Disney Theology

“The reason religious leaders seem so variously drawn to and repelled by Disney’s work may be the striking presence of Judeo-Christian values, juxtaposed with a complete absence of any call or need to submit to God’s will. Walt’s religion is at the same time selfless and selfish. ‘Providence’ at my disposal; the infinite obligated to make my dreams come true. Perhaps only the rampant optimism and ambition of turn-of-the-century frontier America could inspire a belief system simultaneously virtuous and self-absorbed, values Walt derived from that idyllic portion of his childhood spent in Marceline, Missouri.

Disney’s target market – and it has proved to be a large one – is an audience of people who want to believe in something that doesn’t require anything of them. Thats the religion that we’ve all been dying for. So it’s a powerful thing. It engages kids very deeply and it offends no one, except the intellectual elite. Amazingly, Christians were some of Disney’s biggest fans because he held on to the values that were important to them. So they forgave the fact that God had gone missing somehow along the way, but that everything that God set up was still there.”
Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales (Quoted in Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust)

Vischer has articulated perfectly my take on much (not all) of Christian culture in this day and age. These days we’re seeing less Jesus centered theology and more Disney theology – all the values of Christianity without Jesus.

Apparently, Jesus is offensive but Christian values are appealing. I can get into schools to talk about the value of community and friendships, but not to talk about Jesus. I can tell people how unique and special they are and how they should be just what they are, but not mention the God who created them or the Jesus through whom all things are created.

The challenge is that the value of Christian values lies in Jesus.

“But just what is this Disney gospel – this blend of “faith, trust, and pixie dust”? It’s American cultural religion: belief in the ability of the self to overcome adversity, faith in faith itself, adherence to the American ethic of morality and hard work.”
Religion journalist Marcia Ford on Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust

I think one of the most clichéd existential Disney motherhood statements has got to be:

Be yourself.

Be just who you’re meant to be.

Be your own special and unique person.

It features as the moral of the story in many children’s shows and movies. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have different gifts, preferences and quirks that make us exactly who we are (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12). It teaches us not to seek man’s approval (Galatians 1:10) and affirms the value of seeing one’s self as being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) – just without acknowledging the Creator. Essentially, it builds confidence in one’s self (self-esteem). The world sees self-esteem as the answer to the problem of approval addiction, timidity and position/status envy. The Christian version sounds like this: “be who God meant you to be”. Sounds like modern individualism? It isn’t. St Catherine of Siena wrote that in the 1300s.

“God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Max Lucado

Interestingly, the bible says little about loving ourselves but much about God’s love for us and our love for others. Self-esteem doesn’t feature much in the bible. It would seem that who we are just isn’t that important!

But really, that isn’t the case. What is important in the bible is God-esteem. There is much to be said about how God sees us and the place (present and future) that we have in Christ. Numerous verses speak of His love for us (Romans 8:31-39), his actions of affection towards us (John 3:16) and our privilaged position in His eyes (Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:2). Even Paul, who we can identify as incredibly special and unique refuses to esteem himself. He does so in 2 Corinthians 11:17-30 to show how ridiculous it is.

Our relentless pursuit then is not to be “who God has made you to be” (as Rob Bell’s counsellor puts it), but to pursue God Himself. The result of that pursuit is the person God has made me to be. He who makes you who you are, also makes you who you’re meant to be.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (See also Galatians 5:22-23)