to argue against the many faults of Christianity, they want faith forbidden. But however flawed the "Golden Compass" books might be, to advance anti-Christian views is Pullman's prerogative, and his art should be transferred authentically to the screen. Now that the Golden Compass volumes are becoming big-budget flicks, will Hollywood accurately depict their loathing of Christianity or turn the books into a mere adventure story?

There ought to be a law that Gregg Easterbrook can call no one else puerile.

I've often wondered what these "positive qualities" of belief might be. They're always assumed to be there, so no one bothers to iterate them — but seriously, I see no virtue in unfounded faith in weird old superstitions. I guess that makes me anti-faith, too. But forbidding faith? Being a jihadi? Easterbrook goes too far, and is reduced to lying to support his claims. He's just a kooky sportswriter possessed by the inanity of religion.

As for the Golden Compass — I'm hoping the movie portrays a solid loathing of religion too, although I also suspect the producers will chicken out. Fairy tales and children's stories that put religion in a bleak light are what we need more of — I want children to grow up as doubters and skeptics, rather than gullible marks and credulous dullards.

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Well, he's either a liar, or he hasn't actually read the books. The kids aren't out to kill god. The girl blames herself for her friends death and wants his forgiveness, and the boy just wants to protect his mother.

Saying more would spoil the story.

If anyone hasn't read them, I'd say they were the best fantasy series I've ever read.

By Hexxenhammer (not verified) on 07 Aug 2007 #permalink

As with most so-called Christians, Easterbrook displays a complete lack of knowledge about his religion and its history. Pullman's book is, in fact, classic Gnostic Christianity, where the Old Testament "God" is the Demiurgos, a false God who claims to be (or genuinely believes himself to be) the Creator of the universe. Gnostics juxtaposed this God with the true god, whose message Jesus brought to earth to lift the veil of ignorance created by the demiurge and spread gnosis. So, not in fact anti-Christian, just a particular view of Christianity. As to Pullman's stories being anti-religion, I don't seem to remember much commentary at all on how horrible religion was, or how horrible Christianity was, just on how horrible particular characters were. Even those (like Mrs. Coulter) eventually end up having some redeeming qualities. And remember that the character leading the battle against the Demiurgos (Lord Azrael) commits possibly the worst act in the entire series (the murder of a small child). Pullman may be anti-Christian in his bent, but the books hardly paint a clear and damning picture of Christianity.

Well, the comments regarding Dawkins, Pullman, and Harris are fairly typical of those whose personal superstition has been called into question (hint: they feel very threatened by the revalation that others share the doubts that they have, at some point, had), reading further down the page linked to gives the glimmer of an intellect, as Easterbrook excoriates a couple of frauds (read: psychics).

"Pullman, Dawkins and Harris are anti-faith jihadis: they don't just want to argue against the many faults of Christianity, they want faith forbidden, etc. etc."

Whenever I read lines like these nowadays, I reflexively put a fist up to my eye and make baby crying noises. I wonder if I may be getting too hardened...

I actually always thought the killing of god part was great. Because it doesn't turn out the way you think at all, and the books have a really bittersweet ending, but an excellent one none the less.

I was under teh impression you hadn't read them PZ, if thats true, you really really should!

But the small saving grace is taht he at least advocates that the message be left alone when it is converted into a hollywood movie. I have to respect that he disagrees with the books (on whatever absurd grounds) but still thinks they should be left intact.

Unfortunately for the movie, they pussed out and changed the Church into a nonreligious Magisterium. I understand they wouldn't get money for a film that put off so many potential customers, but damn :{

He didn`t mention the Hitch, so I`m going to guess that if you target all religion`s openly he agrees with you, but if you limit your attack to xtianity then he has issues.
Guess what Mr Easterbrook the arguments apply to all forms of fantasy and myth and hollywood has bent and twisted the truth for the sake of a good storyline since the creation of the moving picture. But now that it includes you interpretation of an iron age fairie tale you get upset.
Chill and imagine how the real sailors (or their families) who took the enigma machine must feel. This event really happened and saved real lives, not like the services that include the woo tales of yesteryore that you prostrate yourself before every Sunday.

Sorry, I originally posted this in the wrong thread.

If you like off-the-wall ravings--er, writing--try the latest from Camille Paglia.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2007/08/08/clarkson/index1.html

"As a professed atheist, I detest the current crop of snide manifestos against religion written by professional cynics, flâneurs and imaginatively crimped and culturally challenged scientists. The narrow mental world they project is very grim indeed -- and fatal to future art.

