Where Do the Children Play?


I recall an old Cat Stevens song from the early 70’s, Where Do the Children Play? It runs through my head from time to time when I think about the adult world interacting with children. I had the phrase somewhat in mind when I reacted to the recent invasion of Harry Potter’s world by JK Rowling’s world. I stated then that I was sad that children can’t be left out of some things. But this is the modern world, and apparently we are at war (forgive me for saying it). Terry Mattingly, who is Orthodox and a columnist for Scripps Howard, and one of the most astute observers of the media and religion, wrote one of the most alarming columns this weekend I have seen in years.

His column deals with the up-coming movie based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (children’s books). The movie is a production of his first book: The Golden Compass. Quoting Pullman from an Australian interview:

I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry [Potter] has said. My books are about killing God.

And, there’s more. Mattingly notes in his column that evil incarnate has a name in Pullman’s books: the “Church.” Apparently Hollywood is too shy to be so up front and chooses in the movie to substitute the word: “Magisterium.” I’m sure that Catholics will find that comforting.

I tend not to be alarmist in culture matters. I know that in the end God wins (not in Pullman’s books but in the real world). But I continue thinking, “Where do the children play?”

Then I have to remember that we Christians have been writing children’s books for years with the understanding that introducing children to God and His Kingdom at an early age is laudatory. We even go so far as to Baptize them. But apparently an atheist writer considers it equally laudatory to educate children in killing God. This indeed is a culture war – with its merchants – Hollywood and the publishing world sitting back and making money off both sides (now I think of a song by Dylan).

Where do the children play? In the same minefield that we adults play – and the merchants are playing for keeps. It’s a topic of discussion in my house. I don’t plan to fill the coffers of those who would kill God. But the ironic thing is that this God already died for them. I recommend Terry Mattingly’s Column and all of his writings at Getreligion.org.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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24 responses to “Where Do the Children Play?”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: from the famous Johnson campaign commercial of ’64.

  2. Adrian Martin Avatar

    The Devil is in the details.

  3. Tom Gilson Avatar

    Where does the Scholastic publishing company want the children to play? In Pullman’s world

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    I just finished looking over your site. You’ve done an excellent job of putting materials together for people and looking thoroughly and reasonably at the issues. Thank you for such good work. For my readers, if you’re interested, Tom Gilson’s work in Pullman’s world is worth the read.

    Tom, I suppose Scholastic, like most businesses wants children to play somewhere that allows it to make money. Mammon has little conscience.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Also, check out this article on Pullman’s work on Internetmonk.com.

  6. Don Avatar

    Father, Bless!

    Thank you for this post. In a world where our children are being molested by teachers, MySpace “friends,” and the horrible imagines Hollywood throws at them in an age where society seems to welcome such Satanic attacks, it was good to find an alert to help us to position ourselves on the front line of the Good Fight. Parenting a child today takes everything we’ve got to protect them from the dangers of this world. Thanks for the heads up on this very dangerous film. I have added a link to your blog from mine with the hopes that other parents will heed your warning.

  7. Steve Avatar

    When I first saw the movie preview I thought “Oh, how cool is it to ride on a polar bear?!” But after hearing about the in-your-face attitude of the author, I’m just not that interested.

  8. ole rocker Avatar
    ole rocker

    As Hollywood touches the literary world more and more I find myself shying away from modern movies. I don’t want to know what they are doing to “Beowulf” – the slaughter of Tolkein’s LOTR series was bad enough.

    In the literary word of children’s books we see the same happening – it is my opinion that most books or series are ripoffs of older classics with the post modernist twist. God help our children …

  9. Petra Avatar

    Sad to think of how many kids, Christian and not, will see this and forever have those blasphemous images and words imprinted in their heads.

    And thanks for the link to Terry Mattingly’s column.

