The following testimony from a real, but unnamed Christian parent is presented for the edification of those professing believers embarking on the remarkable journey of parenthood, knowing they are solemnly charged by God to bring their children up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
“Tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.” – Psalm 78:4
I am so very sad. Over the past two years, my married daughter, now 30, has slowly drifted away from Christianity and recently confessed an interest in neo-paganism, and specifically animism, which is the belief that all living things in the world have a soul, including plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena. My first thought was, how could this be? She was raised in a Christian home, received a biblical education early on, and for most of her childhood, she attended a strong, Bible-believing church. When she was a teenager, her ability to articulate and defend the Gospel in her own words was a great comfort to me as evidence of her true faith.
Because of these past indications of her spiritual quickening, I haven’t completely abandoned the idea that my daughter is presently going through a temporary period of metaphysical confusion and uncertainty. I am obviously not happy about her current state and at times I am quite fearful, but it is my fervent prayer that her early and persistent exposure to God’s word will one day be used by God to draw her closer to Himself before it’s too late. Certainly Proverbs 22:6 speaks to this parental hope.
Yet what haunts me the most as I look back on her childhood is the fact that I also allowed her in the midst of her Christian upbringing to freely enjoy all the Disney entertainment she could possibly want. I knew, of course, that many of the storylines in these animated and live-action films were not specifically Christian in content, but I rested in the belief that they were family-friendly and morally sound in general. But was I correct in this assumption?
One of my daughter’s favorite Disney films back in 1995 was Pocahontas. She was eight years old at the time. She loved that movie and watched the video over and over again. She had the Pocahontas bed sheets and bedspread, and the Meeko the raccoon plush toy to cuddle. She knew the words to every song. It was all pretty silly, of course, but it was somewhat heartening to see my clever daughter get caught up in something more than just the run-of-the-mill fairy tale about a make-believe princess. This was a story based upon real people and historical events about the beginning of our country. It was entertaining and educational, so I thought.
As I think back on it now, however, I am absolutely heartbroken. Why? Because Pocahontas taught my daughter something else that I quite ignored at the time, but now I remember with sickening clarity. Back then, I allowed Disney to teach my little girl all about Pocahontas’ spiritual sentiments in their colorful animation, dramatic dialogue, and the romantic lyrics of their captivating songs. And what was the specific religion that Pocahontas was so intensely passionate about throughout the movie?
Animism, straight up:
“This film [Pocahontas] heavily depicts animism, the religious belief that nature such as plants and animals, possess a spiritual essence. Pocahontas and all the Native Americans in this film believe in spirits and value the nature around them. The Englishmen are depicted as Christians and are in the New World to take it over but instead of them ‘converting’ the Native Americans to their faith, it is Pocahontas that shows John Smith the spiritual way of animism. This is shown through the song ‘Colors of the Wind’ in which Pocahontas reveals to him the wonders of nature and the spirit within all living things and tries to encourage him that things are not meant to be conquered but rather they are meant to be respected and harmonized with people. During this song it is as if nature comes alive where spirits are dancing in the wind. The film also uses the idea of animism through the depiction of human characteristics in nature and animals and trees. This is seen through Grandmother Willow who is a tree that displays a human face; she provides Pocahontas with spiritual guidance and Pocahontas confides in her when she is unsure of what path she should choose. Unlike Disney’s depiction of the Islamic religion as negative and inaccurate, this film is presenting animism in a positive and important way of living.” – Online source
In light of the above description of the movie, how likely is it that my daughter just randomly became interested in a fairly obscure religion like animism later in life? And how is it not connected to her current opinion that Christianity is a religion that seems on the surface to be violently opposed to nature? Is it really just a coincidence that my daughter’s specific spiritual struggle as an adult is the exact same conflict found in the symbolic narrative of this Disney film that pits “ugly Christians” against the more admirable environmentalism and heathen spiritualism of a noble Indian princess?
