Another movie with (anti) religious themes

Is The Golden Compass pro-atheism? Is it particularly anti-Catholic?

I’d never heard of the Golden Compass books until recently and was hardly intrigued by a trailer for the “movie version,”: which opens tomorrow. Something about a talking white bear.

images1.jpegBut the books by author Philip Pullman, an avowed atheist, have a large and loyal following. From what I understand, the story revolves around a big institutional bad guy called the Magisterium, which is run by bishops.

So the anti-Catholic charge seems to have some legs.

Now, the movie version apparently removes the religious references, making the bad guy into an anonymous big business-type. But the “Catholic League’s”: Bill Donohue has stirred a ruckus (yes, he’s good at that) by suggesting that the movie will draw kids to the anti-religion, anti-Catholic books.

And it will do so at Christmas time.

“It’s Pullman’s trilogy, not the film, that really sells atheism to kids,â€? he says.

A Catholic school board in Ontario just “pulled the books”: out of its library after learning of their message.

Jumping on Donohue’s theme, the “Christian Post”:’Golden_Compass’_Movie_Promotes_Pro-Atheism_Books.htm reports:

A movie based on a book that portrays the Church as the villain is not receiving much applause for its removal of religious references.

On the contrary, some Christian groups are upset over New Line Cinema’s concerted effort to keep religion and godless themes out of the upcoming movie, “The Golden Compass,� claiming it will encourage children to read a series that promotes atheism and “denigrates Christianity.�

The “American Humanist Association,”: meanwhile, says that the movie is openly (and rightly) opposed to religious authority. A spokesman, Fred Edwords, says:

In fact, there’s nothing ‘stealthy’ about the movie’s message at all. Rather, it’s a direct and plain-spoken argument in opposition to religious and secular tyranny and it forthrightly favors freethinking, human nature, and science.

Let’s see how the Golden Compass does at the box office. If it disappoints, we probably won’t hear much about this again. But if it does well (and a line of “evil religious authority” action figures comes out), we sure will.

JFK & Romney: parallels, differences

Will it be JFK II?

I don’t know if Mitt Romney intended to set such high expectations for his big “religion speech” tomorrow night at Texas A&M. But the train has left the station.

small_e0b32ac1-c4dc-3bb4-f1c628d8ca80d60c.jpgI’ve gotten all sorts of emails from think tanks and experts wanting to weigh in on Romney’s challenge. Apparently, the former Massachusetts governor intends to emphasize the role of faith in the American public square — without going too deeply into his own Mormon faith.

Can he have it both ways? Will evangelicals let him?

I’ll be writing about it for tomorrow’s Journal News/

Of course, everyone is comparing what they think Romney will say to what JFK did say in 1960 during his famous religion speech. The parallel is obvious: JFK was trying to calm fears that a Catholic president might report to the Vatican. Romney is apparently falling in the Iowa polls because of all sorts of qualms with his Mormon faith.

jfk_anniversary_300.jpgBut JFK’s job, in some sense, was much easier. He simply wanted to say that his faith would not be a factor in his presidency. He didn’t want to talk about religion at all.

Romney, on the other hand, does want to talk about faith, but not his faith. He is calling for more religion in the public square (a popular position with GOP primary voters), but doesn’t want to deal with aspects of Mormonism that non-Mormons have a hard time with.

We’ll see if he can pull it off. The 9 p.m. speech will be on C-Span2.

Upon returning from the Hajj

No matter where one stands on the question of airport security, you have to figure that Muslims returning to the U.S. after making the Hajj are more likely than others to be asked to step away from the main security line.

The “Council on American-Islamic Relations”: is advising Muslims to know their civil and legal rights when returning from the Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

r122022_391058.jpgA “Know your Rights and Responsibilities as an American Muslim” pocket guide made available by CAIR states:

As an airline passenger, you are entitled to courteous, respectful and non-stigmatizing treatment by airline and security personnel. You have the right to complain about treatment that you believe is discriminatory. If you believe you have been treated in a discriminatory manner, immediately:

* Ask for the names and ID numbers of all persons involved in the incident. Be sure to write this information down.
* Ask to speak to a supervisor.
* Ask if you have been singled out because of your name, looks, dress, race, ethnicity, faith, or national origin.
* Ask witnesses to give you their names and contact information.
* Write down a statement of facts immediately after the incident. Be sure to include the flight number, the flight date, and the name of the airline.

CAIR has also set up a toll-free phone line for anyone who believes their rights have been violated.

The Hajj begins Dec. 18.

First the Wall Street Journal, now…

Hmmm. Rupert Murdoch’s Internet arm has bought up “BeliefNet,”: one of the most prominent religion and spirituality websites in cyberspace.