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art. I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end -- and any liberals who don't recognize that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam. The human quest for meaning is innate and ineradicable. When the gods are toppled, new ones will soon be invented. ("Better Jehovah than Foucault," I once warned. For more on this, see "Religion and the Arts in America," a lecture I gave at Colorado College earlier this year that was broadcast on C-SPAN's "American Perspectives" series and that has just been published in Arion.)"

Of course she doesn't name names, but she sure doesn't seem to have read Dawkins or listened to any of his many lectures.

I've seen a recent trailer for The Golden Compass and it looks promising. Nicole Kidman looks suitably glacial as the evil Mrs. Coulter. (Why did Pullman choose that name for his blonde menace?)

I wonder if the film can do the book justice. I don't think anyone is going to mistake the "Magisterium" for anything other than the ruling religious order. Its leaders wear clerical-type garb. We'll see if my impressions are incorrect when the movie finally comes out later this year. It's unfortunate how cowardly most movie executives are, so there's always a possibility that the book will be gutted in its transition to the screen.

Hmmm, for the 100th time since I started reading Pharyngula, I am reminded of Ellison's "The Deathbird", in which a falled angel recruits a particularly qualified human to perpetrate an essential act against the insane god who banished him from the heavens and imprisoned him in the earth....

Now I'm interested! I'll have to go find these books in the library and read them. Perhaps I shall send Easterbook a 'thank-you' note.

I doubt Hollywood would risk overtly anti-Christian themes in a family movie but, as the Christian activist groups will no doubt argue in the months to come, if the movies are well made and become box-office hits, then many more kids and adults will read the books.

So, even if the movies are watered down to the point that they are not anti-religious, expect a major protest by the fundamentalists when the movies are released.

Just saw the trailer, and at one point, one of the Magisterium guys refers to Lord Asriel's findings as "heresy". That sounds very churchy to me.

Besides, I find it amusing that in the books, nobody actually kills the Authority -- the Authority simply dies of old age, as soon as he is exposed to a feeble breeze. But maybe such a weak and disappointing deity is also insulting for christians?

Sorry PZ, at least according to Wikipedia there is going to be no mention of religion or god in the movie. The director (who trashed the original screenplay) didn't think there would be a "viable market" for it in the United States if they'd left it in.

I hope you all join me in not seeing this film.

He didn`t mention the Hitch, so I`m going to guess that if you target all religion`s openly he agrees with you, but if you limit your attack to xtianity then he has issues.

I'm reading Sam Harris' End of Faith right now, and so far he has mainly attacked religion in general, and Islam in particular, so for the above to be true, Easterbrook must not have read Harris (not an unreasonable presumption).

You know the film is going to suck just by the fact that director Chris Weitz rejected Tom Stoppard's script. Stoppard was probably too honest for Weitz and New Line Films who prefer to brown-nose Jerry Falwall's rotting ass.

It was revealed quite some time ago that the film versions of His Dark Materials will omit references to God and the church.

Wouldn't that be a bit like making a Harry Potter film and leaving out all the silliness about witches and wizards, though?

For the record, "djihad" means "defence of the faith", so an "anti-faith djihad" is a nonsense.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 07 Aug 2007 #permalink

He's not a sportswriter. He's actually a wing-nut who who makes his money through wing-nut welfare, but throws in the odd "Jews Control Hollywood" line every now and then. He does have a column called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, but it's not very funny (it tells the same joke over and over and over) or insightful (he's frequently wrong about the mechanics & strategy of play calling).

"I'm reading Sam Harris' End of Faith right now, and so far he has mainly attacked religion in general, and Islam in particular, so for the above to be true, Easterbrook must not have read Harris (not an unreasonable presumption)."

He also clearly has not bothered reading Dawkins. In "The God Delusion" Dawkins makes it clear the only reason he singles out Christianity more than other religion is simply because it is Christianity he has had more exposure to.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art.

An atheist who worships? Huh? I don't think she gets the point of being an atheist.

By Paul Flocken (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

Hmmm, for the 100th time since I started reading Pharyngula, I am reminded of Ellison's "The Deathbird", in which a falled angel recruits a particularly qualified human to perpetrate an essential act against the insane god who banished him from the heavens and imprisoned him in the earth....