  10. HQ19:7 Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for a wonderful site. I already have one orthodox blog on my blogroll, now I will make that ‘two’. If Pullman is anywhere near as subversive as Rowlings’, I will not be letting my kids anywhere near it. Thanks for the heads up. We are indeed, at war. God bless you and all who read your blog.

  11. AR Avatar

    Thanks for the heads-up, Fr. Stephen.

    Because I think that most human experiences have good and evil mixed in them, I fear to become so defensive that I deprive myself of vast swathes of good. On the other hand when something truly, primarily destructive comes around, how important it is not to defile ourselves…or our children.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    The first movie is likely to be less obvious than the second two. The story is extremely well written and builds slowly. I know that the Church can be an easy target for some – even my beloved Orthodox Church – but to paint the Church as evil (so did the Da Vinci Code) and this time because it wants to deprive people of sexual experience (if you follow the complete story line) is certainly wrong. After all the sexual predation of children we’ve been through, to have a children’s movie (or books) that makes sexual knowledge the road to human enlightenment is frightening. Actually this movie is good old Gnosticism in one of its varied forms. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just the continued downgrading of an industry and a continued reminder that government run schools can be dangerous (there will be attempts at providing study materials to the schools by Scholastic Press for children to study the books and movie).

    I’ve also found out that kids already know the books and discuss it among themselves (this in a conversation within the family). They think the book is cool. Parents should know its content and think about how to answer questions that may arise.

  13. Handmaid Anna Avatar
    Handmaid Anna

    Forgive my ignorance. Without having seen the movie or having read the book I don’t understand how anyone’s imagination could be so arrogant as to think you could go about attempting to kill God and then to make millions from it. As said, we tried at the cross and He lives. Even with this evil media we are all born with God’s image in us to tell our consciences what is evil. My hope is in the fact that children do have the capacity to discern between this evil and God’s goodness and that they will choose His goodness. As parents we would like to stem these necessary choices off a few more years however, some children are exposed to horrific things in life that do not come from Hollywood such as Darfur, the Holocaust, baby girls in China, etc.

  14. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Well, imagination gets the freedom to imagine the world anyway it wants, not being constrained by reality. Thus you can create a world(s) in which it is possible to kill God. Pullman’s fantasy writing skills are up to the task.

  15. Peter Avatar

    Previous post, condensed:

    Thanks to Tom Gilson to linking to the Mars Hill interview with Wheaton professor, Alan Jacobs. http://mhadigital.org/index.php?post_id=274993#.
    I commend to you the Jacobs interview in its entirety and would add only the following gloss: The sacrilege present throughout these volumes is more thoroughgoing and relentless than even Jacobs admits, and, as he also notes, the volumes culminate in what can only be described as a sexual consummation between the two early teenage protagonists. And this is no accident. As Pullman’s anti-Christian polemic gains strength and venom through the story’s progression from novel to novel, he increasingly foregrounds the growing sensual attraction between his heroes, Lyra and Will. And here’s the rub: It was inescapable to me that the erotic sensibility gradually underwrites and then, in its consummation, ratifies the novels’ blasphemy. These are teenagers doing what scarcely needs encouragement under the best of circumstances, but Pullman happily manipulates his readers sympathies into endorsing, because vicariously participating in, this outcome. And this endorsement — really, it’s just encouraging in his young readers longings for a similar kind of love — provides a sensual grounding for the rather more abstract ideas, dramatically rendered to be sure, of humankind overthrowing the tyrant, God. And how very dangerous all of this is for the half-formed sensibilities and imaginations of young people. This stuff is poison.

  16. Martha Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen:
    Asking for your blessing.

    My youngest sone is 14 months of age. Recently, he was scampering around the bedroom as he usually does when he stopped in front of my icon corner. Some of the icons are at eye level to him because they are propped up on an end table. He opened the bible and began “talking.” It wasn’t like his usual baby noises. You could hear very clearly that he was trying to sound like we sound when we talk. He looked back at me and smiled and kept going. He kept returning to the icon corner, opening the bible, looking at the icons and “talking.” I realized that he was imitating me when I say my prayers.

