It’s a sad day when a Canadian school board pulls your favourite children’s book from the shelves in dozens of libraries because it is allegedly ‘anti-religious.’ To be fair, Philip Pullman‘s The Golden Compass does take a critical stance on dogma and on hierarchical organizations. Elements can be taken as specific criticisms of the Inquisition and other religious abuses. At the same time, the book is engaging, well-written, and excellent. In characterization, creativity, and content it puts the Harry Potter books to shame, while also tackling much more important themes. The book was recognized by with the Carnegie Medal in 1995, and was selected by the Carnegie judges as one of the ten most important children’s novels in the past 70 years in 2007.
While the Halton Catholic District School Board clearly does have some responsibility for the selection of books in its school libraries, this choice is a mistake. If their students are going to have any kind of meaningful religious life, they are going to need to engage with criticisms of faith. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving them each a copy of The God Delusion, but it does require maintaining an atmosphere where questioning and discussion are possible. Simply stripping out high quality books that raise awkward questions is educationally irresponsible and theologically dubious in a faith supposedly based on personal relationships between individuals and God.