If you are a Christian parent with a young child, please take heed of my grave caution. You might think all those fantasy books and movies you let your children enjoy are nothing more than fleeting amusements for an innocent imagination. But these entertainments may hold a subtle, or not-so-subtle spiritual teaching that is absolutely contrary to Scripture, and you should never assume that your child will outgrow this corrupting influence when they become more mature. Such fanciful tales may very well plant the seeds of propaganda that lie dormant until the more productive and autonomous season of their adulthood.
Childhood is much like Eden, so be mindful of your parental duty within that landscape. Carefully scrutinize these seemingly-heroic fictional characters of the world and consider what they demonstrate to young empathetic minds captured by their mesmerizing grip. Are the fantastical actions and messages in word and lyric emulating true biblical godliness, or do they reveal a contrary spirit hissing forth subtle lies that undermine the truth of God. Who now has your child’s ear?
Yes, God in His gracious power can lay hold of your children and never let them go, but if you think Satan can’t be allowed to drill down to that buried reservoir of childhood memories and have that spiritual poison bubble up to the surface in their adulthood, you are sadly deceived. As Peter sharply warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Indeed, that “someone” may very well be a believer’s precious child who once upon a time knelt at the foot of the bed to sweetly pray to God.
I’ve seen what can happen with my own tear-filled eyes, and I’m ashamed I didn’t see that roaring lion coming for my little girl.
In a recent Steven Crowder YouTube video, Alexa, the interactive virtual assistant built into Amazon’s Echo, was asked the question, “Who is the Lord Jesus Christ?” Her answer was short and to the point: “Jesus Christ is a fictional character.”*
We may gasp at that shocking response, but the answer really shouldn’t surprise us. We live in a day and age where biblical truth is marginalized and the once-distinct line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Nowadays, a fetus isn’t a person, there are more than two genders, and Lucifer is a semi-fallen angel with a heart of gold on a successful Fox TV series.
No wonder Alexa can answer the question as she does. The existence of the biblical Jesus is up for debate in these wishy-washy times, so why mince words just to appease a fading orthodoxy in Christianity? Besides, any post-Christian church can still flourish these days without objective truth or a historical basis in fact. Today’s “spiritual-but-not-religious” people are more informed by their emotions than by an external revelation from the one true God. Jesus is now whomever they want Him to be, as long as it “feels right.”
Mark Steyn, in fact, gave the scathing opinion that many mainline Protestant churches, especially in Europe, have turned Jesus into nothing more than a soft-left political cliché. According to their sentimentality, Steyn writes:
“…if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an “Arms are for Hugging” sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.” ― America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.
So how did Jesus Christ, whose incarnation divided the world’s measurement of history, begin to be relegated to fictional status? The Bible has shown us that the attacks against Jesus have always been about tearing down His legitimacy in one way or another, and this is no exception. The current approach, however, is to lump the historical Jesus together with every “Christ figure” that mankind can conjure up in its imaginations. In fact, Jesus warns us of this sort of thing: “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Matthew 24:23–24).
Current signs indicate that we are allowing the real Jesus to lose His distinction among the mythological “Christs” of the present world. Therefore, who’s to say which Christ is hard fact and which Christ is idealized fiction? To be sure, Western society’s current obsession with mythology and other popular products of the imagination, both new and ancient, have brought us to a point where the biblical Son of God is no more significant than any other literary or cinematic character imbued with religious symbolism. Jesus, it seems, has become just another “archetype” among many in which to inform our postmodern spirituality.
The concept of archetypes, first theorized by Carl Jung, put forth the idea that universal mythic characters, or archetypes, reside within the collective unconscious of all humanity and have emerged through our art over the centuries. Not surprisingly, this Gnosis-based theory has so infiltrated the religious sentiments of the current population that a savior like Jesus Christ doesn’t have to exist in reality; it is only the internalized “idea” of what He symbolizes that brings one closer to enlightenment and divinity. Who needs the Son of God slain on the cross when we can find comfort in an imaginary archetype of sacrificial love and acceptance that allows each person to rise to the higher Self by their own power?