Piers Anthony also has a novel themed with a 'get rid of god' idea, but in this one god is voted out of his job by humanity because he had become narcissistically enamored of his own image. I think the title was And Eternity but I am not sure.

Sincerely,

By Paul Flocken (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

I have to agree with what others have already said, in that either Easterbrook has not read the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, or has no idea about the version of religion from which the books draw. It's fairly clear that Pullman is not particularly against the concept of a god. His quarrel is very strongly tied to the repression and fearmongering of churches and their enforced morality. While the novels do use a version of Christianity as their church of record, I suspect that has more to do with Pullman's cultural experience than any particular anti-Christian bias.

The books aren't about a war on GOD, really. They can (and have) been read as commentary on particular notions of god, mainly the sort of god that is ever-watchful, ever-vengeful, and who rules through fear. The books make it clear that their Authority is not a true god, but an elderly angel who took on the mantle so long ago that most entities just assume him to be the creator. He and his regent Metatron are seemingly symbolic of different conceptions of god that people have created over time, related in a way to our own historical hunger for power and control.

The trilogy is intentionally vague as to whether or not there was an actual creator. The elementary particles called Dust, which gravitate towards intelligence and are possessed of their own sort of intelligence, defy explanation and point towards a melange of Gnostic and Deistic possibilities. There is room for interpretation, and the series does not HAVE to be seen as leading inevitably towards atheism.

That said, it's all too easy for Easterbrook to pretend that these stories are simply militant atheism on the march, but he misses the entire point. It is not a fight against god, but the struggle against the church's Authority to dictate their version of god to us, that is central to the series. It's an inversion of the traditional paradigm, that of man as inherently lowly and shameful thanks to Original Sin. The books' point, in leading up to its recreation and reversal of this "fall", is that there is nothing sinful or evil in our nature or in the nature of our sexuality, and that people's choices and actions make them "good" or "bad", not the whims of any ruling power or churchly Authority.

I guess it makes sense, then, that Easterbrook is uncomfortable. I suppose he prefers to feel guilty instead of grateful that he is alive, and prefers to pawn off his responsibility for moral choices onto an invisible being who's already decided what's right and wrong. That way he can be justified in being a sanctimonious prat as his ideas about right and wrong aren't his CHOICE, and he's not forced to think about those issues since he's only passing on received truths about morality. I like to call this "taking the easy way out."

It wouldn't be the first time a film has radically re-written the originating book to avoid upsetting the religious. Has anyone both read and seen the film of 'Chocolat'?

The murderous priest of the book (who, as is made quite clear, committed murder BECAUSE of his faith, not in spite of it) becomes the rather ineffectually spiteful mayor.

"positive qualities" of belief might be. They're always assumed to be there, so no one bothers to iterate them"

It is a bit like the placebo effect. If you really believe in a superpower breathing down your neck, and that all you have to do is be faithful to its rules to be good, it could give you both confidence and courage, and better enable you to deal with the world. Whether these qualities are positive depends on what you believe. If it is to devote you life to helping others it may be good, if it is to strap bombs around your waist it is bad.

Regarding his discusssion of Potter; I haven't read it yet (the final book, I mean) but he almost ruins it for me. I'll still read it, but c'mon. Claiming Potter for Jesus? Not on my watch.

"but mentioning God would be too controversial."

How about "irrelevant," Gregg, like you?

How many times do shitheads like Easterbrook need to be told that Daswkins, Harris, Hitch, et al, are not out for forbidding religion? They are out for showing how ridiculous it is when examined carefully, so that caveat emptor applies to magical thinking. If not for the resurgence of movements to demand that Creation be accepted as "proof" of God's existence despite shrinking gaps, then their books would not have needed to be written.

I would hope that if nothing else comes out of the New Atheism, then at least the "evidentiary" claims and the "moral imperative" claims for the existence of God became punchlines for jokes. Religion will then have to fend for itself as something that rests only on faith.

Easterbrook:

Pullman, Dawkins and Harris are anti-faith jihadis: they don't just want to argue against the many faults of Christianity, they want faith forbidden.

Wow. Now, being a "fundamentalist atheist" isn't extreme enough. We have to be atheist fucking terrorists!

I'd say they were the best fantasy series I've ever read.

I have to agree. I bought the omnibus book as one of my son's Xmas gifts. He was 11 at the time and just getting into stuff like this. I read it myself, first (he had too many new books to get through - I had too few!)

Truly excellent writing: Wonderful ideas; World-class plotting; superb characterization.

