If you are not familiar with the controversy, I will sum it up as briefly and fully as I can. The Golden Compass is based on the first in a trilogy of novels written by Philip Pullman. I am not familiar with Mr. Pullman's work, so I cannot offer any opinion on his writings. The substance of the controversy is that Mr. Pullman is an atheist and this series of books has been accused of attacking God, the church, and religion.
I am not going to tell you not to see this movie. The beauty of living in the United States is that we are all free to choose what we will and won't do. So I won't cry for a boycott. What I will do is provide the best information that I can so you can make an informed choice. On that note, let get to what I think you may need to know.
Philip Pullman is a British author. He writes fiction and fantasy works. But what gains the most attention is his view of religion. This is from Mr. Pullman's website.
His Dark Materials seems to be against organised religion. Do you believe in God?
I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.
Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them.
This comes from a general statement about the articles he has written about religion.
But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.
That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy.
Mr. Pullman doesn't believe in God as the Christian faith has traditionally defined God. That much is clear. But it would appear that Mr. Pullman's greater issue is with religion and it's role in human history.
Mr. Pullman seems to be gathering up the wrongs of all of religious history and holding the current generation of religions responsible. This is nothing new. Those who have stood in opposition to the church lay the blame for countless atrocities and misdeeds at the feet of individuals who had no role and also believe that those acts were horrible. But it is guilt by association.
But as you discover more about Mr. Pullman, you find that religion as most people understand it is not what he means. He is pointing to any group or structure that enforces a set of boundaries upon individuals through a hierarchy of "priests" and established in a set of laws written down. His icon of this is the Catholic Church. But he is just as quick to lump Shi'ite Muslims and the Soviet Union into that definition.
I don't know that Mr. Pullman is actively trying to destroy Christianity. I do get the impression from what I have found that the world would be better off without organized religion.
This is from an article in the New Yorker:
His fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife, regardless of creed. As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, “Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.
As to the book itself, I have only read a portion of the first book. I plan to read all three. But I will comment on each book as I work through it. The thing that is helpful to note right now is the world setting of this book. It is a fantasy novel. It is not set in the world of Earth. It is an alternate Earth. It is set in a period much like the turn between the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a time of exploration and scientific discovery. The world is mysterious and far off lands hold strange people.
I would remind people about one fundamental issue. Where Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and even Harry Potter are set in fantasy worlds, they all had the grounding of a Christian idea of morality and good vs. evil. This book does not come at morality and good vs. evil from that direction. This is about philosophical morality. Good and evil are not cast in terms of God and Satan images. It will be human good and human evil that will battle.
This movie is not going to destroy the church. It will not pull God down out of heaven. It will not corrupt our children. (Oddly the evil in the books is exactly what opposition groups are accusing the movie of doing. This movie is not a threat to our existence. No more than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe nor The Passion of the Christ caused people by the thousands to come to church.
So if you enjoy fantasy movies or novels, check it out. I would say that if you wanted to make a position against this movie, don't do it in ignorance. And don't take my word for the foundation of your position. I'm just stating what I have found. I will likely see this movie at some point. And you will read about it here.