Sadly, the dependable eyewitness accounts of the New Testament now have to compete with the fantastical tales of the Marvel/DC universe, Hogwarts, Middle Earth, or even Narnia. In the end, the Gospel record is far too mundane for a world mesmerized by glowing screens filled with CGI candy. Jesus and the apostles, much to the chagrin of some, never wore superhero costumes, flew Firebolt brooms, or slew mythical creatures with swords or light sabers. Is it any wonder, then, that the mythic archetypes of our popular culture are considered more compelling than the real men of God who toiled in a ministry that often brought ostracism, suffering, and ignominious death?
The Confusion Of The Younger Generation
My immediate concern, of course, is for the younger generation growing up in this current crusade of make-believe and religious skepticism. It’s one thing for grown-ups to deal with these assaults upon truth, but young children are not intellectually developed enough to make a distinction between what is real and what is imaginary. Some people who are involved in early education, even in the most progressive schools, have found this to be true in their experience:
“A child who spends too much time in a world of fantasy may find it difficult to relate to others, to interact in a group, to be in the here and now. It can also be scary for a child… When a child under 5 or 6 hears a fairy tale with a wicked witch, they then also imagine this witch to be real as a child of this age has a very concrete understanding of the world. They visualize it as if it is real as they are not yet able to clearly separate fantasy from reality.” – Montessori And Pretend Play: A Complicated Question
This childhood interaction between fact and fiction can be even more complicated when you, as a Christian parent, begin to introduce your child to the real person of Jesus Christ. This should be an exciting and joyful truth to share with your little one as you begin the process of rearing your child under the instruction of God’s word, but it can oftentimes be a difficult education if Jesus has to compete with Santa Claus, Superman, or Harry Potter as the object of your child’s fledgling hero-worship.
Recent research has proven this confusion among children to be a real issue. Case in point, a 2014 research study at Boston University where it was discovered that young children with a religious background were less able to distinguish between fantasy and reality compared with their secular counterparts:
In two studies, 66 kindergarten-age children were presented with three types of stories: realistic, religious and fantastical. The researchers then queried the children on whether they thought the main character in the story was real or fictional.
While nearly all children found the figures in the realistic narratives to be real, secular and religious children were split on religious stories. Children with a religious upbringing tended to view the protagonists in religious stories as real, whereas children from non-religious households saw them as fictional.
Although this might be unsurprising, secular and religious children also differed in their interpretation of fantasy narratives where there was a supernatural or magical storyline.
“Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional,” wrote the researchers. “The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.”
– BBC News, Study: Religious Children Are Less Able To Distinguish Fantasy From Reality
The researchers concluded (as most college researchers are prone to do) that exposure to a religious education is probably the main culprit in a child’s difficulty in identifying fact from fiction. This conclusion, however, seems to indicate an anti-biblical bias that completely ignores the alternative possibility. Why is religion the problem? Isn’t it just as plausible that fictional stories involving magic are the real cause of confusion, especially when these fanciful tales, like Pharoah’s magicians, are the ones mimicking God’s miracles in the Bible?
In light of Scripture, this alternative conclusion is clearly confirmed. For starters, God is not a God of confusion. God’s word will not return void, but will accomplish what He pleases and will prosper in that thing for which He sent it. Over and over again, the Bible confirms that scriptural instruction from the word of God is essential to a child’s proper upbringing. It keeps them far from folly, equips them for good works, and makes them wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (Proverbs 22:15 / 2 Timothy 3:14-17).
The one thing that is likely to undermine this God-ordained training is when an unaware parent interjects inappropriate fantasy stories from movies and literature as a compatible resource for their child’s development. This misstep is compounded when the parent’s reason for doing this is not because Disney movies or similar entertainments have any legitimate educational value, but because they don’t want their children to miss out on what the popular culture has to offer, even if it contains unbiblical content. To be blunt, raising children with such an indiscriminate use of worldly influences is almost a cultural form of Moloch worship which the faithless Israelites succumbed to when they delivered their infant children over to paganism for the sake of their temporal prosperity (Psalm 106:34-39).