    It was very cute but also humbling. Prayer is so natural for children. Icons are not a source of debate among children: they’re obvious. Candles, incense, singing and prostrating – these are all very natural to children. We’re born into a one-story world. Culture, society and educational establishments tear away our childhood and we must work for the rest of our lives to try to become once again, as children. “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3. How will God regard deliberate efforts to destroy a child’s faith in Him? Lord, have mercy on us. — Martha

  17. Margaret Avatar

    It is good to be made aware of these things, but I do not worry that we as Christians would be left “in the dark.” God is good all the time and will shine the light of His Truth. These books and movies serve as more incentive to pray for our children and the world in which they live. God is with us, He loves our children. He will help us to love and raise them. This web site is a good example of the aide given us. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, and all commentators.

  18. Jonathan Avatar

    We’ve always been at war, though. While reading the above post I thought of the passage in The Brother’s Karamazov in which Ivan relates to Alyosha all sorts of horrible atrocities committed against children; the passage is troubling because one knows it isn’t mere fiction. One need only make a cursory glance at history to find that in no era have children been particularly safe- or at least not all the children in a society.

    I also thought of the kids I encounter every day in the public school system- kids who can’t remember how many times they’ve been locked up, how many relatives and other random people they’ve lived with, kids who straight-forwardly tell me of their hatred for blacks, Mexicans, gays, whoever. It’s nothing new, I know, and there is no golden age, no good old days to go back to. There is only the New World in Christ, the Kingdom whose apprehension has always been a struggle. Figuring out how to resist the violence and evil around you without subcombing yourself to doubt and despair is a constant struggle; the knowledge that the broader culture- from Pullman to Hollywood to Washington- is largely against you doesn’t help. But it’s nothing new either. At least in this era we can’t pretend that collaboration with the world is ok, that going along with the normal social order is permissible. In the past in Christendom injustice and oppression were often able to hide behind the mask of a “Christian” civilisation; today in a world whose cultural mores are set by openly amoral and atheistic people, such a pretense is much harder, and the necessity of our struggle contra mundum is much more evident.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Christians, at their best, have an incredible history of caring for children – whether gathering discarded babies from the shores of the Tiber, creating orphanages when none existed. Christ’s admonitions regarding children are all the more poignant because of their rather unique character for the time. They cannot be improved upon 2000 years later – but are yet to dominate our cultural ethic.

    As I approach Thanksgiving, I give thanks most particularly for my children, who have provided me with a sanity and constancy of love that I could never have deserved. They are gifts of God. May God protect them and the children they may someday bring into the world!

  20. […] Good Orthodox commentary on this film I recommend Fr. Stephen’s blog and Second Terrace I refer you, wholeheartedly, to their […]

  21. mary k Avatar
    mary k

    God Bless You Father Stephen

    Thankyou for your wisdom.
    Can Christians listen to “secular” music or watch “secular” films?
    I read on another blog the author said that as he developed a more contrite heart and had grief for sins that God changed his heart and that he no longer watches secular movies or music.
    To be honest,i don’t like this idea because i see good messages,poetry,emotion and tunes in some non-christian music

    Also does God still bless people with miracles today because i’m very sick with something uncurable or is there no hope for me at all?
    My other concern is if as Christian your life should be serving other/self sacrifising people does that mean i can’t ask God to heal me because thats selfish and He wont?

    Thankyou very much mary k

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    I know plenty of fine Christians that watch secular films or listen to secular music. There comes a time when certain things no longer have appeal. I do not like horror films any more nor do I care for a number of others. I do not like films that attack the faith, etc.

    I like good music of almost any genre. Some of it is secular and some religious. I like secular music in the west far more than I like commercial Christian music. My favorite is Russian Church music.

    There are still plenty of miracles. There is hope – and even hope that is greater than death. But there are plenty of miracles.

  23. mary k Avatar
    mary k

    Thankyou Father

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