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The Christian fundamentalist lynch mob is at it again

Having tasted victory against Tim du Plessis and Rapport, Christian fundamentalists have set their sights on a fresh target. According to Jacques Liebenberg in Beeld, a campaign is under way to organise a boycott of the film The Golden Compass, due to be released in South Africa on Friday.

According to an anonymous message distributed via email and SMS, the film is about “two children who kill God so that they can do what they want”. Sinisterly, the message goes on to state: “Rapport het geluister. As ons saam staan [sic], sal sterkinekor [sic] ook moet luister.” [Rapport listened. If we work together, Ster-Kinekor will also have to listen].

Whoever originated the campaign has got it wrong, according to Beeld. The Golden Compass is based on the first book in Philip Pullman’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, and is being released by Nu Metro, not Ster-Kinekor. The story is too complicated to narrate here, but it doesn’t include two children who kill God. In fact, as Beeld points out, it doesn’t even deal with organised religion.

Nu Metro spokesperson Heather Vorster, quoted by Beeld, pointed out that the book has won a number of awards, including the Whitbread prize, and it has been praised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for its spirituality and exploration of religious concepts. It is a prescribed work for South African grade eights. But a conservative American religious movement, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has campaigned against the book on the basis that its author is a self-proclaimed atheist. Presumably, the South African campaign took its cue from there.

When Du Plessis gave in to a similar boycott threat last month and fired columnist Deon Maas, critics argued that he had set a precedent that bode ill for freedom of expression. The chickens are now coming home to roost. Intoxicated with success, the same fundamentalist minority that mob-lynched Maas is trying to prevent South Africans from seeing a film they do not like. Judging from Nu Metro’s immediate reaction, it seems unlikely that they will succeed. But what if they step up their campaign, as they did in the case of Rapport, and become a real threat to Nu Metro’s commercial interests? And what’s next — burning books, or assassinating authors and filmmakers?

It is important to bear in mind that Rapport, which has about 1,6-million readers (according to the latest Amps data), succumbed to a campaign that consisted of 540 duplicated emails and 629 SMSs. In other words, a tiny minority dictated what the rest could read. I have never read anything by Pullman, and I don’t care if he advocates atheism or writes about children beheading God. I care about freedom of expression. Let’s hope Nu Metro doesn’t become another Rapport.


  • Robert Brand teaches media law, ethics and economics journalism at Rhodes University. Before joining academia, he worked as a journalist for the Pretoria News, the Star and Bloomberg News.


  1. Jamie Smith Jamie Smith 8 December 2007

    Religion is the opiate of the masses! its an old saying but nevertheless, there is nothing to get concerned about, those that lead the masses need something to keep them in line with. I think its hilarious to watch the Christian leaders milk their masses for every cent!

  2. Vincent Maher Vincent Maher 8 December 2007

    Let’s not forget that the term fundamentalism was coined to describe a branch of protestant Christianity and is now being used incorrectly in the context of Islamic extremism.

  3. Will Will 8 December 2007

    Robert, I don’t know what exactly Deon Maas’ opinions on Satanism are, but I know what Satanism’s opinions on Christians are and hatred might be too bland a word to describe it. If Rapport was to start fielding opinions calling for tolerance towards neo-Nazis Jews would rightly be concerned that Rapport was promoting hatred of Jews, not so? Why is it so difficult to see that the same pertains with regard to Satanism and Christians?

  4. Amanda Vermeulen Amanda Vermeulen 8 December 2007

    The international media have quoted “the Church” as saying Pullman’s books “encourage atheism”.
    What then does the Bible do? Encourage belief in a specific dogma, surely. Why is it okay for them to evangelise, but not for others to promote a counter argument?
    I, too, have read Pullman’s books – and they are quite astonishing. He deserves his literary status.
    I bought the Dark Materials series for the teenage sons of a friend of mine. The boys later sent me a note thanking me for giving them books that have instilled a love for reading.
    I suspect that is the crux of this entire hoo-hah. Dogmatists do not like curious minds that enquire widely….
    The Church should concern itself more with more pressing issues, like tackling child abuse, than whether a work of fiction promotes atheism. Fretting about things like fantasy books, homosexuality and birth control provide a clear compass bearing (sorry – couldn’t resist!) about the Church’s real priorities.

  5. Ben Ben 8 December 2007

    Actually Vincent, I think that fundamentalism is exactly the word that could describe the type of extremism displayed by many Islamic people. Look at the way they dress their women..I don’t think that the religion is extremist but doesn’t the Koran say that men are allowed four wives?

  6. Anton Barnard Anton Barnard 8 December 2007

    Let’s be clear: I not religious. I nevertheless find reactions like the current forum topic, as well as the reactions to Deon Maas’s removal from Rapport, very ironic, coming from whom it does.

    (As an aside: I would venture that Maas will not be missed by most readers of Rapport. He is an ignorant, egotistical, boring little man with no insight and nothing of any importance to say, apart from cheap sensation-seeking. His few columns in Beeld before the Satan piece in Rapport, were even more inane and pathetic than the one which did lead to his deserved demise.)

    These reactions are ironic because they come from the adherents of a new religion: political correctness combined with the New-Age la-la looney tunes of a blind belief in the “benefits” of multiculturalism.

    Just like Christians, the PC brigade base their beliefs on something that is neither scientifically provable, nor subject to rational inquiry. You dare not, for example, question whether multiculturalism is a desirable thing. You dare not question why France is burning, because the multicultural fundamentalists will crucify you by hysterically crying while screaming their holy mantra : “racism!”

    Exactly like Christians and Muslims, they become very irate and are wont to declare a Jihad when anybody blasphemes against their silly belief systems.