Think about the possible consequences. Should we really be surprised when little Suzy suddenly has trouble maintaining the reality of Jesus walking on water after watching Luke Skywalker use the Force to levitate himself? And what should Suzy’s parents do after this happens? Do they let Suzy try to figure it out for herself or do they attempt to adequately explain the unexplainable to a kindergartner? And does it really matter at this point?
Some may suggest (and rightly so) that we can’t always shield our children from the world’s influences and the confusion these things might engender. Surely this is part and parcel of the average childhood and will no longer be an issue once they grow older and gain the intellectual capacity and religious understanding to correctly divide fact from fiction or right from wrong.
This is a valid point, and yet not particularly the issue at hand. The concern is not so much in how such exposure might temporarily affect a child, but how it might impact the child later on and into adulthood. A childhood immersed in “make-believe” might well lead to a misguided adulthood that finds more “truth” in paganism or occultism than in the Bible. It might also lay the groundwork for the idea that God’s word is just another fairy tale of human invention. And eventually, these adults might find themselves falling into the ditch of full-blown skepticism or atheism.
This possibility, in fact, was recently explored in a research study titled, Make Believe Unmakes Belief?: Childhood Play Style and Adult Personality as Predictors of Religious Identity Change. Published in 2014, the study looked into the relationship between childhood imagination and religiosity, finding that people who intensely engaged in pretend play as children were more likely to change their religious identity later in life, with apostasy being the largest category. As reported by Merrill Miller:
“The study assessed the role of ‘pretend play’—creating and acting out imaginary scenarios in made-up worlds—in the childhoods of individuals… and found that individuals who did not change their religious or nonreligious identification were less likely to have engaged in pretend play. Converts and switchers, however, were more likely to have played pretend, and apostates were the most likely to have often engaged in pretend play.” – The Humanist, Are Nonbelievers More Imaginative? A New Study Suggests They Might Be
Why were children who actively pursued a fantasy world more likely to abandon their religious upbringing as adults?
“The study’s author, Christopher Burris speculated that the higher correlation for apostates is because of the shift from structure — common among religious institutions — to unstructured — that is found in pretend play. ‘The realm of the nonbeliever is much less structured than the realm of belief is,’ he explained. ‘People’s cognitive, intellectual and emotional needs are not met sufficiently by faith traditions, so they strike out on their own way.'” – Massarah Mikati, Deseret News
The Biblical Approach For Christian Parents
The Bible, of course, has already anticipated the possible spiritual fallout from cultivating a child’s wild imagination instead of grounding them in reality and the clear instruction of God’s revelation. The biblical remedy?
Train up a child in the way that he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
This is not to say that Christian parents shouldn’t encourage their child’s emerging creativity. But it should be grounded and fostered in reality. To truly instill an active and abiding love for God and neighbor, a child’s imagination must be connected to this real-life task and to exposing the child to those faithful people in their lives who emulate Christian duty in their various talents and occupations.
Even without the benefit of this biblical insight, Dr. Maria Montessori made the academic observation that reality was the key to a more profitable imagination:
“The true basis of the imagination is reality, and its perception is related to exactness of observation. It is necessary to prepare children to perceive the things in their environment exactly, in order to secure for them the material required by the imagination. Intelligence, reasoning, and distinguishing one thing from another prepares a cement for imaginative constructions… The fancy which exaggerates and invents coarsely does not put the child on the right road.” – Spontaneous Activity in Education p 254, Chapter IX
Don’t misunderstand this point. Pretend play is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an activity meant to assist children in processing the real world around them. “For example, if they see an excavator at work in the street,” writes one teacher, “they may then be attracted to working with a model of an excavator, to reading books about construction vehicles and to play based on this. This is a child’s imagination at work.”
