Sunday, June 19, 2011

So you wanna be a rock star?

It is interesting how often we, as young Christians, rationalize our sin with the sins of others especially the sins of older Christians. We can plainly see their hypocrisy yet our own escapes our eyes. I am the chief sinner among this younger generation in this respect. Partly because I have a strong background in theology, and mostly because I am evil. Just to use an example, we as younger believers often don't fellowship with other believers in a corporate (aka going a building where believers gather on Sundays) setting because, "they gossip," "I don't have to be part of a church to be a Christian," "They are too judgmental," etc. However we so often fail to realize that we by making these excuses we are also being very judgmental. We don't like their sins, they don't like ours but neither of us are willing to examine ourselves first. We find it much easier to point out the sins of others. It also gives us this wonderful satisfaction, makes us feel morally superior. I'm a better person because I do this and not that. In a word bullshit. You're a prideful person who is substituting one sin for another. Get over yourself and shame those other, older Christians by your good works so they will see them and glorify your Father who is in heaven. I'm not a rock star, You're not a rock star, there is only one, the Rock Himself, Jesus Christ.

P.S. A buddy of mine and I came up with this analogy for post-modern philosophy but it also seems to work for post-modern off the cuff theology. Post-modern off the cuff theology is like midgets standing on the shoulders of giants punching them in the head. Lets try not to be these midgets.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Oh I Just Can't Wait To Be King! (Part 5)

Some of us fall by the wayside, and some of us soar to the stars, and
some of us sail through our troubles, and some have to live with the scars.
- The Circle of Life - Elton John Version.

The philosophy behind and expressed Disneyʼs The Lion King is expressed in a ways that not only explore the different elements of many different philosophical views, but also answers the questions as to which are better. On the philosophy of religion level of the film, while there is a clash of eastern verses western ideas, the film replies that the western religion is more correct than the eastern; however eastern religion does have its place in the world. The making of this pluralistic society is expressed in the final scene where Timon and Pumbaa are seen on Pride Rock with Simba and Rafiki. All of these views come together in a climactic moment, the baptism of Kiara. Though Simbaʼs responsibility has beaten out Timonʼs “Hakunah Matata” there is still a place for Hakunah Matata, just not in itʼs pure form. The reason the film resonates with the soul so well is because of this melding of worlds. It provides a catalyst for the discussion of religion in a pluralistic world.

Furthermore the film itself asks a number of questions of the audience before giving the aforementioned answers. Questions such, is it okay to simply run from the past or leave it behind? Such a question assumes much however the philosophy behind such an idea is quite important. It presupposes a past, and in doing so argues that the past can and does affect us. This is perhaps a linchpin in the entire philosophy of Hakuna Matata.

Finally the film encourages discussion with regards to the values of a society. What sort of ethic does a society seek to promote in the children of its age? What does
being a good father look like? Ought we be a care-free society as long as its not hurting anyone? While the film does provide answers to many of these questions within, it brings these ideas to the the minds of the viewers and in some sense helps them think through the issues.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Oh I Just Can't Wait To Be King! (Part 4)

Value Theory
There's a calm surrender to the rush of day, when the heat of the rolling world can be turned away. An enchanted moment, and it sees me through, it's enough for this restless warrior just to be with you.
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight? - Elton John Version

There are many teachable moments throughout the story. While it does not have a systematic view or expression of ethics there are certain inferences that can be drawn from the film. Each of these ideas has an ethical element to them.1 The story gives great value to the transcendental idea that there is something greater than oneself. That may be the idea of a kingdom, or even the spiritual life as seen with Mufasaʼs appearance in the clouds. This idea is of great consequence in a modern world that has all but lost the appreciation of the mysterious other. The film, through the use of different spiritualities, restores seeks to restore an appreciation for the other, or at least bring the other back into the philosophical conversation of the day. One might suggest that in some sense it has succeeded since the generation that would have seen this film as children are now embracing the transcendental more readily.

The idea of a father is very important in The Lion King. This is especially true considering the age in which the film was created. Mufasa, while representing God, also represents a good father that is not distant, as was the case in other Disney classics such as Bambi. The importance of the eminent father brings up a discussion of family. Mufasa is intimately involved in the life of Simba, teaching him, protecting him, caring for him. The film opened the discussion of the value of fatherhood and not just masculinity for the sake of masculinity. Interestingly enough, this film promotes an idea many christians sympathize with. That the father is the head of the home, he rules while the mother tends the children and cares for the den. Also interesting is the emphasis on obedience. Simba is disciplined when he disobeys Mufasa and suffers the consequences. This brings the concept of punishment back to the table in a psychology of family discussion.