    Let me supply an example: when James Watson recently dared to say something about race, intelligence and genetics, a Jihad was declared against him by the wild-eyed PC fundamentalists, and the poor old man was browbeaten into a public retraction. This Jihad wasn’t declared on any scientific basis, you understand, but because his utterances dared to question the non-negotiable, religious dogma of our age, the extremely silly dogma that “we are all the same”.

    Those who dare question the religion of political correctness, and clast the great icon of multiculturalism, are shouted down by a shrill voice of condemnation.

    So to all of you PC creatures who are railing against the Christians because Christians have blasphemed against your own religion, you are no better than the most wild-eyed Bible or Qu’ran basher.

  7. Günther Günther 8 December 2007

    The Catholic League would call a boycott against Christ for consorting with assorted social undesirables. They must be taken seriously as an organisation of (undue) influence, but it is rare that their knee-jerkery is proportionate or appropriate.

    There are two reviews of The Golden Compass by critics who work for organisations affiliated with the Catholic Church, by Peter Malone of Signis and Harry Forbes & somebody Mulderig of the Office for Film & Broadcasting, a body of the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Both reviews are utterly sane and non-hysterical — and fully in accord with Christian thought.

    Christianity is in a poor state when Pullman and Cliff and Maas are condemned, instead of their line of reasoning being engaged with. Freedom of religion implies also the freedom to follow none, or to state one’s oppose to one or all religion(s). Take that away from Cliff, Maas et al, and you create a powerful argument for that right being surrendered.

  8. Jeremy Jeremy 9 December 2007

    There is no bigger waste of time than arguing with a “true believer”. Their minds are closed. I think it was Albert Einstein who said: “the sign of an open mind is one that can entertain an idea, without necessarily believing it to be true”.

    The problem with fundamentalists is that there is only one or the other, but never both. And they see any dissension with their views as a physical attack on them, which is what makes them so dangerous.

  9. Tash Joseph Tash Joseph 9 December 2007

    I’m a Pullman fan, and also not a Christian (not an atheist either, before anyone starts praying for me). I won’t be bothering with the movie, because the books were so magical and so brilliant that I don’t want anyone else’s interpretation messing with the vivid images I have in my head!

    One thing I’d like to know: how many of the people howling about this movie and its allegedly anti-Christian values (and how intriguing that it’s always about the Christians – the god figure portrayed in the books could just as easily be the Jewish or Muslim notion of G-d): how many of you have read the books? In other words, how can you make bland assumptions if you haven’t actually read the books for yourself?

    If you prefer not to read them because you feel they will offend you, that’s absolutely fine. But how can you call for a mass boycott of the film and the books? This is not a Christian country, not sure if anyone has registered that lately? We live in a secular society, so why should the many be dictated to by the few, relatively speaking?

    I get very frustrated with people who bang on and on about how offensive books or movies are, when the simple solution is not to read or watch them. You can choose not to let your kids read or watch them, too, but you can’t presume to force that decision on scores of other people!

    Equally, of course, all you naughty non-Christians aren’t allowed to criticise or mock the Bible unless you’ve read it, at least twice. But not back to front, because that’s satanic. :)

  10. Robert Robert 10 December 2007

    David: there is nothing wrong with criticising a film or book – as you say, Christian fundamentalists have the right to freedom of expression. What is wrong is when they threaten violence to suppress views that disagree with their own, as they did in the case of Rapport and Deon Maas.

  11. Natas Natas 10 December 2007

    Christians have spread their propaganda all over the world for a long time. Inflicting their beliefs on other people, talking from a self perpetuating and self justfying pedistal for far too long. Using the bible to prove the existence of god and arguing from a point of view that because of their subjective beliefs, you would never be able to talk them down from. In my opinion, we NEED people to speak against them, if only to have a contrary position being espoused.

  12. Will Will 10 December 2007

    Robert: As far as I know Rapport never claimed that anybody threatened the paper with violence. I believe this is a rumour that was started by those who wanted to smear the boycotters. Maybe some wingnut or two did issue such a threat, but I am sure most Christians would frown on the use of violence in order to enforce a boycott. (A boycott is of course a completely legitimate and democratic means of making your voice heard.)

  13. Odette Odette 21 December 2007

    I haven’t read the books or seen the movie but I fully intend to do both as soon as possible. I am a Catholic and I believe in God but I read anything and everything. My faith in God cannot be compromised by a book or other people’s beliefs. I read works on atheism with interest and an open mind and I do not see the authors as evil or think they will be condemned to hell (whatever the church says, I cannot believe that a benevolent God would do such a thing. Don’t attack me please, we all have a right to our opinions about God and church teachings).

    I do not agree with the person who stated that books for young people should be written responsibly. In the first instance, who decides what is responsible? In the second instance, why do we keep trying to shield our children from the big bad world when most of them have already experienced much of what we don’t want them to (for example, just think of the recent sex and fighting videos distributed via cellphones).

    What I would rather recommend is that we arm our children with knowledge. Teach them about what is out there and allow them to explore on their own but equip them with the tools to remain strong within themselves so that they can make reasoned and lucid choices of their own.

    I was fortunate in that I was not only allowed, but encouraged to read as widely as possible when I was a child. What that instilled in me was the instinct to question and analyse and not just accept at face-value whatever was fed to me. This strengthened, not diminished, my faith and taught me to respect the opinions of those who differed with me.

    Christian fundamentalists have as much right as anyone else to express their views. I have the choice of listening to them or tuning them out. However, they step over the line when they threaten violence and when they want to control what other people read, hear and see.

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