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?