The scene: The African plain comes alive with the gathering of zebras, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, all the animals on a majestic pilgrimage to see their future king, the cuddly newborn lion cub, Simba. After receiving the blessing of Rafiki, the lion pride's shaman monkey, the animals big and small all bow on bended knee in worship to the uplifted cub. In the background plays the song, "The Circle of Life" - "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/ In the circle, the circle of life."
Any parent with children older than about 8 knows the scene described above well, and most can still sing the song. Disney movies are like that -full of wonderfully creative characters, compelling story lines and memorable music. Millions of families across America watched the popular movie The Lion King when it came out in 1993, delighting in Simba and the antics of his friends Pumbaa and Timon singing "Hakuna Matata." Pure Disney genius. But what worldview was being absorbed by millions of impressionable preschoolers? Is the concept of the "circle of life" true according to God's Word? Do the ideas in the movie square with the Christian worldview?
Like everything we watch, listen to or read, The Lion King contains a worldview. And unless you know what you're looking for, unless you have a strong understanding of your own worldview, it is often difficult to discern.
So what's the worldview in The Lion King? Despite a handful of good moral lessons, it is not biblical Christianity. The notion of the "circle of life," that history is circular and the present is heavily influenced by the spirits of one's ancestors, is closer to Eastern pantheism or native spiritualism than the linear view of history presented in the Bible. But how is the average parent to know and discern the worldview, and how can parents equip their children to evaluate worldview for themselves?
Worldview is the latest buzzword in Christian circles. We're all told we need one, and whether we know it or not, we all have one. But what is a worldview? Literally, of course, worldview is how a person views the world. A person's worldview consists of the values, ideas or the fundamental belief system that determines his attitudes, beliefs and ultimately, actions. Typically, this includes his view of issues such as the nature of God, man, the meaning of life, nature, death, and right and wrong.
We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. Increasingly, our media culture is playing a key role in shaping worldview. We are a culture saturated with powerful media images in movies, television, commercials and music. And like the entertaining and seemingly benign Lion King, what we watch, listen to and read, impacts the way we think. Consistently consuming entertainment with false ideas will inevitably distort our view of the world.
Although the Bible never uses the word "worldview," in Colossians 2: 6-8, we are commanded to be able to discern and discard false philosophy-which is essentially worldview. "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ."
Jeff Baldwin, a fellow at the Texas-based Worldview Academy, says worldview "is like an invisible pair of eyeglasses-glasses you put on to help you see reality clearly. If you choose the right pair of glasses, you can see everything vividly and can behave in sync with the real world. ... But if you choose the wrong pair of glasses, you may find yourself in a worse plight than the blind man - thinking you see clearly when in reality your vision is severely distorted." To choose the "right" glasses, you have to first understand and embrace the true worldview.
As an adult, you already have a worldview. The challenge is to formalize it by asking probing questions to help you understand what you believe and why you believe it. During this process, if your thinking is inconsistent with biblical teaching, you can discard the false ideas and replace them with truth. A number of worldview resources are available to help you through this formalizing process. Different resources employ somewhat different approaches, but they all provide foundational answers to the big questions of life.
In my teaching of worldview and Great Books to homeschool students ages 12 to 18, I've used a series of seven questions to help them formalize their own worldview and to help them evaluate competing worldviews. These seven questions are common to many worldview resources and provide an effective tool for adults, as well as teenagers, particularly to evaluate the worldview of books, music and movies:
A similar seven-question approach is found in the excellent worldview resource, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James W Sire, and also in Worldviews of the Western World, a three-year worldview and Great Books curriculum for homeschoolers written by David Quine. Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live uses a four-question approach. It doesn't matter how many questions you use, just that you begin asking the big questions of life in four key areas-deity, origin, nature and rules- and then answer them based on Scripture.
Finding answers using the Bible provides the foundation of the Christian or biblical worldview. For example, someone who holds the biblical worldview would answer the question, "Is there a god and what is he like?" using what he knows to be true about the character of God according to Scripture. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign, personal, infinite, transcendent, just, omniscient, immanent, and good. These attributes are not exhaustive by any means, but do establish the basic character of God. This checklist provides a starting point for identifying false or competing worldviews. Answers to the other questions can be derived from Scripture as well, and are presented in numerous worldview books or works of Christian apologetics.
Once you can answer those questions clearly for yourself based on Scripture, you then can apply them to everything you watch, read or listen to. For example, last year's Academy Award for Best Picture went to the film, Gladiator. In answer to "Is there a god in the movie and what is he like? "-there was not only a god, but many gods, which was the prevailing religious view in ancient Rome. In addition, early in the movie, the lead character Maximus sets up a shrine in his tent, and prays to these gods daily to watch over his wife and child. Yet these gods could not offer the true hope of salvation or deliverance through Jesus Christ.
What about the basis of ethics and morality in the movie? It does portray virtue in Maximus' loyalty and devotion to the dying emperor of Rome. Yet his morality and code of ethics is driven by his iron will to survive to avenge the murders of his wife and son. We see that, like Maximus, each character has his or her own set of moral guidelines or ethical agenda, depending on their individual situation. The morality of Maximus' trainer is guided by his greed and desire for notoriety based on his gladiators' performance. He has no ethical problem sending innocent men to a gory, violent death to turn a profit or increase his social standing. Likewise, the Emperor Commodius' sister takes Maximus into her confidence in a plot to avenge his family's slaying, only to betray him later to save her own son. The morality and ethics in the movie are not based on the belief in transcendent truth, as in the biblical worldview, but on what is expedient for each character's circumstances--utilitarianism, or moral relativism. Similarly, the other questions can also be applied to the movie, then compared to the biblical worldview. Despite portions of the movie that uphold virtue and self-sacrifice, the worldview of Gladiator as a whole is not consistent with the biblical worldview. The powerful images, attractive packaging of false ideas, and emotional manipulation pervasive throughout the entertainment industry demonstrate the need for Christians to have a clear worldview understanding.
Tracy F. Munsil was with the Center For Arizona Policy when this article was written. She has taught worldview to high school.