The film also insists that families have both good and bad members, but they are still family. Even when confronted with the truth of Mufasa murder at the paws of Scar, Simba does not take vengeance, choosing to exile Scar rather than kill him. Simba shows mercy to his family, because family is family no matter how they wrong you. While on the topic of family it would be remiss to leave out the idea that friendship is a good basis for marriage. Simba and Nala are best friends, they are also married at the end of the film.

Perhaps the most important idea in the film to be expressed is the idea that good and evil are real and do not depend upon prospective. Minkoff uses light and dark to draw a clear contrast between good and evil. Scar is the only lion with a black mane. The elephant graveyard is very dark. Pride Rock is only seen at night when Scar is ruler, yet when Mufasa rules it is covered in light. This light returns when Simba regains the throne from Scar; beauty returns to the land.

Everyone dies. In the film both the good father and the bad uncle face the same fate. This seems to show the value of life, and that death is not understandable. Simba shows that he does not understand death when he curls up under the paw of Mufasa after the stampede. Again he is filled with grief at the death of Scar though not to the same extent. However after the death of Scar, Simba knows life goes on. After the death of his father he ran into a life of no worry living. The movie also emphasizes that Hakuna Matata does not work. If it did Simba would not have returned to Pride Rock. Unfortunately the upbeat nature of the song “Hakuna Matata” might detract from this point, for though it was just a stage for Simba, it is a favored song of those who see this film.2

Guilt and dishonesty will keep one from achieving who they ought to be. Simbaʼs guilt and hiding what he thought he had done to Mufasa caused him to go into exile. Furthermore it kept him from his relationship with Nala, at first. It was only after he faced his guilt and was honest about his past that the truth of Scarʼs treachery came to light. There is a great value in honesty and the moralism of the story would say that sometimes shadowy words might appear dishonest at times but they are not necessarily. Simba all but accuses Mufasa of lying because he is not always with him, however Mufasa, with the help of Rafiki shows this as merely a wrong view, not a lie.

1.) Christine Evely and Murray Evely. "The Lion King." Australian Screen Education 30 (2003): 143+. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 May 2011
2.) Annalee R. Ward, Mouse Morality: The Rhetoric of Disney Animated Film (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002), 30-32

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Oh I Just Can't Wait To Be King! (Part 3)

Lyrical Philosophy
Let me get this straight. You know her, and she knows you, but she wants to eat him. And everyone's okay with that? DID I MISS SOMETHING?
- Timon

The score of the film adds a great amount of insight to the understanding of the film as it is classified as both an Animated Feature and a Musical. “Nants ingonyama agithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama Siyo Nqoba Ingonyama nengw' enamabala” the opening lines to the film are Swahili meaning “Here comes a lion, Father. Oh yes itʼs a lion. Weʼre going to conquer, a lion and a leopard come to this open place.” This chant is repeated for more than a four minutes as the sun rises and Simba is christened. This opening song informs the view as to what the story is going to be about. It also displays an idea that the earth is one, there is some spiritual other that directs life but persons walk in. This form of compatabilism is evidenced by the later lyrics “It's the Circle of Life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place on the path unwinding.” Through the film Simba is moved by the circle of life, yet he must “take his place in the circle of life.” There is indeed room for some Hakuna Matata, but not to the extent that apathy wins the day. One can see where Pinski gets the idea that Hinduism influenced this film. Life is cyclical in this film, however the Hindu concept of reincarnation is not found interestingly enough. Instead there is a concept of disembodied immortality found in the later portion of the film which seems to draw more on a neo-platonism than Hindu concepts. Mufasa has escaped the body and is “guiding” his son Simba. One can see a link to the Star Wars series where though apart from the body Obi-wan Kenobi guides Luke Skywalker.

“I Just Canʼt Wait to be King” captures the ideal of absolute independence, even though it is used as a distraction in the film. “No one saying do this... No one saying be there... No one saying stop that... No one saying see here... Free to run around all day... Free to do it all my way.” This is the childish idea of complete independence; actions without consequences. It is important that this song is placed just before Simba and Nala enter the Elephant graveyard. Minkoff brings Simbaʼs idea of a life without consequences and independence to a state of complete dependence on Mufasa for salvation. Also Simba is forced to face the consequences of placing not only his own life in danger but also Nalaʼs. He must face his disappointed father and learn his small paws are not ready to fill Mufasaʼs prints. Unfortunately for Simba this lesson must be learned over and over. It takes the death of Mufasa, years in exile, a stern word from Nala, and the advice of Rafiki to allow Simba to finally understand what it means to be King. That with that greater independence he so longed for, come greater responsibilities. This harkens back to the words of Christ, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”1