The fact is, even children themselves would much rather engage with real-life activities when possible. Many educators are well aware that a child is much more excited by helping Mom or Dad prepare a meal in the kitchen than pretend-cook with a toy stove. And Scripture finds great wisdom in this approach. Notice how God instructs His people to teach their children in the course of their daily activities:
You shall teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:7
Here we see no significant time set aside for daydreaming or chasing after empty phantasms. This is an all-encompassing lifestyle that weaves God’s truth into one’s daily labor from dawn to dusk, and from childhood to adulthood. It is the command from Genesis and throughout the Bible to bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10) “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. – 1 Corinthians 14:20
The Mature Approach For All Christians
Where is this maturity of which Paul speaks? Truly, one of the problems with American Christianity today is that too many professing believers have failed to see the importance of sobriety and maturity as a biblical imperative for discipleship. They twist the meaning of Luke 18:16-17 and simply refuse to grow up. They see their childlike fascination with games, fairy tales, and the playthings of their youth as a crowning virtue instead of a possible impediment to spiritual growth. In turn, these parents immerse their children in the same enthrallments and find great satisfaction in molding little ones into their own image, forgetting that the Bible instructs them otherwise.
On the contrary, God is the only object of wonder we need to focus on:
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. – Psalm 78:4
I ask you: How could anyone fully submit to this sacred task if Jesus is only viewed as a mythological “archetype of Christ” or a good teacher who said wise things but never really existed except in our collective unconscious?
Any confusion about the reality of the Son of God is never going to serve this dark world, especially in an age where fantasy is actively usurping real life. As Christians, we have a holy calling to go into the world to make disciples, not to go into a fantasy-land to do so. God’s word and the Holy Spirit have shown us the only mind-altering vision we need to ignite our passion. We need to humbly submit to our Lord’s charge to deny self, follow Him, and stay true to our Gospel witness and testimony for the sake of the lost.
We know, of course, that shielding people, young or old, from the counterfeit fictions of this world won’t guarantee their eventual conversion. Ultimately, it is only by God’s grace and power that hearts are changed and the lost through faith are saved. Yet, we also know that if salvation does come to an individual, it won’t be because of fairy tales or myths, but despite them. Our job as Christians is to stay on point with the pure Gospel message, and not capitulate in any way to the world’s insatiable desire for an alternate reality. To give in to that desire does nothing more than bring confusion and cast doubt on the existence of the living Savior and the faith that brings eternal life.
The next time Alexa, or anyone else, dares to tell you that Jesus is a fictional character, ask them what the Bible says about Him. Why? Because the biblical answer to that question is the only response that truly holds the power of the Gospel to heal the brokenhearted, preach deliverance to the captives, recover the sight of the blind, and set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
“Whom do you say I am?” – Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:15
* The answer from Alexa was recorded unaltered and unedited on “Louder with Crowder,” and was verified by several Amazon product owners, who asked the same question and got the same answer. Since the airing of that controversial video, however, it appears Amazon has updated Alexa’s response to cite a Wikipedia entry on the historicity of Jesus Christ instead. For that, we are thankful.
Are you a coward?
That’s the horrifying question I asked myself as a believer the first time I read the 21st chapter of Revelation, as recorded by the Apostle John at Patmos. It is a rich and riveting account filled with vivid promises of final victory that captures the imagination and bring the believer to his knees in contemplation of an eternity without suffering, sadness, or even death. And yet, abruptly, in the middle of that hope-filled chapter where God lovingly wipes away every tear, we are confronted with the devastating flip-side of a much different outcome.
Some people, in various states of spiritual malignancy, will be tossed into the lake of fire and sulfur. And first on the list, and perhaps foremost, are the cowards:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8
This verse should immediately snatch the breath from any sensitive Christian. The “cowardly”? Is there a believer in all the world who has never struggled with doubt nor shrunk back in fear from earthly trouble? Is anyone thus saved? Am I saved?