My son loved them too.

Wow. Now I gotta read the Golden Compass series.

I'm ok if the Magistrataem is implied oligarchy.

Anything that takes sheepish following is ok by me.

While peoples' comments about His Dark Material is quite correct in regards to its take on Christianity, it's worth mentioning that Pullman is indeed an atheist, and quite anti-religious.

People who are upset that the movie won't be including the book's overt anti-religious message need to get a grip. The budget of the Golden Compass movie is going to be somewhere north of $180 million, and its backers are hardly going to want to include material that would likely offend over half of the movie's potential audience. The movie will need to gross nearly $300 million in the USA and $400 worldwide before they will consider making parts 2 and 3.

With that amount of money on the line, the decision to remove material which might be offensive to some Christians was a business decision made by those with their money at risk. Unlike JK Rowling, Philip Pullman probably had very little say in decisions affecting the content of the script, but he must have known what would happen before he signed along the dotted line.

As I said before, the fundies will protest regardless, fearing that those who watch the movie will want to read the books. Hopefully the controversy will boost ticket sales and sales of the books.

Boycotting the movie solely because it is sanitized for US audiences is a dumb idea, and will only serve to make the fundie happy.

Many people have already pointed out the bulk of the stupidities in Easterbrook's comments. I want to add, though, that Pullman explicitly conceived the books as the "anti-CS Lewis". In addition to the gnostic influences mentioned above, Pullman was also influenced by the writings of the English radicals of the mid-17th century, who combined radical Christianity with social radicalism in ways that produced rather unusual results (google Diggers, Levelers, and Ranters for a taste).

In terms of the films, I think that they can certainly make "The Golden Compass" without overt reference to Christianity, without doing too much violence to the overall story. However, they will certainly not be able to film the final installment of the trilogy without thoroughly altering the plotline in such a way as to be utterly meaningless. Perhaps they don't expect to make the sequels.

Last comment: if you haven't read the books, please run out and do so. Now. They are that good--I loved them so that I named my daughter Lyra, after the heroine. Hence my pseudonym.

Kseniya- the best thing I know in that line is Anatole France's The Revolt of the Angels. (France- who was an outspoken atheist- is a writer far more out of fashion than he deserves, and will richly repay any reader who investigates him; several of his best-known books are available in English.)

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

Regarding the "Golden Compass" volumes, in them God is a central character -- but is actively evil, obsessed with causing people to suffer.

He clearly hasn't read the book.


I've often wondered what these "positive qualities" of belief might be.

The usual one mentioned is that "religion brings people together." The way it's bringing Muslims and Christian together in East Africa today. The way it's bringing Shias and Sunnis together in Iraq. The way it's bringing Muslims and Hindus together in the India-Pakistan border regions. The way it brought Catholica and Protestants together for decades in Northern Ireland.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

It wouldn't be the first time a film has radically re-written the originating book to avoid upsetting the religious. Has anyone both read and seen the film of 'Chocolat'?

No; I've only seen the movie, which I enjoyed very much, but... ugh.

I have avoided the film versions of The Natural and Vintage Season because I've been told that the ending of each is nearly the polar opposite of what was originally written. What possible justification can be offered for the mutilation of these works, other than the almighty bottom line?

If a filmmaker truly believes the public won't pay to see a story of corruption, irretrievably lost innocence, or epic tragedy, then why make the movie? (Titanic did pretty well, though, didn't it?) There are plenty of ways to make a feel-good movie without abusing a classic story. IMOSHO.

Steve LaBonne, thanks for the tip. I've heard of Anatole France but have never read any of his work.

It's odd to argue that they needed to sanitize the movie for a Christian market when, at the same time, you argue that the fundies will protest no matter what changes will be made. Why not embrace the controversy?

Dare I say it... Maybe it's time to "Teach the controversy" :P

Now i need to disinfect my keyboard.....

Piers Anthony also has a novel themed with a 'get rid of god' idea, but in this one god is voted out of his job by humanity because he had become narcissistically enamored of his own image. I think the title was And Eternity but I am not sure.

Last book in the Incarnations of Immortality series. Loved reading that one as well as a teen.

And religion is definitely great at bringing people together...to fight over imaginary bullshit when their religions differ, and to conspire against Evildoers when their religion is shared.

Having just recently finished reading "His Dark Materials," I agree that the guy probably either hasn't read it, or is looking at it through coke-bottle glasses.