All great films have a villain and The Lion King does not disappoint in this respect. Scar is a pinnacle of treachery and villainy. The song “Be Prepared” shows the depths of evil the human (or lion) heart can attain. Arrogance, cunning, and deceit are all displayed in the lyrical philosophy of this song. Scar sets himself above the Hyenas, calling their minds “warthog's backsides.” He continues to display cunning and deceit when he states he is planning “the coup of the century.” This of course he fulfills when he kills Mufasa in the gorge scene. While Simba in “I Just Canʼt Wait to be King” was seeking independence, Scar represents blind, cut throat ambition. While the two songs have much in common, their starting points are different.

Another philosophical song is “Hakuna Matata.” Indeed Hakuna Matata “means no worries” and is a “problem-free philosophy.” This is the philosophical outlook of Timon and Pumbaa which can basically be summarized as “Stuff Happens.” After the death of his father Simba seems to try to deal with the pain of that death by avoiding life. Here Minkoff seems to be delving into the psychology of loss. Simba grows up, literally and figuratively to the tune of this song. This is a very common way for many people to deal with loss. Unfortunately if the story of The Lion King teaches us anything, it is that the philosophy of Hakuna Matata does not work and is not fulfilling. It is merely the band-aid placed over the soul. It lacks the power to be lived. It is for this reason that Simba returns to Pride Rock. In this sense, in the aformentioned clash between the east and the west the west comes out ahead.

The final lyrical song of this film is a piece called “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” This is the only lyrical song that takes place when during Simbaʼs adult life.2 Exploring the nature of what can be expressed in a relationship this song deals with brotherhood, the past, and coming of age. The song is less of a love song that one might expect for a song with that title. Nala is seeking to see Simba become great, but Simba is unable get over his past. The song asks the question why lies, or omissions of truth are acceptable in a relationship? There is also some verbal irony in the lyrics Timon opens the song with a statement about disaster being in the air, Nala and Simba are in a silent fight yet the song continues “Can you feel the love tonight? The peace the evening brings. The world, for once, in perfect harmony, with all its living things.” All the characters at this time are in conflict, even if it is only a minor one. Minkoffʼs inclusion of this song suggests that in the course of interpersonal relationships persons often view them with rose colored glasses on.

1.) Luke 12:48 (English Standard Version)
2.) The Circle of Life is repeated at the end but only the chorus and no new lyrics are added.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Oh I Just Can't Wait To Be King! (Part 2)

Plot View Points
I'm gonna be the ruler of most everything around, from the grandest of the
mountains to the humble common ground, my reign will be a superawesome thing. Oh, I just can't wait to be king!
- I Just Canʼt Wait to be King - Elton John Version

While many films may seek to expand philosophy or show different philosophical views The Lion King touches the soul in a way that these other films can only hope to do. This seems to be due to its ability to connect to an audience on different layers. The first layer is, of course, the basic story outlined above with fun little lion cubs instead of people. This layer appears to be made to resinate with children, yet it is this layer that allows the film to grasp the depth needed. A smooth lake often hides its true depth from its viewers until the waves begin to crash. The second level of understanding is where the film gets interesting. Annalee R. Ward suggests that much of the story resembles the Creation, Fall, Redemption paradigm of the Christian Tradition.1 She believes that there are several places indicating this the first of which is the opening scene where the good king Mufasa, representing God, having a son and ruling over a beautiful land where everything appears to be at peace. The second motif is when Simba is told where he can go, “everything the light touches is our kingdom,” however Scar, representing the tempting serpent, twists Mufasaʼs words stating that “only the bravest lions” go to the “shadowy place.” A place expressly forbidden to Simba by Mufasa. In a step away from the biblical narrative, likely for feminist reasons, Simba tempts Nala to go to the “shadow places,” a reversal of the biblical story. Yet true to the bible, both Simba and Nala know what they are doing is wrong and do it anyways, much like Adam and Eve. This is the beginning of Scarʼs plot to kill Mufasa and Simba, taking his place as king.2 Indeed, Simba is exiled from Pride Rock and Scar does become the King, much like Adamʼs exile and Satanʼs reign as the God of this world.3

