“I want to kill God in the minds of Children.” – How email causes internet myths to become fact

Whenever journalists speak of disseminating news in the online world, they’re usually referring to blogging, social networking, and other Web 2.0 technologies. What you don’t hear about very often are the millions of mass emails that are sent out on a daily basis — they’re sometimes referred to as “chain emails.” A person gets some kind of news item in his inbox and then forwards it to his entire address book. This allows a piece of information to be spread quickly to thousands of people without being formerly published online or in print.

Unfortunately, these mass emails provide an easy outlet for groups to widely promote propaganda and misinformation. Because there is no permalink or publication to trace it to, falsehoods can quickly be disseminated in such a way so that it’s almost impossible to trace the writing to its original source. And because the writing isn’t published anywhere — at least right away — it can float under the radar undetected by those knowledgeable or skeptical enough to cry foul while thousands of emails continue to be sent.

Eventually, readers start copy and pasting the emails into online message boards and blogs, but by then the misinformation has become so ubiquitous that it’s considered fact.

Philip Pullman, the author of The Golden Compass, which has been made into a major motion picture, has included anti-religious themes in his books. Naturally — as we saw with The Da Vinci Code — Christian groups have begun to form protests against it. Today, I received a mass-forwarded email from a Christian relative that quotes Pullman as saying this:

The Golden Compass, A movie you might want to avoid.

In the words of the author, “I want to kill God in the minds of Children…. I want them to decide against God and the Kingdom of Heaven.”

As you might have guessed, this is a quote that Pullman never actually said.

After hitting thousands of inboxes, this false quote eventually spilled over onto dozens of webpages. Notice that some of those sites are run by churches.

I meticulously went through every single direct reference to the quote, and never once does it cite a source. A few of these webpages claim that this quote came from a mysterious 2003 interview with the author, but we never actually find out where.

In fact, the only quote that Pullman actually said that comes close to this appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak. I’m a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”

This, of course, is entirely different from the author saying “I want to kill God in the minds of Children.”

This email that was sent to me was CC’d to 20 other people. These chain messages typically fan out in a pyramid-like fashion. Because of this one email, thousands of people actually think that Pullman said those words. As for who actually falsely attributed them to him? We’ll never know.

***
Related posts:
1. At least one reason to like starbucks
2. The Sideways offensive: Will Merlot sales ever recover?
3. Missionaries sent into Second Life

10 Comments

  1. Angus Says:

    honesly,
    this kills the church in my mind
    more so than any of the books combined did

    wtf?!?
    ugh
    i cant even think straight

  2. sl Says:

    Checked this out at snopes.com, and while there is no source for that exact quote, what he has been credited with saying does not seem “entirely different” to me.

    I agree it is important to quote people properly. What he did say is creepy enough. No need to embellish.

  3. Simon Says:

    Re: sl

    That’s ridiculous, of course it’s different. Saying you want to “kill god in the minds of children” is incredibly different than saying that the books are a metaphor for killing god. If they were basically the same thing then a crazed Christian with an axe to grind wouldn’t have felt the need to shamelessly make up a quote for his or her silly propaganda

    As for “What he did say is creepy enough,” what is exactly creepy about it? Even the bible itself alludes to wars between God and other forces, and literature across the centuries is rife with examples of characters attempting to kill gods. People have misconstrued his metaphor this way and that without even attempting to so much as look at the cliff-notes summary of the book.

  4. Tea Says:

    Simon,

    Where exactly in the bible does it say that God fought wars with others?
    Explain that clearly please. I need references. I’m not trying to come against anyone, but you really can’t say something’s in the bible without citing it first.

    And yes, I’ve read “The Golden Compass”. Have you?

  5. Simon Says:

    Re: Tea

    There are literally dozens of accounts of what many call “spiritual warfare” in the bible.

    For example, “Therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entagleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen to be a soldier” — 2 Timothy 2:3

    In Isaiah 14:13, Satan says “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:”

    This is a specific reference to a war between God and Satan.

    Now, this being said. I’m not going to allow this comment section to turn into a back and forth ridiculous bible quoting battle. The bible is one of the most ambiguous books ever written by man, meaning anyone can comb through it and find some arcane quote that can support virtually any stance. This why it’s a pretty much useless, irrational document, especially when trying to find any specific moral code.

