Saving the Planet, One Screen at a Time

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A while back I was at a party where the hosts played the movie Happy Feet for the kids while the adults mingled upstairs. I hadn’t seen the movie before, so I sat down with my almost-4-year-old son to watch a bit of it (he was quite interested in the dancing, animated penguins). I hadn’t been there more than a couple minutes before the film’s strong—arguably preachy—environmentalist message began to get on my nerves. Animals good. Humans bad. BAD.

Happy Feet is just one recent example of Hollywood highlighting environmentalism and the plight of our planet. An Inconvenient Truth, The Day After Tomorrow, Arctic Tale and Avatar are just a few others. I had a similar reaction to Avatar’s environmental message, in part because it’s woven into a pantheistic, non-Christian worldview in which taking care of our world is indistinguishable from worshipping it.

So it was with a slight twinge of trepidation that I sat down to watch the new Disneynature documentary Oceans earlier this week. I love watching shows and movies that have to do with nature (my wife and are huge fans of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week), but I don’t like getting bonked on the head with moralistic, guilt-trip-inducing environmental messages.

Oceans does focus on what we should do for the environment—mostly toward the end. But it doesn’t suggest that I’m a bad person if I don’t drive a Prius or recycle everything. Nor does it suggest I should be bowing at the altar of Mother Earth. Mostly, in a very sober manner, it suggests that we humans need to recognize that our consumption and waste affect the oceans—and everything living there.

That’s a good message. And one, it turns out, that’s consistent with what we read about our responsibility to be good stewards of creation as described in the opening pages of Genesis. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). A few pages later, Scripture clarifies this responsibility by saying that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:16).

Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of Christians—myself included—often respond with suspicion when it comes to any call to environmental awareness. Perhaps because of movies like Avatar, combined with a constant cultural drumbeat that can treat environmentalism like a religion instead of an important cause, we’re tempted to toss out the environmental baby out with the bathwater (which, no doubt, is very polluted anyway).

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (and the arrival of Oceans on the big screen and Avatar on video). With that in mind, I want to know how you react to environmental message movies. How does your faith shape the way you do or don’t respond to exhortations to be more environmentally responsible? Do some films convict you and inspire you in this area? Or do they just make you mad? Or, maybe, both?

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Spinmaster:

It seems to me that a lot of Christians ignore eco problems for a couple reasons.  One, which has already been mentioned, is that we often stereotype them as being connected to "earth worshipers".

Another, which may be more subconscious for some, is a bit of an "oh I know how this is going to end" attitude.  We're smug in our forknowledge that the world is going to end in the manner prescribed in revelation, and that all these people fretting about pollution, global warming, etc., have it wrong.This leads to an attitude of "hey I know the planet isn't going to end from this stuff, so I don't have to worry about it!" and at best, we ignore the problems... at worst, we continue harmful activities, happily assured that we aren't bringing the world closer to some chemical induced apocalypse... because we know what the real apocalypse is going to be like.

Even if is the case... consider that no matter how long the earth lasts, it will be a heckuva lot more pleasant if we try to keep it clean. 

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  FilmPhantom:

cool ill have to see oceans

and what was the worst part of happy feet was when it actively made fun of christianity

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Crossdive:

My attitude with 'go-green' movies and shows is often pretty ill-at-ease, partly because the good basic idea often gets blown out of proportion and made, it would seem, the be-all and end-all goal for them, and partly because of the one-sided evolution propoganda that is often marching hand-in-hand with it. I have and continue to feel and say that, as you already pointed out, environmental causes aren't inherently evil and that we should be good stewards of creation, but the other half of my equation is that rather than becoming a bossy sign-toting activist I feel like, "once you stop murdering unborn babies, then I'll go full-force for saving trees and animals." Let's face it, its a fine line between healthy environment supporter and tree-hugging fanatic. I can't help feel that way too much emphasis is placed on 'the poor earth' and 'poor animals', and meanwhile you can go and participate in child-murder down the street in a fancy, sterile, government-funded building and not even have to worry about being arrested for the crime. I won't go light up a tree with a lighter or harpoon a dolphin out of spite, but I also reccognize there are more important issues still than earth and its only-bearing-an-animal-soul residents.