It is the Church's flexibility, rather than its rigidity that's kept it going when many dozens of empires have risen and fallen. I usually feel that if one is secure in the quality of one's product, one need not fear criticism. When the Catholic Church spends time and resources trying to discredit Hollywood fantasies like DaVinci Code or Golden Compass while, at the same time, evicting nuns onto the street to pay for their child abuse crimes, they reveal how dangerously out whack their priorities are.
As for the rest of Christendom, the current hysteria being generated over Pullman’s work highlights the commensurate skill with which these groups have embraced the politics of victimhood. When you live in a society which embeds the concept of free will and “the pursuit of happiness” in its very constitution, victimization is one of the few hammers which successfully get people to listen. In a “Live and Let Live” society, the fastest way to interfere with people’s lives is convince them they’re actually interfering with you. Everywhere, an evil “they” are assaulting Christians. “They” forbid children to ask Jesus for help on their spelling test. “They” are attempting murder God in His sleep by removing Him from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Now here comes a book that advocates teaching children about the responsible exercise of free will. It also suggests that religion should be kept separate from both government and science. All of these are ideas that these groups have been actively agitating against for several years now, wielding the argument that your free will, secular government and unhampered scientific inquiry is ruining their day.
Pullman's books are overflowing with an awe of the beauty and wonder of the universe, as well as an acknowledgement that there is much about the universe that surpasses human ability to comprehend. But, it is true that the author, Phillip Pullman has admitted that he is an atheist. Yes, it's true! He admitted it in public! It's safe to say that atheism, like socialized medicine, is not viewed with the same hysteria and scorn in Pullman's home country as it is here in the U.S., but for most of the people agitating against the film, this admission is enough to condemn him and his work, even if his work was an impassioned support of Christianity's beneficence.
I think some of what upsets these groups so much about someone like Phillip Pullman is that he’s mastered their game and is using it against them. He’s an atheist who believes that his rights and values are under attack. He resents children’s books which cloak Christian theology within fantastic tales. This to him is sinister, or troubling at the very least. As amazing as the His Dark Materials trilogy is, there are no new ideas expressed in them that have not been contemplated within philosophical and religious circles for thousands of years. Pullman is not forging new ground. Lyra's journey is clearly inspired by everything from Greek myth to Joseph Campbell, whose work The Hero With A Thousand Faces was a direct inspiration for the Star Wars mythology, a fiction which Christian groups have embraced.
As for the movie, well, it's not nearly as elegant as Pullman's exquisite books. Pullman's refusal to simplify things for a young audience may have gained a huge following in book form, but Hollywood isn't there yet. It's a fine adventure film, though, with a plucky female protagonist. I'd take my children, and I'd let them read the books. If it came up, I'd embrace the opportunity to talk to them about God and the universe and what I think about such heady things, and encourage them to come up with their own opinions about the same things. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if they were much more interested in discussing armored polar bears.