The story is not atheistic; it is anti-church, anti-edifice and anti-extremist. The people in the stories very distinctly have souls and the souls themselves are presented as good (or evil)... ideas of faith and grace are intrinsic to the plot. In fact, the edificial "God" is presented late in the final book as being old, decrepid and artificially kept "alive"... he is so fragile that his short visit ends with him expiring gently, and quite happily, I might add. These concepts are not atheistic.

There are also some very strong anti-progress messages in the book as well, suggesting that science can be as wreckless and dangerous to human spirituality and to the human soul as edificial church--very early in the story, the man who is leading the revolt against The Authority (the guy who represents progress) uses the soul of a human child as a charge to punch a hole between universes.

If you want to say Pullman is anti-anything, you've got to say that he is against the perversity humans invoke in favor of ANY extremist view.

I read a lot of Piers Anthony when (much) younger.

As I got older I started to find that his humor was often too pun-ishing to be funny, and his plots were too flimsy. However it was his take on gods/religions/souls, etc., that got to me in the end. I can't remember the series now, but the theme was basically that interstellar travel was made possible by 'transmitting' the traveller's 'life force' - which essentially took over a 'host' on the target world -- this potentially interesting premise was used as a very thin veneer to present some very week alien species, and (AFAIR) the series mostly dwelt on 'odd sex' for some reason.

In the end, I just gave up on him as an author.

One interesting take on the subject of 'killing God' is Colin Upton's Buddha on the Road.

(Brownie points to anyone who recognizes where the title came from.)

When i watched the trailer for Golden Compass i got the impression that it was pro-religion movie. Oh well, not uncommon for trailers to be severely misleading.

But speaking of fantasy movies, that new one Stardust is written by Neil Gaiman who i'm fairly certain is an atheist. He's friends with Penn Jillette and has contributed to new book called Everything You Know About God Is Wrong that also has writings by Richard Dawkins in it. I ordered a copy but it hasn't arrived yet.

However, they will certainly not be able to film the final installment of the trilogy without thoroughly altering the plotline in such a way as to be utterly meaningless. Perhaps they don't expect to make the sequels.

The movie industry believes most fantasy movies do not do well enough to justify sequels. (For example, there was at least one pre-Jackson LOTR effort that died partway through.)
In any case - the other option (for a movie based on the third volume) would be to blandly ignore the precedent of the previous movies (something plenty of sequels do anyway), and follow the book, although that seems unlikely.

Well, some people here say his description of the plot isn't really accurate. Too bad, because if it were, that's the best advertisement I could ever read for a book. Makes me want to go pick them up and enjoy!

By Steve Forti (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

I can't remember the series now, but the theme was basically that interstellar travel was made possible by 'transmitting' the traveller's 'life force' - which essentially took over a 'host' on the target world -- this potentially interesting premise was used as a very thin veneer to present some very week alien species, and (AFAIR) the series mostly dwelt on 'odd sex' for some reason.

That would be the Cluster series. The best Anthony of that era (or any) was, of course, Tarot (which despite taking place in the same universe, lacks the frivolity of Cluster . Tarot is about religion and mysticism, and although I can't recommend Cluster or much else by Anthony, I do recommend Tarot, although one is often reminded it was written by an agnostic who thinks atheists are 100% certain god does not exist. The end is particularly amusing, despite being strongly hinted at in the first few pages.

Ahhh - yes. Tarot *was* somewhat *better*, but still full of very strange mysticism. (not sure if *better* is really meaningful).

One benefit of those series, however, was they sparked my interest in investigating 'woo'. (I recall I had some Tarot decks for a while -- interesting from a historo-sociological sense - especially regarding the evolution of the modern decks)

Hazard (#8), the first book takes place in an alternate universe, where the Church is named the Magisterium. That part's not a change. (It's a collection of competing agencies--including the Consistorial Court, a thinly-disguised Inquisition--which have replaced the Catholic Church after they abolished the post of Pope at some point.)

Honestly, I'm fine with them referring to "The Authority". We'll all know what's going on, and the fundie audience can pretend that they're talking about something else entirely.

I think I like this part best:

"like recent anti-Christian books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the "Golden Compass" volumes resort to the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about religion while pretending belief has no positive qualities."

Here, let me try. "Like recent anti-authoritarian movies, the 'Star Wars' series resorts to the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about enormous dictatorial empires while pretending that order and calm have no positive qualities."

