The local Catholic school board is resisting pressure to remove from its libraries a controversial children’s book that critics claim promotes atheism.
The local arm of a national Catholic group wants The Golden Compass — now a big-budget movie — banned. It has already been boycotted in the U.S. and banned by another Ontario school board.
“Under the guise of an exciting adventure story, the very clear message being given is that the Catholic church is an evil organization and God and Christianity are a fraud,” said Bob Baksi, president of the Windsor Essex County chapter of the Catholic Civil Rights League.
But the local Catholic board, which has had the book in school libraries for a decade, doesn’t plan to take it off the shelves.
The Golden Compass is part of a trilogy called His Dark Materials by British writer Philip Pullman. It’s set in a parallel world where young heroine Lyra heads to the far north to save her kidnapped friend. She also fights an evil organization called Magisterium, which is the word Catholics use to describe the teaching authority of the church.
The book came out in 1995, but widespread controversy has heated up only recently as the film’s Dec. 7 release date draws closer. The Catholic League, which claims to be America’s largest Catholic civil rights group, has launched a nationwide boycott campaign.
The Halton Catholic District School Board has pulled the book from its shelves.
Canada’s Catholic Civil Rights League issued a warning Monday on its website to members and supporters to not take their children to the movie because of the “strong anti-religious content” in the books.
Randy Sasso, supervisor of faith development with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the book is on library shelves in only six elementary schools and two high schools. He said it’s not popular with students.
The school board never thought about the book’s religious implications before, and still isn’t worried, he said.
“We never brought a theological perspective to it,” Mr. Sasso said.
“We treated it as fantasy. It seemed like another Alice in Wonderland, another Chronicles of Narnia. You really have to go through this with a fine tooth comb to catch any of the religious elements. It looks like a real publicity stunt. He’s not even a particularly good writer.”
Bob Baksi said his group has asked Bishop Ronald Fabbro’s office to approach school boards in the London Diocese area about removing the book.
“It shouldn’t be in (Catholic) schools in the first place,” he said.
Mr. Baksi hasn’t read the book or seen the yet-to-be released movie, but added that shouldn’t undermine his opposition.
“I don’t have to see Debbie Does Dallas to know whether it is appropriate or consistent with the faith and values I would like to have in my house for my children,” he said.
Mr. Baksi said he’s heard Hollywood has watered down the more overt religious elements, but worries the movie will encourage people to buy the book for their children.
“The movie is a dangling carrot,” he said. “And the books are more open about their anti-religious approach.”
The books depict “a rebellion against God,” the Catholic Civil Rights League states on its website.
“The 12-year-old protagonists — Lyra and Will — discover there is no immortal soul, no heaven or hell,” the website states. “All that awaits us is some gloomy Hades-type afterlife where the soul goes to wait until it completely dissolves. Thus the author uses anti-Catholicism as the gateway to promoting atheism.”
Danielle Price, visiting assistant professor who teaches children’s literature at University of Windsor, said calling the books atheistic is “absolutely unfair.”
“There is no doubt that it is anti-authoritarian religion, it is anti-institutional religion,” said Ms. Price, also a Catholic. “But it would be wrong to think of it as a book that is atheistic or anti-spiritual. It is definitely a book which emphasizes spirituality. It sets up a very strong idea of the human soul. It’s a very important part of the book. It sets up its own version of an afterlife. It values individuality. It values human relationships, it values sacrifice. I would say that it’s a very moral series.”
Even if it was promoting atheism, Ms. Price said, banning it isn’t the answer.
“Banning books does nothing to help your cause,” she said. “People should be encouraged to read books, to make up their own minds about books, to talk about books. This is only an occasion for people to talk about their own beliefs.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a November 28, 2007 article by Trevor Wilhelm in The Windsor Star