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Post details: Monopoly on Hope

Monopoly on Hope

Here is what the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano wrote about the movie adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Golden Compass: "In Pullman's world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events."

The fact that a barely noticeable movie which basically flopped at the Box Office provoked such strong response was rather remarkable. The tone of the review reminded me of the old Soviet satellites, where anyone that dared question Communists' mandate to rule was summarily branded as western decadent and irrelevant outcast, unable to see the eternal light of socialism. To communist regimes, the independent reasoning was a thorn in the hide too. The baleful Magisterium of the movie is but a highly stylized Central Committee of a Communist Party slyly transferring the power from an individual to an opaque, unaccountable and sinister order.

To claim that Hope does not exist in the movie which is steeped in it is like claiming there are no oceans in "Titanic". The Vatican critics completely missed that the individualistic and personal capacity to think and feel is the only possible foundation for friendship between unique individuals which the movie celebrates and juxtaposes to smarmy and servility-based relationships that were wrought surreptitiously in the dim marble hallways of the Magisterium.

But the movie is not really about religion, it is more about a totalitarian state of mind, about monopolizing the thinking process. Whether the little dictators are represented as shifty-eyed bishops or stubble-chinned Bolsheviks matters very little; any ideology, no matter how sweet and well meaning it is at its inception, can be twisted and corrupted in the hands of fearmongers and we should watch carefully for such abuse. Regimes have a way of giving up on a struggle to tell good from evil and become complacent in merely maintaining the status quo. No group of humans is exempt from this lapse.

In their effort not to offend people who hold genuine beliefs, the authors of the movie tried to suppress any explicit hints of a church and left the Magisterium suspended in a vague haze of abstract greed and scheming. It is sad that Vatican didn't reach out to people whose spirituality happens to wear a differently cut jacket and whose sense of belonging to a community gives them just as strong grounds for morality as loyalty to a divine power. Instead they reacted in an offended and jealous way - "It is Our Hope or No Hope" - which is pretty much what the Magisterium would do.

Hope is a universal concept, independent of any specific religious doctrine and no one should have monopoly over it - not Vatican, not Jerusalem, not Mecca, not Kapilawastu and not anyone else. It is an instinctual mechanism that facilitates our survival, an invisible force that aligns our built in moral compass with a belief in a superior entity. And it should be of absolutely no consequence whether that entity takes the form of a hoary wise guy sitting on a fluffy cloud, a pack of demons gathering every midnight in a dark jungle, a mysterious moral force which rewards good and punishes bad or a collective body of humankind of which each of us is a single cell.

Hope is a belief that despite all the adversities of life, there will always be a transcendental principle woven into the fabric of this Universe, which supports selfless behavior. A primitive man in the Pacific has hope too, although he may have never heard of Papal wisdom. It is Hope what sustains us against all totalitarian doctrines and that is exactly why we need it in its pure form, free of any specific ideology.

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