The Worldview of Moana

A new movie from Disney is causing a tsunami of ticket sales this Thanksgiving weekend. Moana is a beautiful production about a young girl trying to save her people. It’s produced by the same genius team that brought us “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Some Christian leaders voiced both praise and concern on social media after seeing the film with their families. Dr. Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, posted, “Moana might be Disney’s most visually beautiful film, with the catchiest soundtrack in maybe 20 years…” and “Caveat: If you take your kids, be prepared to deconstruct some pantheism mixed with polytheism and expressive individualism.” Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, apologetics professor at Southern Seminary, tweeted, “Moana: The most lavishly animated film I have ever seen, woven with demigods and do-it-yourself spirituality to discuss afterward.”

If the word pantheism is new to you, here’s a quick summary. It’s a religious outlook that comes from the Greek words pan, meaning all, and theos, meaning god. A pantheistic view is that the entire universe, ourselves included, are a part of god. It’s a way of seeing the world that is more common in eastern religions.

The Christian philosopher James Sire offers some basic questions for analyzing various worldviews. I’ve included my paraphrased version of his questions below. I hope these might be helpful for discussing the movie with your kids.

  1. What is the view of what is ultimately real?
  2. How should we understand the world around us?
  3. How do we know what is true?
  4. What is a human being based on these beliefs?
  5. Are there true categories of good and evil?
  6. Does human history have any meaning? If yes, what?
  7. What happens to a person when they die?
  8. What values flow naturally from the answers to the previous questions?

The pantheistic outlook, when taken to its logical conclusion, believes that every distinction we see between things in the world, like other people, the difference between good and evil, et cetera, are all illusory. What is real is the oneness that is god. Everything is a part of this oneness.

But if distinct things are illusions then this is a worldview that leads to complete despair. We aren’t really real. The differences between right and wrong are not real. Nothing is really real, in that sense. Only the oneness (pan) is real, and that is god (pantheism).

Ironically, the worldview of Moana, released at the Thanksgiving holiday, completely removes the foundation for gratitude. If all is illusion, if the universe is impersonal, for what, and to whom, might we give thanks? If you remove distinctions and personhood from the cosmos then there is no basis for gratitude.

Pantheism stands in stark contrast to a Christian view of the world as created by an all powerful and personal God. It is a deification, a making into god, of the universe. In fact, that is what the Apostle Paul warns his readers will happen if they reject God, they will worship the creation instead of the Creator ( Romans 1:25).

As we know from Scripture, God not only created the world, but loves it and gave his Son so that those living in the world might know true life (John 3:16). That’s certainly something worth being thankful for.

So, my advice, enjoy the film with a big tub of well buttered popcorn and an oversized and overpriced soft drink. Enjoy your time with your family. And remember to thank the Giver of all good things, above all things, for giving you eyes to see that there is more than this world will ever have to offer.