The third motif is Simbaʼs flight, he is in the desert wandering and is saved by Timon and Pumbaa, much like Mosesʼ flight from Pharaoh in Exodus 2. However the story would not be complete without a return of the King. After years of carefree living, Simba, like Moses, receives a vision from God, that is Mufasa, telling him to “take his place in the circle of life.” So Simba journeys back to Pride Rock to claim his throne. He finds that the beautiful world he loved was destroyed, however he must fight for it because if he doesnʼt “fight for it who will?” Simba finally defeats Scar, but does not deal the killing blow, rather the hyaena hordes betray Scar. The story ends with Simba returning from the dead, metaphorically speaking, as the hero and warrior savior of the Pride Lands and a new creation of Pride Rock, much like the new Jerusalem of

Yet there is also an eastern element to the story. This element is represented by the lifestyle of Timon and Pumbaa. Their way draws upon the Taoist idea of Wu Wei, or living at harmony with nature.5 Timon and Pumbaaʼs philosophy takes over Simbaʼs life from the time he is very small until he is all but fully grown. This lifestyle, epitomized in the song “Hakuna Matata” shows a real and working philosophy of apathy. That is a philosophy that will not go contrary to nature but rather much like Wu Wei go with the flow of lifeʼs river.6

Moreover, Rafiki the wise shaman is the bridge bringing these eastern and western ideas together. He is the priest who preforms the “baptism” of Simba, but also teaches Simba that his fatherʼs spirit lives within. Rafikiʼs major scenes seem to involve the combining of these two worlds into a more pluralistic world. The “baptism7” of Simba occurs while the “Circle of Life” is playing in the background. When Simba meets Rafiki before his vision of Mufasa, Simba is engaged in a crisis of existential proportions. He is at a moment where he cannot simply “Hakuna Matata” away his past. Rafiki from the Lotus position begins to explain to Simba who those touching the lives of others live within. This image seeks to combine the western idea of God living within, with the eastern idea of ancestor worship. Finally at the end of the film, Rafiki once again dons the mantle of priest to preform the “baptism” of Simbaʼs daughter Kiara again to the tune, the circle of life.

Still the religious east-west reading of the film is only the second of many levels within the film. There is a different east-west reading that some critics find attractive. This reading see the film as one of conquest. Mufasa was the good king reigning over Africa. He and his ancestors represent many years of unadulterated reign over the African continent. Scar symbolizes western nations ruining this unspoiled land. Simbaʼs journey is then to be understood as Africaʼs struggle to find itself and his return as the regaining of Africa by Africans. This may be seen most clearly in the election of Nelson Mandela, who was of African Royalty and elected in the same year as The Lion Kingʼs release.8 While this is an interesting reading it does leave certain portions of the film unexplained. There is also a LGBT reading of the film emphasizing the relationship between Timon and Pumbaa is not one of mere friends.9 Others believe there is a large element of racism being promoted through this film, due to the casting of the hyenas.10 This seems rather strange as James Earl Jones was cast to play Mufasa.

Mark Pinskiʼs view on the story is much different from that of Ward. Pinski sees the story as much less influenced by the Christian tradition; instead his view is that Minkoff is drawing on the Hindu tradition, citing the lyrics of the opening song, “The Circle of Life.”11 He also sees certain aspects of the of Scar and Mufasa as economic ideas. Scar is viewed as a welfare state, promising free meat to the hyenas. Scarʼs rule is symbolic of the Soviet Russian state, with the hyenas as the proletariat and the lions as the bourgeoisie.12 This view is quite interesting as it ultimately condemns communism as a bad system that will cause ruin to the land. The emphasis on strong and wise authority is shown to be of the utmost importance since Scarʼs state falls to pieces in the few short years of his rule. Accordingly many Marxists would suggest that Scarʼs reign was not a pure communism, rather a Stalinism.

1.) Annalee R. Ward, Mouse Morality: The Rhetoric of Disney Animated Film (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002), 14-17.

2.) Ibid.

3.) Genesis 3:23-24 cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4

4.) Ward, 17.

5.) Jennifer Moore, Understanding Taoism Origins*beliefs*practices*holy Texts*sacred Places (London: Watkins Publishing, 2011), 34.

6.) Ibid.

7.) This “baptism” appears similar to those seen the the Anglican, Roman Catholic, or certain Presbyterian churches. However rather than crossing Simba, Rafiki simply creates as single line across his head.

8.) Mark I. Pinski, The Gospel According to Disney, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 159.

9.) Ibid., 157.

10.) Henry A. Giroux, The Mouse That Roared, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 105.

11.) Pinski, 154.

12.) Ibid., 154-55.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. - The Apostle Paul