According to “”:

Beliefnet will become part of Fox Digital Media, which consists mostly of News Corp.’s popular social networking site, MySpace. The move looks like part of News Corp.’s efforts to expand its vast media reach onto the Internet, where Wall Street sees the best growth opportunities for media conglomerates.

TheStreet notes that demand for religion/spirituality media is vast (as in $8 billion).

Steven Waldman, Beliefnet’s CEO, editor-in-chief and co-founder, says:

Fox Entertainment Group’s vast resources will enable Beliefnet to expand our audience, enhance our offerings and more effectively carry out our mission to help people find and walk a spiritual path that brings comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.

About the oil that burned for eight days…

Hanukkah, which begins this evening, is among the more challenging religious holidays to write about. Why?

When writing for a general audience, you feel obligated to point out that Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, made prominent by its proximity to Christmas.

Then you have to explain Hanukkah’s origins, which are not easy to sum up. (The Syrian Greeks were forcing Jews to abandon their traditions and embrace Hellenism. A Jewish force led by the Maccabees reclaimed the Second Temple in 165 B.C. But the Maccabees and their followers also had it out with Jews who were mixing Hellenism with Judaism or simply going Greek).

images.jpegThen there is the question of the oil. And a miracle. That’s where things get really…tricky.

As the story goes, there was only enough consecrated oil left to keep the Temple’s lamp burning for one day. But it burned for eight.

It is to celebrate this miracle that Jews eat foods fried in oil during Hanukkah. The miracle is relived through the lighting of the nine-candle Hanukkah menorah (actually called a hanukiyah).

But here’s the thing: Many Jewish scholars consider the miracle to be merely a legend.

Last year, a Reform rabbi sent me an email saying it was a “serious mistake” to describe the story as historical.

Years ago, a professor at the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC told me that the story was just that, a story. The only place the story appears is in the Babylonian Talmud, which was not compiled until 650 to 750 years after the supposed miracle.

But many Jews continue to tell the oil story as an historical basis for the holiday. Most tellings in books and on the Web either describe the story as historically true, imply that it’s true or skirt the issue.

When I wrote about Hanukkah last year and innocently described the story as a legend, I got blasted in an email from a reader who wrote that I didn’t know Jewish history.

And that’s why it’s hard to write about Hanukkah.

Oh that Hanukkah ham!

Even a supermarket called Balducci’s should know better than this:


Thanks to blogger “NancyKay Shapiro”: for capturing this perfect retail moment. She was shopping Sunday at a Balducci’s on 8th Ave at 14th Street in NYC.

She does report, though, that by this morning the sign was changed to “Perfect for the Holidays!”

Exposing the truth about the devil

I get a lot of emails about new books being published, but one that came in today caught my eye.

The subject: “New book exposes Satan for what he is”

In the press release, John Buckley, the author of Satan, says: “This book exposes Satan for what he is, an evil and malevolent force bent on the destruction of the human race, and offers a framework for understanding his diabolical ways.”I

So there you go. In case you thought Satan was getting a bum rap.

Do you believe?

Does Martin Scorsese believe in God?

His answer:

I don’t think I can give a precise answer. I think that my faith in God lies in my constant searching. But certainly I call myself a Catholic.

“Antonio Monda,”: a prominent Italian director and journalist, interviewed Scorsese for his new book, Do You Believe? It consists of short interviews with writers and other cultural figures that center on the Big Question.

Monda doesn’t let Scorsese off the hook. “How can you be a Catholic and not be sure if you believe in God?” he asks.

Scorsese: “I didn’t say that. What I’m trying to explain is that I distrust definitions, and I think there are questions that I find it personally difficult to respond to.”

A selection of other partial answers…

The writer Jonathan Franzen: “There is a part of me that believes in something, but there are a lot of obvious problems with the idea of an omnipotent being. If we’re talking about the classic image of God, sitting up in Heaven pulling strings, the answer to your question is clearly no.”

The movie maker Spike Lee: “I would like to have a precise answer, but I don’t. I feel that a presence exists, but I don’t know if I can call it God.”

Notice any trends?

Still, the architect Daniel Libeskind: “Belief is an inescapable part of our daily existence. We believe the moment we see.”

Asked if he’s heard God, Libeskind says: “Every day. I try to avoid the temptation to seek him only in moments of need.”

The writer Toni Morrison: “I believe in an intelligence interested in what exists and respectful of what is created.”

Elie Wiesel: “Yes, of course.”

Wiesel’s image of God? “You can certainly ask, but I have to answer that I don’t have an image of him.”

Monda, who teaches at NYU and IS a believer, will take part in a forum on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at “Temple Emanu-El”: in NYC. He’ll be speaking with Libeskind, Gay Talese and Jonathan Safran Foer.