The Christian Paranoia Industrial Complex

Disneys Mulan came out when I was 12, and youd better believe I was excited about it. I was the girl who reacted to dresses and stockings with outrage and got big heart eyes at the sight of swords, so a girl dressing up as a guy and going to war was exactly my jam. Shortly after watching it, I remember climbing on a playground after church with a friend, while my brothers and I quoted the funny parts at each other. I asked her if shed seen it yet.

No…” she replied. I heard it promotes ancestor worship and stuff.

This caught me up.  Yes, in the movie Mulan prays to her ancestors for help and protection, and in true Disney fashion, the ghostly ancestors are seen discussing her plight.  12-year-old-me wasnt sure how to respond.  It didbut it hadnt occurred to me that it did.

I guess…” I said.  Kind of.

I’ll convert for the parties.

I found myself thinking about this exchange recently, while my husband and I watched through Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix.  I realize we are WAY behind the times, but wow did we enjoy it, despite neither of us really being anime fans.  It was such a great story, with excellent characters, and it was deeply refreshing to see a fantasy series that wasnt set in pseudo-medieval or pseudo-viking times.  The show also depicts a variety of ethnicities and cultures, most of which are based on eastern civilizations.  Its great.

Of course, there are references to various elements of eastern spiritualitiesreincarnation, qi energy, a spirit world, and featuring heavily in one episode of season two and recurrently through season three chakras.  

During that chakra-heavy episode, I couldnt help but hear my friends voice NoI heard it promotes eastern mysticism.

If this kind of exchange sounds weird to you, youre not alone.  Theres a whole (very right-wing) Christian industrial complex around promoting fear of the Other,and it takes a little unpacking to make sense of.  In case youre doubting me, heres what Plugged In, Focus on the Familys media review arm, has to say about Avatar:

“More disturbing is Avatar’s mendacious spiritualism—explained, demonstrated and attractively packaged for young viewers.”

From this point of view, the depiction of any non-Christian worldview or spirituality is an insidious attempt at swaying young minds.  Even if it’s presented as fantasy.  They dont delineate between depiction and promotion.

Honestly though I’d do this every time I was at the beach if I could

Obviously the two are different. Depicting something is very straightforward, while promoting something has by definition an ulterior motive.  You promote something because you want buy-in: youre selling a product, a movement, a projectsomething that requires a person to invest something of themselves, their time, their vote, or their cash.  So how can you mix these two up?

The answer is that far-right Christians are so used to promoting an ideology that its hard to imagine any other way of doing things.

Look at nearly all of Kirk Cameron’s filmography.  Look at companies like Sherwood Pictures.  These are all universally terrible and un-entertaining movies for a reason: theyre sermons in disguise.  They do more than depict Christianity, they promote it.  Its part of a larger sentiment that you are constantly onin an evangelical sense: You are supposed to be making converts at all times.

This fails for obvious reasons.  Terrible movies like Fireproof dont have a sliver of appeal for anyone who isnt already a Christian.  Its called preaching to the choir.”  Indeed, the only appeal of such (terrible) movies is their Christian message.

And it gets worse than that.  If you cant depict other spiritualities even in a fantasy setting youd better be using Christianity, right?  Well, unless youre doing that in order to evangelize, then youre doing it wrong.  Plugged In refers to Supernatural which trades largely in angels and demons as too full of “spiritual gunk” to get a passing grade.  If youve seen Gordons post on the upcoming Lucifer you know the drill.  

Thats the problem with an ulterior motive becoming the only thing that drives you: you forget that not everyone is like that.  

Did the writers behind Mulan want to convert kids to ancestor worship? Its pretty unlikely.  Did the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender want to convince as many kids as possible to try and unlock their chakras?  I doubt it.  But did the people behind Veggietales want to spread a message of Christian values to kids?  You bet they did.  

At least they had the good grace to include some silly songs while theyre at it.

Of course the real problem is bigger than kids cartoons.  Its exactly this kind of thinking that created the notion of The Gay Agenda.”  The notion that the Gaysare out to convert people into homosexuality is ludicrous for obvious reasons, but when you live your life as an effort to convert people to your beliefs, its easy to see a movement pushing acceptance as something similar.

I really suspect that this feeds into the larger paranoia that the world is out to get them, and is partially why the particularly zealous among the far-right get that weird gleam in their eye when you start talking about martyrs.  Add that to a completely thorough misunderstanding of the situation (and some seriously unscrupulous lawyers) and you get Kim Davis being hailed as a hero.

Every time something starts gaining momentum in pop culture, far-right Christians seem to have to take a stand against it.  I remember reading a critique of Pokemon that suggested that characters like Victreebel could be referencing the ancient Babylonian god “Bel”.  In fairness, they followed that by admitting that it could be just because it’s shaped like a bell.  But when this is so obviously the answer, why would you even mention pagan gods if you werent trying to stoke the fears of Christian parents?  

Nope, definitely the Babylonian thing…

Similarly, the previously mentioned Plugged In review of Avatar compares the shows violence to that of the Matrix.  Having recently caught the Matrix Reloaded on TV, I can assure you that the two dont compare.  They might both draw on eastern martial artsbut I promise you thats not what a concerned Christian parent will take away.  Instead, using the Matrix as a comparison implies bloody and graphic violence.  

And wildly inferior animation. I mean seriously though…

…just look at that firebender go!

The thing about this about all of this is that manufacturing fear among your congregation is good for business.  Not only butts in seats, but also some decent coin for Kirk and his aforementioned terrible movies.

Look: we could all use some decent critical thinking skills when it comes to the media we consume.  Its just a good practice to have.  But its extra important when groups are manufacturing paranoia for profit.  Not only do you deprive yourself of some great stuff, but you risk escalating it into something far more serious and ultimately self-defeating.

EMILY was born and raised in British Columbia, and finished her BA at Thompson Rivers University.  She currently works full time in Design and Marketing while drawing, painting and writing instead of sleeping.  She wants you to know you’re all very lucky there’s only one Zuko gif in this whole thing because the exiled prince trope is also exactly her jam. Follow her on twitter if that’s what you’re into.


2 responses to “The Christian Paranoia Industrial Complex

  1. MORE ZUKO!!!!!

    Also yes- we see other’s actions through our own motivations so there’s a lot to be said for the idea that the constant pressure to proselytize from the evangelical perspective translates to some warped perspectives of other narratives. I have to say- I love LOVE LOVE the Airbender series…

  2. Hm, to me, when I read your article I can see the issues you have with Christian entertainment or reviews from sites like Plugged In which can be bias towards their critique.

    As a Christian myself, and a blogger, I personally enjoy and consume a lot of media (video games, anime, Netflix, movies, music, etc) and there is a lot to be avoided honestly.

    I would encourage you to check out, and my own blog at where you can read how Christians who love God, and are also into geeky interests like Avatar (which is an AWESOME series, the Legend of Korra was great too, check it out when your done with the first series 🙂 review and talk about the same conversations that your having here.

    A lot of people in church are afraid of shows like the ones you mentioned because it’s foreign and unknown. It doesn’t make it all bad though, and we can work out our faith through them.

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