Hollywood accurately depicts their loathing of Christianity? I wonder what he thinks Hollywood was doing when they started making the Narnia series. (I agree that fundies will protest this, as shown by Easterbrook railing against plot elements that don't actually exist in the books.)

I do foresee, though, that the violence in the book is going to be toned down considerably, which disappoints me--not so much because I adore violence, but more because it was an integral part of the story, and really did add to it. One of Will's first acts when we meet him in The Subtle Knife is a shockingly violent one, which sets up his entire character arc. The armored bears are not at all like people in bear suits; when they fight to the death, there's this ritual of tearing the other's throat out and eating the fallen enemy's heart, which really does serve to underline that.

The two protagonists' main skills are, respectively, lies and violence. They're emphatically not cute and they distrust authority instinctively, which I think is an excellent quality for kids to have, but which I doubt will go over terribly well. (Note capalert.com's "Impudence" category, for example.)

And, of course, Asriel does terrible, terrible things in the pursuit of his goal, because he's Nietzschean like that--and he's not obviously a villain; despite being the center around which major events of the series revolve, I could never figure out whether I was rooting for him or not, and that was one of my favorite parts of the experience of reading the series.

But, I suppose, Easterbrook would rather we just be able to clap for Jesus when he appears and boo Satan when he does.

Dave D, it's cute that you'd assume some sort of intellectual justification on Easterbrook's part, but no, he just left Hitch out of it cuz they both work at Slate.

This particular breed of hack confuses honor with not slagging someone who could potentially ruin their 4-martini lunch (the only possible explanation for Slate's content--either Dahlia Lithwick teetotals or she's a good drunk)

By the dryyyyyyy … (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

Haven't I dealt with him sufficiently in the past?

Yes. For crying out loud, you're going after his sports columns now. Like sleeping dogs, it's sometimes best to just let excoriated idiots lie.

As long as they leave the Daemons in the movie. They are fairly important to the plot but I wonder if they changed the name so not to upset the godbotherers.
I soooo want one...a Otter would be cool or a ferret or a dog or....

It's odd to argue that they needed to sanitize the movie for a Christian market when, at the same time, you argue that the fundies will protest no matter what changes will be made. Why not embrace the controversy?

My point is not inconsistent. There is no doubt the producers of the movie deliberately removed anything from the script that could be regarded as overtly anti-Christian (or mistaken as such). Being rational people, they no doubt believed that this will be enough to avoid controversy and protests from the religious right.

But I believe the film's backers will be proved to be mistaken. No matter how watered down the book's underlying message is, the religious right will see the movie as a conspiracy to indoctrinate the kids with anti-Christian messages. James Dobson and Pat Robertson will devote plenty of time to explain Philip Pullman's intent behind the novels and will warn people away.

In the end it boils down to what level of controversy the movie's investors are comfortable with--it's their money on the line after all. Some is probably better than none, just for the publicity it engenders, but I think wanted to make sure they didn't create a firestorm.

Now, if there was a billionaire atheist out there willing to bankroll movies of Pullman's trilogy, then the sensibilities of Christians in America would not have been an issue.

Re: Anthony. I did read the Tarot trilogy. Loved it. And the Omnivore trilogy. Loved it. And Chthon (cool) and *gak* Phthor or whatever the heck that nonsense was called. Loved the first three Xanth books; the rest were fair-to-middlin'. Enjoyed Macroscope, too. Disclaimer: I read most of these before I was old enough to drive a car, so I didn't think very critically about them.

Re: Teh Controversy. I'd love to see the movies be made as faithfully as possible with regard to the source material, but the producers may not be unwise to recognize a distinction between the Fundies and everybody else. The vast majority of moderate and casual Christians won't care too much one way or the other, though an ostensibly overt anti-Christian theme might turn some significant minority away.

The Fundies, well, they have to be written off (as consumers) regardless. These are the people who rail against Harry Potter, the people who want A Wrinkle In Time - a tale about love and loyalty that is Christian at its core - banned from school libraries because it contained a few good-natured "witches" and high-tech crystal balls. These people are fools. Yet while it is shameful to pander to them, but foolish to ignore them. What a maddening state of affairs.

Sigh, editing errors bite me again: "Yet while it is shameful to pander to them, but it is foolish to ignore them."

coz: They did leave daemons in the movie; you can see some of them in the trailer, and the official website has a make-your-own-daemon game. Maybe they'll pronounce it "DAY-mun" so as not to draw unwanted attention to the idea.

