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‘Golden Compass’ riles Christians

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"It's fairly clear that William Donohue's a loon," says Chris Weitz, writer-director of "The Golden Compass," of the president of the Catholic League.

"I've published several books, been a college professor, have a Ph.D. Why would I worry about a screenwriter?" Mr. Donohue retorts.

He implies that Mr. Weitz is coward for not debating him in person — and so, for that matter, is Philip Pullman, the author of "His Dark Materials," the young adults book trilogy (which includes the source novel for "The Golden Compass") that has sold 10 million copies. "It's hard to have intellectual respect for such people," sniffs Mr. Donohue.

On the surface, this nasty back-and-forth is about, of all things, a children's fantasy film.

But its roots run deeper.

The dispute over "The Golden Compass," which opens today, is part of a larger, surprisingly bellicose debate between atheists and Christians that reignited — complete with best-selling books on both sides — after followers of an entirely different creed attacked America on September 11, 2001.

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