I like dreams. I enjoy dreaming. I love fantasizing about far-away worlds where I can fly, be all-powerful, and make everything happen if I just believe.
And so did Walt Disney.
And so have the millions of children that have attended his theme parks, viewed his movies, and watched his plays each year. I suspect that most of these children have loved dreaming, fantasizing about far-away worlds where they could fly, be all-powerful, and make everything happen if they just believed.
On a recent Disney cruise with my own children, I couldn’t have said it any better than the cruise director did at the end of a stage performance of Disney’s Believe. After the performance, he asked the audience to cheer if they wanted him to ask the captain to turn the ship around and head back to the Bahamas for another trip. Of course, his question was responded to with a most enthusiasticyes! He quickly responded, “Uh…no…sorry…not gonna happen. Sorry kids, there’s not enough pixie dust on this ship to make it happen.”
Back to reality and out of fantasy land. Sorry kids. We live here, in this real world, and not in Never Never Land.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have dreams. We should all dream big! How else would we set and exceed our achievements and have gotten where we are as a civilization today? I want my kids to believe in themselves and strengthen their abilities, contributing positively to the world they live in, of course! Walt and Roy Disney certainly created an enterprise of almost unbelievable proportions. And had they not believed that they could create it, it likely wouldn’t have been so.
As I was riding on Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth, I noticed the ride showed the scientifically accepted evolutionary model on the ride as it takes you on a journey from the beginning of earth through the civilizations. I thought it was a great ride, but it made me wonder if Walt Disney was a religious fellow.
Before inquiring about Disney, I firmly believed (like others I have talked to) that Walt was cryogenically frozen in hopes of being resuscitated one day in the future. Sorry, urban legend believers, it’s not true. My assumption, based on this, was that Walt Disney might have been some sort of trans-humanist. I also would have guessed (incorrectly) that, because he was in the entertainment world, he might have been a liberal democrat. Not only did I learn that Walt Disney was notcryogenically frozen, but he was a congregationalist and quite conservative in his political views. He was the quintessential Judeo-Christian American businessman, and I doubt he gave much thought to reconciling his religion with what he was building. He was an enterprising, talented man who undoubtedly gave his all to building the Disney brand. But how does anyone, let alone an obviously intelligent man like Disney reconcile his religious beliefs with the theme park he is building?
That question really hit home while I was on that Epcot ride, which depicted the evolution of the earth and all the species on it. The evolutionary theory is firmly rooted in scientific inquiry, and is one of the best examples of the rigors of the scientific method we have. I thought it was great that it was at the park. Would anyone have jumped off that ride and said it was all made up? In fact, many religious fundamentalists might have, simply because it showed evolution, although presumably they wouldn’t have attended in the first place1.
I’m not arguing that it is bad to tell fairy tales or stories. In fact, fairy tale and storytelling in and of itself is morally neutral. It is through storytelling and the oral (increasingly now more written and digital) tradition that cultures share entertainment, education, norms and means, and instill moral values to future generations. But the question is begged – how can any faith condone telling children the stories and fairy tales depicted at Walt Disney World are obviously false, but be so comfortable and bold as to depict the fairy tales of the Bible as true? The common themes between religion and fantasy land are quite apparent. Both depend on a whole lot of faith, belief, blessings, and miracles.
As Walt wrote:
…I am personally thankful that my parents taught me at a very early age to have a strong personal belief and reliance in the power of prayer for Divine inspiration2.
This is enough evidence that he simply accepted, like so many others, the indoctrination of what he had been taught without ever really questioning it.
Furthermore, Walt’s faith, the Congregationalists, happen to be among the most liberal Christians around, with a very appealing type of Christianity that sounds really good on the surface. Rather than confront the tough questions, they simply avoid them. But in the end when pushed on the matter they, like any other religion, will always appeal to a logical fallacy or special pleading to make their case3.
I’m certainly not saying that Walt Disney was a bad man. I would argue that he, like most religious people, gave little rational thought to deeply and philosophically reconciling his religious beliefs with reality. People generally accept the biblical account based on what they’ve been taught by their parents and elders and just never question it.