The Golden Compass and “anti-Catholic bias”
I have not said anything about the controversy over the Golden Compass, because the issue has seemed too simple and clear cut to warrant comment. But take a look at what appeared in this week’s American Libraries Direct:
The Golden Compass accused of anti-Catholic bias
Several Toronto-area Catholic school boards in Ontario have removed Philip Pullman‚Äôs The Golden Compass fantasy novel from library shelves for review following a complaint in the municipality of Halton in late November. The novel and its two companions in the ‚ÄúHis Dark Materials‚Äù trilogy are receiving heightened scrutiny for their allegedly anti-Catholic content prior to the December 7 U.S. release of The Golden Compass movie (right) starring Nicole Kidman and Donald Craig. ALA President Loriene Roy issued a statement December 4 urging libraries to resist calls for censoring the books or boycotting the film….
I find this way of covering the issue quite interesting. Up to this, I had only seen the book attacked for the author’s “open atheism,” which seems so blatantly forgetful of the fact that we (in the U.S. and Canada) don’t live in a theocracy that the story pretty much spoke for itself. But restating the issue in terms of an “accusation” of “anti-Catholic bias” puts the story in the frame of anti-defamation, hate speech, and multiculturalism, an area where intellectual freedom has some competition from other progressive values.
This kind of pisses me off. Freedom of speech means that we are free to criticize a religion. Here, American Libraries Direct is using the word “accusation” in reference to the book’s anti-religious viewpoint, as though such a viewpoint would be criminal or immoral. The word “bias” suggests that an unfavorable opinion of a religion amounts to prejudice, as though we are talking about a minority ethnic group that has a legitimate interest in countering false stereotypes and misunderstanding. Religions are belief systems and organizations, and should be just as open to criticism as political parties or corporations. We should be able to talk about specific beliefs, including beliefs that form a religious doctrine, as the beliefs that they are, separate from the political baggage of institutional sacredness. If Philip Pullman wants to tell a story that contains an anti-religious viewpoint, “accusation” is not the appropriate word to use regarding what he is doing, any more than saying that C. S. Lewis has been “accused” of incorporating a Christian viewpoint in The Chronicles of Narnia. Some may not like Philip Pullman’s beliefs, but others like them. He is not advocating crime or immorality, as the word “accused” implies. American Libraries Direct should not use phrases like “allegedly anti-Catholic content” when it’s not a crime in Canada (as far as I know) to criticize a religion. If the Church doesn’t like it, too f-ing bad!