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Approaching Disney as Doorway to Apologetic Dialogue

While there is certainly value in drawing out multiple themes found in a particular Disney narrative, as demonstrated in Disney & the Moral Imagination (Book II of the Disney & Apologetics duology), it is also worth considering what is being communicated across a range of narratives within Disney’s animated musical canon—whether common background moral assumptions implicitly embedded within individual stories bring to light a moral metanarrative observable across Disney films. Because of Disney lore’s ability to speak to our deepest moral convictions, and because these convictions align with monotheism in general, and Christian theism in particular, Disney stories lend themselves well to moral and theological dialogue—especially conversations exploring the intersection of beauty, love, goodness, happiness, justice, and portrayals, especially kingdom-centered depictions, of an ideal “ever-after.” This is the conversation that Jeremy E. Scarbrough and Pat Sawyer promise to draw out in Disney as Doorway to Apologetic Dialogue (Book I of the Duology).

Stories are powerful, and Disney understands this. This is why Up chooses to begin with a story, and it is actually the most moving part of the film—so powerful in fact that this tale of Carl and Ellie ultimately provides the thrust to drive Mr. Fredricksen’s story forward when Ellie is no longer there to journey with him. Recall George MacDonald’s claim that “the best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is—not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him.” We know there is something special about human persons and also that they belong in fellowship with one another. Disney presses this point, and even its non-human characters often stand in as personifications of humanity in order to appeal to that sensitivity. Moreover, the Kingdom for which we long and the community we desire—Kumandra—is a place where goodness goes beyond justice. Disney seems to get this as well, as Disney stories often attempt to appeal to that sentiment and rouse a desire for that Kingdom-end. In The Gospel According to Disney, Mark Pinsky wrote, “There is relatively little explicit Judeo-Christian symbolism or substance in seventy years of Disney’s animated features, despite the frequent, almost pervasive use of a theological vocabulary... The Disney empire, by its founder’s design, is a kingdom of magic, almost totally without reference to any kingdom of heaven.” While Pinsky may be right concerning the former statement, that latter clause requires qualification. While Disney may never have referenced heaven or an explicitly theological aspect of the good life and the ever-after—except perhaps when Bagheera (The Jungle Book) quotes John 15:13 directly—we have shown throughout this work that Disney’s interest in the Kingdom-end, especially in so far as it entails a goodness beyond justice and a lovingkindness which emanates from the virtuous hearts of its characters, aligns strikingly with Jesus’s moral teaching. Disney may not call it by a theological name, but Disney stories certainly seem to aim for a theological end. Moreover, Disney tales understand that virtue ethics plays a significant role in preparing the hearts of Kingdom citizens.

 

This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.

 

Jeremy E. Scarbrough holds a PhD in music (emphasis in philosophy, namely concerning the intersection of aesthetics, ethics, and education) from the University of Mississippi, an MA in Christian Apologetics, an MA in Theological Studies, an MME in Music Education, and a BA in Music (Vocal Performance). He has taught music and philosophy at the high school and college levels. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Philosophy for Pasco-Hernando State College, just north of Tampa, FL. He has contributed a chapter on heavy metal in Music, Theology, and Justice (Lexington Books, 2017) and a chapter on Marvel Comics’ Venom in Theology and the Marvel Universe (Lexington Books, 2019). His teleological philosophy of music (and its connection to our deep-seated convictions of justice) has been published (2022) in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, an international journal of interdisciplinary and interfaith dialogue.


Pat Sawyer has an M.A. in communication studies and a Ph.D. in educational studies and cultural studies. He is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is a member of Heterodox Academy. Pat is on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed education journal, Philosophy, Theory, and Foundations in Education. His research interests are along three lines: cultural studies, media studies, and higher education. Pat is an active speaker in the academy and has presented his scholarship at a number of conferences and universities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. His work is published in academic journals and edited academic books as well as popular magazines and outlets including The American Conservative, The Gospel Coalition, and The Federalist, among others. He is co-author of the upcoming book, Critical Dilemma: The Rise of Critical Theories and Social Justice Ideology—Implications for the Church and Society. Pat is married with three children and a long-time member of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

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