Kseniya: re Anthony -- my experience was also high school -- I think I got really turned off because of the other stuff I was getting into at the time (Hofstadter's "Godel Escher Bach" was one book I particularly recall - I was also getting into more hard-core science fiction, more 'alternate history', and more sociology). We grow, we learn, we change. It's life, innit!

RE: movies diverging from the book...

I think it is important 'artistically' to tell the story differently on film -- it's a different medium. A movie and a play need to be handled differently never mind a book and a film. Different plot elements will gain a different character - things that are alluded to in a book may need to be fleshed out on screen, and elements that are considered core in some books may never make it to the screen (if presence of that element would *confuse* the 2 hour presentation)

I also think it's important to 'cherry pick' episodes from the story that are important -- a movie will NEVER do full justice to a novel. It can barely capture the essence of a short story. So your favorite scene may never even make it into the draft script, never mind onto the storyboard.

However, I do think that wholesale editing such that the overall theme and plot trajectory are lost is simply idiotic - regardless of the potential audience loss. If a producer thinkgs they need to do that, they should have picked a different project!

Hopefully - this will NOT be the case with this movie.

I'm looking forwards to spending the $20 (for me & my son) when it opens.

Bernarda @ 9: Yeah, Pullman apparently cheerfully sold out when it came time to make the movie. Then he alienated his hardcore fan base even further by trying to claim that he didn't sell out. (More info here.)

The irony of it all was this was shortly after he'd been making cutting little catty remarks along the lines of what a shallow little sellout JK Rowling was. Hell, at least she was able to get the big payday AND exercise creative-effing-control, something Pullman couldn't do. (One of the reasons Rowling nixed Spielberg as a director is that he was apparently planning to turn Hogwarts into an American high school, complete with cheerleaders.)

I really dislike the way jihad(i) is being used as slang for any person with an ax to grind. Jihad (both varieties - yes there are two) is an actual religious component, not slang to be thrown around nonchalantly. And people wonder why dialogue between Christians and Muslims is so iffy... :-P

Another fantasy series they're completely shredding for the silver screen is "The Dark is Rising". It's one of my favorites in book form, and after seeing a new trailer yesterday, I'm going to have to pass on the film and re-read the books instead.

They changed the location to suburban America instead of 'near London', and I could swear I saw Mad-Eye Moody in one of the shots. Will has super strength and is adopted or studying abroad or something (which makes no sense because of the importance of being a '7th son of a 7th son), and I think they jettisoned the pagan elements for no good reason. It just looks a mess. Chris Eccleston was a high point, fortunately.

About a year ago I read all three books of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, as well as reviews and interviews with the author. Pullman is an atheist and son of a Church of England curate. His inspiration for the book was Milton's Paradise Lost (with scene's reminiscent of Dante's The Inferno and Classical myth slipped in). His alternate Earth dominated by the Magisterium is very steampunk, and his other alternate worlds are well developed. The Magisterium is definitely a variant of Christianity, but its world also harbors witches (out of Russian folklore).

Whether there was a creator, it is clear that the Authority is not it.

I'd recommend all three, though the ending is bittersweet for the main characters.

By the way, the probably most anti-"God" piece of science fiction ever written was Lester Del Ray's "For I am a Jealous People!" published in one of Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthologies: God abandons humanity to support an invading insectoid species. A remanent of humanity fights back, despite the theological implications of no longer being God's "chosen species," and vows to prevail because they are, after all, human.

By David Lewin (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

Tony, I agree, there will always be differences between book and film, many of which will be necessary or unavoidable.

One of my favorite examples of a screenplay that departs from the book in a significant way while staying faithful to the spirit of the book and to the letter of the story as it would have been told in the third person is One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The screenplay takes many liberties with the book, if only because it would have been exceedingly if not prohibitively difficult to present a coherent narrative if the filmmakers had attempted to recreate the book as written. However, the screenplay is faithful to the book in nearly every other way that matters. I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it a "brilliant" adaptation, but close enough: In my opinion, it is a first-rate adaptation that treats the source material with the all the respect it deserves.

Anyways, imagine if Cuckoo's Nest had been given the same treatment as The Natural. The end of the film might have found McMurphy et al running a restaurant or launderette after having saved a bunch of kids and puppies from a burning building. (Meanwhile, Billy would have become engaged to one of the pretty young nurses on Nurse Ratchett's unit - with the smiling, misty-eyed approval of his mother, of course.)

