William A. Donohue, president and sole voice of the politically conservative Catholic League, has proclaimed a crusade against the upcoming Golden Compass movie, claiming that Philip Pullman wrote the His Dark Materials series in part to "denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism."
Donohue's crusade takes the form of issuing press releases and speaking bombastically on television, which is his normal business (as detailed by Media Matters and Talk to Action). He's also selling a "booklet" (size unknown) of his opinions on Pullman's books for $5 apiece, or ten for $30. As of 2005, Donohue's salary was over $300,000, and that money has to come from somewhere.
The Golden Compass takes place in a fantasy world, with people's spirits manifest as companion animals, talking polar bears, and tree branch-riding witches. That world also contains an oppressive church, called the "Magisterium," which the book does indeed portray in a poor light. (Something about killing kids to obtain their spirits--you know how books can blow these things out of proportion.)
In a 2004 interview on the BBC show Belief, Pullman acknowledged taking some of the Magisterium's terminology from the Christianity of medieval western Europe, but said:
we're talking about another world, remember, and we're talking about a world in which the Catholic church develops in a very different way, because [John] Calvin became the Pope in the history of Lyra's world.He also spoke of the emotions that motivated this story:
it's a deep anger...and yes, horror at the excesses of cruelty and infamy that've been carried out in the name of a supernatural power. And it's not only the Catholic church that is guilty of this, of course. The Protestants were just as guilty of burning the Catholics and their town, and of hanging the witches. And both sides are guilty of persecuting the Jews. And then you get Moslems killing Hindus, and Hindus killing Moslems, and Sikhs killing Moslems and Hindus. . . . .That's the kind of fair, rational thinking that gets Donohue angry enough to go on television and sell booklets at $5 apiece, ten for $30.
I think it was a physicist [Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg], who said the truest thing about this. He said, good people have done good things, and bad people have done bad things without the help of religion, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
It seems more than presumptuous for Donohue to think that the Magisterium in Pullman's make-believe world is the same Roman Catholic Church that he's appointed himself to defend in the US. Wouldn't he be better off insisting that there's no connection or similarity between his own church and an oppressive institution based on imaginary power? But apparently he sees an insult there, or an opportunity.
For myself, I'm really looking forward to seeing Iorek Byrnison in action. There's a character who truly fights for people's rights.