  6. Me Says:

    Its funny how all of the people who I’ve talked to that are all “BAN EVIL ATHEISTIC BOOK!!! BLEEHHH” Have never even read it.

    Even IF Pullman said his books were about killing God, that is HIS interpretation. Personally, I’ve never thought of the Authority (you’ll understand it if you read the books) as God. I see him as a corrupt angel who rose to power when God was trapped in that crystal.

    However, the funny little detail about these books is that they’re FICTION. Not REAL.

    “but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives” I quite agree. I doubt that the God I know is so insecure and needy that he is going to care about an IDEA–we were given this imagination for a reason, we should use it.

    Where on earth does God say, “Go be judgmental and don’t let people think for themselves!!” ?

    Yep. The end.

  7. bible belt hick Says:

    me…

    “Where on earth does God say, “Go be judgmental and don’t let people think for themselves!!” ?”

    of course it dosent say that but where does it say that bible belt religious freaks need to be quite and not tell others about the opinions of the author. If the author didnt mean that he wants to brain wash youngsters into not believing in God then he shouldnt make stupid remarks that can be viewed as such and if that in turn means that a huge piece of his market goes away becuase parents and kids now dont want to contribute money to the author then that is the price the author pays for making remarks like these. This is fair market and when a huge piece of your market is religious even if you have athiestic beliefs you should keep them to yourself. I think that in the future if an author cares about his bottom line then the author should keeps his/her anti religion comments to his/her self. If this dosent matter then make all the comments he/her wants but don’t be surprised at the reaction and get deffensive about it. The USA and much of the rest of the world in overwhelming majority believe in some form of a God and attacking it so directly is bound to provoke a response wether u like it or not so suck on that…

  8. Victoria Says:

    Pullman may not have exactly said what was attributed to him above but what he said was close enough. I don’t think his words were taken out of context. His intent is to undermine belief and he was quite plain about that in his own words.

    As far as spiritual warfare in the Bible – that’s exactly what it is. That has nothing to do with literal warfare. Thanks again for taking the Bible completely out of context. As for it being a “useless, irrational document” that document inspired much of the founding principles of western society (which we all benefit from) and actually the Bible makes sense to those who are open minded and clear headed enough to understand it without an ax to grind. Many scientists in the past who have made great discoveries found it to be of great value and their belief in it helped to fuel their scientific work. These were very rational men.

    It is one of the greatest books ever written as far as spiritual knowledge, practical knowledge, as a book of literature and as a base for forming civilized, stable, moral societies. If you can’t see that, you are the one being irrational here. Perhaps you should put your ax down. You’re ranting and raving and that’s unbecoming in everyone, whether or not they believe in the Bible or not.

  9. Simon Says:

    His intent is to sharply criticize religious belief through metaphor — but coming up with an untrue contrived quote is not “close enough” in my mind, especially since it’s phrased in such a silly way.

    What is the difference between spiritual warfare and “literal’ warfare, as you put it? If we’re to believe that spirits exist, then wouldn’t their warfare be “literal”?

    The bible is certainly an historical document in that it has a profound impact on culture, but many of its core morals are natural to most non-Christian societies and many of its other “morals” aren’t seriously considered today (for instance, people regularly shave their beards and don’t stone adulterers). It is incredibly ambiguous, has been disproved by science, and often contradicts itself.

  10. Brian Says:

    First off as with most religions there are customs that are followed as doctrines of worship. The beard shaving would fall under that and not a moral.

    The kind of propaganda that occurred around Pullman’s statement is not some evil tactic by the Christians but something that is steeped in the whole of media. Ever play that game where you pass a secrete message along and find out what it sounds like at the end?

    I think that a person can read both the Bible and The Golden Compass and neither would be partaking in the “enemy’s” craft. Hearing both sides of an argument is the first step to understanding it.

    Pullman does admit that his book is an story with the god idea being the antagonist. He is well within his rights of free speech. So are all believers in the Bible and other religious followings. Many don’t like to admit this but atheism is also a belief. Pullman could be considered one of it’s political martyrs.

    The main problem I have with the Golden Compass is that it is on many required reading lists in public schools while the Bible is banned. If you expose children to this philosophical question you need to represent both sides or just stick to the original plan and leave it to the parents.

    For the record I don’t think this applies to the creation/evolution debate since one is well based in science. I am Christian for the record.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin