Philip Pullman's books are controversial for their criticism of religious institutions and the power they wield. In The Golden Compass, the vile Mrs. Coulter serves as a kind of poster girl the powerful religious organization called the Magisterium. As you'd guess from Mrs. Coulter's association with it, the Magisterium is corrupt, abusive, and terrifying. Though the story is set in a fantasy world, the Church in the novel sounds a lot like religious organizations today, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, even though The Golden Compass is set in a faraway land with daemons, flying witches, and talking bears, critics have interpreted the novel as a critique of religion in our own world.
Questions About Religion
What is the Magisterium?
What is Dust and why is the Magisterium interested in it?
What is "original sin"? How is it connected to Dust?
In The Golden Compass, who is working for the Magisterium and who is working against it? Are all of the characters working against the Magisterium "good guys"?
What connections can you find between The Golden Compass (or the His Dark Materials trilogy as a whole) and John Milton's Paradise Lost?
Chew on This
The Golden Compass is anti-religion.
The Golden Compass doesn't attack religion, it attacks religious institutions that are too concerned with power and become corrupt.