But I digress...

Though J.K. Rowling's 4,000 pages concern supernatural forces, the soul and communication with the dead who exist in an afterlife, religious issues are missing from the series.

"Religious issues" necessarily being limited to whether you recognize the authority of the pope, whether god is singular or a trinity, whether transubstantiation changes the eucharist physically or spiritually, which knee you ought to genuflect with, and so on.

By Sophist, FCD (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

Thank you! I've actually been reading Easterbrook's football columns on espn.com for a while. Sure, he's an egomaniacal blowhard, but he does write a fairly entertaining football column. Or he did, at least. I was struck by a ton of irony in this last column, also. Last year he started going more and more off the deep end, writing pro-ID tripe in at least two (football) columns, and also mocking scientists for, well, doing what scientists do (i.e., modifying theories as new evidence comes in).

In this, his first column of this new football season, you may have noticed him ridiculing the 'credulity' of others right off the bat, and expressing irritation that Christianity isn't getting special treatment in Britain in addition to the U.S. Namely, he mentions the three popular fiction series coming from the UK this century: Golden Compass, Harry Potter, and Narnia. Of those, you noticed, Gregg says one's pro-Christianity, one's anti-Christianity, and one's neutral (Potter). That's a wash by objective measures, right? Then he goes on to rail against Rowling for not being pro-Christian.

The last "great" question was whether a person could be religious and embrace science. Now, it seems, Easterbrook's trying to pose the question of whether a person can be an atheist and a football fan. (I wonder if the Brookings Institute is hiring. I can spout about idiotic things with the best of them, as I think I just demonstrated.)

Whereas some strongly religious people who complain about various aspects of godlessness know full well when they're lying, Gregg Easterbook is obviously an idiot and seems to really believe that the semisolid faeces that gushes out of the anuslike aperture in his face is true. He also makes Joe Piscopo's "Dog Whiner" character look like a bastion of unflappability by comparison.

As a result of having no detectable personality traits worth keeping, Easterbrook is maybe my least favorite "columnist" and if I knew I would be turned into him tomorrow by some black magician, I would have no choice but to fetch a huge heavy battleaxe, raise it high over my head, and unceremoniously split my own skull to the thrapple.

he obviously hasnt read the books ..there was nothing about christianity in them ...religious belief in a destructive deity who pretended to be good was the actual target

By brightmoon (not verified) on 08 Aug 2007 #permalink

I suspect Easterbook hasn't read the books, at least not closely. He can't even get the title of the trilogy right. "Golden Compass" is the first book in the trilogy, which as a whole is known as "His Dark Materials." About what I'd expect from Easterbrook, actually. He's never been one to take much trouble with the facts....

Re comment #59, in the Golden Compass movie "daemon" is pronounced "demon", as can be verified by watching the preview trailer (which, to be honest, gives away perhaps too much of the story if you haven't read the book). "Demon" is apparently Pullman's recommended pronunciation; for references see bridgetothestars.net or other fan sites.

Namely, he mentions the three popular fiction series coming from the UK this century: Golden Compass, Harry Potter, and Narnia.

What meaning of "this century" are you using that allows you to include Narnia, but exclude Lord of the Rings? Or is it just the fact that it would screw up your symmetry?

In any case, I think the main target of His Dark Materials is non-divine beings arrogating the power and authority of the divine; in short, idolatry. Deciding whether or not you think that is an accurate description of any religion in *this* universe is left as an exercise for the reader.

It does encourage you to ask the question "How do you know if this god is real?", though, pointing out that beings that are not real gods may claim to be; and people who ask the question may not be willing to put faith in people or religions who can't answer it.

For those interested, the YouTube address for the 5-minute preview of The Golden Compass is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mpCYhp7t7M . This is one of the few times the look of an SF/fantasy movie has amolst perfectly matched my visualization while reading the book. Apparently, the second movie is tentatively scheduled for 2009.

By David Lewin (not verified) on 09 Aug 2007 #permalink

Hey, look everyone, Vox the Knife has a list of the positive qualities of religion which PZ asked for. Fight, fight, fight!

In the same vein, it should be noted that (I'm cribbing from Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians here) authoritarian followers are very happy folks, free of guilt and shame. (The authoritarianism scale correlated quite well with being a member of a fundamentalist religion.) There are indeed sweet bennies to be had from being a brownshirt.

linnen @ 45: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."