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Anti-God, or not Enough?

The Golden Compass, which premiered in London last night, is the latest battleground in the religious culture wars.

Nearly two weeks before its arrival to American cinemas, one film has managed to draw cries of complaint from both the Catholic League and the National Secular Society in recent weeks. The Golden Compass, which premieres in the U.S. on December 7 and is based on Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy of the same name, has been accused of being both anti-God and not anti-God enough.

The Catholic League, a conservative U.S. anti-defamation group, launched an official boycott of the film in early October, citing the books' negative depiction of the church (what Pullman names "the Authority"). League president Bill Donohue says Pullman, who is an outspoken atheist, wrote the stories "to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism." Donohue is concerned that though it is toned down in its anti-God rhetoric, the upcoming movie will nonetheless act as "bait for the books."

Meanwhile, the U.K.-based National Secular Society is disappointed that the movie doesn't feature more explicit attacks on the church. According to the BBC, the society's president, Terry Sanderson, said, "We knew from the beginning that the producers of this film intended to leave out the anti-religious references. We think that is a great shame. The fight against the Magisterium (Pullman's thinly disguised version of the Catholic church) is the whole point of the book."

The Golden Compass premiered last night in the U.K. at London's Leicester Square, and received a lukewarm review from The Times - not for any real or perceived anti-God themes, of course, but for apparently sloppy storytelling compared to the books, which won the esteemed Whitbread Literary Award in 2002.

The movie is expected to do well in the U.S. during the approaching holiday-movie rush. This week's Newsweek delves deeper into director Chris Weitz's struggle of framing the stories' controversial subject matter, while the December issue of Christianity Today features the thoughtful critiques of some Christian writers who notice some surprising "Christian-y" themes in Pullman's books.

In a couple weeks, we'll see how the movie fares with the American audience, most of which doesn't fit easily into the extremes of today's religious culture wars that the Catholic League and the National Secular Society epitomize.

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Christianity Today Movies has been following the controversy surrounding the film. CT Movies' readers shared some initial thoughts on The Golden Compass's release.

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