Friday, November 30, 2007
The Biggest $hole in Korea
It seems that I just cant’ stop writing about religious stuff. Read along if you care to…
With the release of the new holiday children’s film “The Golden Compass” this coming Wednesday, it appears that Catholic Groups are up in arms in their view that the film (and the book series it is based on) is an attempt from a noted atheist author to “indoctrinate our children” into accepting atheist beliefs. I wonder if the phrase "indoctrination of children" was on C.S. Lewis' mind when he wrote about a certain lion hero rising from the dead.
The author of the series, Philip Pullman, is an award-winning author who writes for children, young adults and adults. His trilogy entitled “His Dark Materials” (of which The Golden Compass is the first book) is a celebrated fantasy tale. The third book from the series (“The Amber Spyglass”) became the first ever children’s book to win Britain’s coveted “Whitbread Award” as overall book of the year, regardless of genre. This is a feat that not even Harry Potter was able to accomplish, but Seamus Heaney’s (Ireland’s Poet Laureate’s) widely celebrated re-telling of “Beowulf” was. This just gives you an idea of the impact of Pullman’s work. The simplest way to describe the plot might be to say that it is a modern fantasy re-telling of Paradise Lost. But you should read to book and decide for yourself.
From interviews I've seen, it would be difficult to describe Pullman as anything other than an extremely likable, literate, intelligent and compassionate man. Nowhere is this more clear than in his writings in “His Dark Materials” trilogy. So I find it amusing that Catholics feel the need to spout their propaganda of fear every time something in popular culture comes along – be it a Dan Brown best-seller or a brilliant film from Martin Scorsese that shakes things up a bit and dares to offer a new idea.
Now, religious fundamentalists want to scare conservative parents away from one of the best works of fiction this century has produced, if only so they can keep them focused on the one grand work of (at least partial) fiction that they feel comfortable with. “All other fictions be damned!” In a world of exclusionary religions, regardless of any universal truths that any of them might carry, to the Catholic League, “The Golden Compass” may as well be the Qur’an. For those keeping score, Bill Donohue, head of the U.S. Catholic league is openly condemning the books and the film. The Pope (remember that guy?) has said nothing.
So, being excited for the release of the film version of one of the best books I’ve ever read, I was, I suppose, not at all surprised to see the controversy surrounding the up-coming release. If you really want to have a laugh at angry right-wing clown work, check out the Fox News report from a few weeks ago. It still amazes me how Fox News pundits continue to make asses of themselves while being blithely unaware of the fact that they are making their “targets” look like Einstein.
I was also not surprised to see this guy standing on a street corner in Itaewon – literally (“Western Town”) so-named because of the US Military base nearby. It is a district of Seoul that you might like if you prefer the companionship of Phi-Gamma-Delta during the times of year when Daytona Beach is a little too cool. It’s pretty much a hole, or what other Seoulites like to refer to as “the armpit of Korea” because it is a district with little to no redeeming cultural value, but it more than makes up for this by the addition of such swell places as “Hooker Hill”, or any of the ex-pat frat-boy bars that draw the exact sort of clientele I used to try to avoid on my way home on the Red Mile back in Calgary.
But in Itaewon I found myself a couple of weeks back as Steph and I were visiting a travel agent to book our tickets to Thailand for this Christmas. As we crossed the street, I heard some dude strumming madly on his guitar – not a particularly unusual phenomenon here in Korea, but this time he was saying something different. Between versus of a song I’d never heard before, he had the generosity to stop and explain his purpose for being there, and I quote:
“Our great God calls upon all people: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, to renounce their false God and accept the one true God – our Lord, Jesus Christ as your personal savior!”
…then it was back to the guitar strumming. I would also add that this man took the time to learn the same phrase in Korean, just in case any actual Koreans wanted to spend some time in Itaewon. Good on him for learning what little of the language he likely felt he needed to know. I was admittedly impressed, being that I’ve only taken the time to learn the necessities like “Thank-you” and “Hello”. Of course, my mission is much less divine than his. Perhaps all I need is more motivation for my cause.
I was, as you might predict, more than a little bit angered by this. Part of me wanted to go all Pete Townshend on his ass, or maybe treat him more like the Juicy Fruit guy. Smashing this joker's guitar would have truly been “sweet”. Another part of me wanted to hand him my copy of Richard Dawkins latest contribution to the literary world – at least that can be read in quiet. But the “better angels of my nature” prevailed.
I simply walked away from that place, into the National Museum of Korea. It was beautiful. We spend a couple of hours wandering the halls, looking at artistic and archeological contributions from all over the world – things passed-down from civilizations I couldn’t be further removed from. Some of these relics were of more interest to me than others. Some were pieces from times of violent conquest, and others were all about the opposite.
After walking through three massive levels of the museum, I finally came to a darkened room with only one piece inside. It was the Pensive Bodhisattva Maitreya, more commonly known as the Pensive Buddha. I sat in that room for half an hour. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It reminded my how valuable other ideas are.