The Kingdom of Disney and the Kingdom of God
Daniel Darlingis the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He previously served as the Senior VP for Communications at National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and VP of Communications…More
- 2013 Jan 09
As I write this, our family is wrapping up a long vacation in Orlando, Florida. We took our kids to a long-awaited, much-anticipated trip to Disney World. Specifically we spent our time at the Magic Kingdom, the epicenter of Disney world. Even though it was a herculean effort to lead four children through the teaming masses of people at the park (a clerk told us it was the busiest day of the year, go figure), we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was way more fun than I envisioned and our kids had a grand time.
I was struck by the idea of Disney World. Christians have long had their beefs with this iconic entertainment company. There was the famous ill-fated boycott in the 90's. There is the company's profiteering off of violent media. And some feel that Disney introduces secular themes through the cute back door of seemingly innocent characters. There is substance to all of those complaints. It's not too hard to see in the Disney ethos a sort of pantheism, that there is no transcendant God, but that the real hope for the world lies within your heart and my heart. Good parents subtly correct this with biblical theology.
Still, the idea of the Magic Kingdom is one worth celebrating, I think, in so much as it speaks to the longing in each of us for place, a time, an environment where all of our hopes and dreams are met. Where evil is destroyed, life is fun and creative, and beautiful. I don't think this idea originated with Disney. I think his idea originated with God, who once created such a perfect place called Eden. Eden, of course, was not Disney and Disney is not Eden. But it was the place where God dwelled and where life was as it should be, as it was created to be. The Bible tells us that Eden was violated by a destructive enemy and a force called sin. And if you look closely at almost every fair tale that originates from Disney and others, you will find a glimpse of this story.
The Bible also tells us that a Kingdom is coming one day that will spell the end of violence and war, of evil and death. That our hopes and dreams will finally be consummated and life will be as it should be. As we all know it was intended to be. Unlike the Magic Kingdom, the hope for this new city is not within us, but in the King who defeated the enemy and will usher in the Kingdom. Pantheism tells us that we can, by mere belief, usher in the Kingdom. But we all know that is not true. Human history tells us that man cannot create utopia. He can try. He can create pretty cool things, like Disney World which have echoes and glimpses of a perfect Kingdom. But ultimately someone outside of us must do this work. Someone transcendant and powerful and sovereign.
So, yes, Disney gets much of the theology wrong. It's Walt Disney's attempt to create Heaven on earth without the ruler of Heaven. And yet we shouldn't dismiss Disney World as mere fantasy in that we shouldn't imagine Heaven will be any less wonderful than Disney World. We should know that Heaven will be much greater than Disney world.
Sometimes Christian teaching makes Heaven seem, well, boring. Like going to Disney World in Orlando is way better than going to Heaven. As if Heaven will be a bunch of Christians in suits singing four verses of every hymn without smiling. As if Heaven will be uncreative and unattractive. But if you read the Bible, you will know that Heaven will be anything but. The Kingdom of God will not be any less than Disney world and will be so much more. God, the first Artist, the original Creative, the source of all joy and love and goodness will design a place that will make Disney look like a fold-up carnival in a Kmart parking lot. Because at the center will not be the misplaced hope in the human heart, but the glory of God and the light of His Son, Jesus Christ.
So until that Kingdom is fully here, let's celebrate glimpses of it when we see them, however flawed, however obscured by the dark glass of a fallen world. When it comes to Disney, let's dismiss the faulty theology, but celebrate it's creativity and beauty.