Friday, April 29, 2005

Disney Hates Christians?

Chuck Colson used to be President’s Nixon’s special counsel. He even ended up in federal prison for his role in the infamous Watergate scandal. But he became a Christian and eventually developed into one of America’s most prominent evangelical ministers. He recently wrote an article originally appearing in the online magazine Breakpoint and subsequently carried by Beliefnet in which he complains about Disney’s respecting Asian religion by building a theme park in Hong Kong according to feng shui principles and burning incense while, at the same time, insulting American Christians by allowing “Gay Days” and featuring evolution exhibits in its domestic theme parks.

The posted reactions from Beliefnet members to Colson’s article have been unanimously and often harshly negative. This is what I posted there.

Many here have expressed their opinions of Colson’s article, and, interestingly, that opinion seems to run unanimously against his message. I admit that I feel a strong tendency to agree with many of the comments. However, I don’t like to rush to judgment in matters such as these. I like to consider all sides of an argument carefully before expressing a definite opinion. So below is an open letter to Mr. Colson addressing my questions and misgivings about what he wrote.

Dear Mr. Colson:

I’ve just read your Breakpoint article “Feng Shui at Mickey’s House,” and I must admit that my immediate reaction was one of bemusement and incredulity that an intelligent person such as yourself could have penned an argument or complaint that, on the face of it, seemed so patently absurd and ridiculous. But I don’t like to jump to conclusions about things like this. I like to give arguments and complaints and the people who voice them due respect and consideration. That is why I’m writing to you now. I’m hoping you can clarify a few matters for me about your article.

If I understood you correctly, you accuse Disney of bending over backward to placate Asians in Asia with the “kooky Eastern fad” of feng shui and burning incense while figuratively spitting in the face of righteous Christians here in America with “Gay Days,” “blasphemous” movies, and public displays of evolutionary theory. You seem to imply that Disney should show at least as much respect for fundamentalist Christian sensibilities here in America as it does for Buddhist ones in Hong Kong but that it obviously doesn’t, and that good Christians should and do take offense at this.

First of all, what is your definition of “fad”? An online dictionary I consulted defines “fad” as “A fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze.” No doubt, any dictionary you might consult would offer essentially the same definition. That being the case, did you know that feng shui has been practiced in one form or other in Asia for probably thousands of years? Does this sound like a mere “fad”?

Second, you call feng shui Buddhist, but did you know that its origins predate Buddhism by millennia and that, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “feng shui can be classified as either magic, religion, or science, but it is questionable whether these categories have any validity in Chinese thought; rather these so-called magical practices are an intrinsic part of the worldviews expressed in China's main religious and philosophical systems…”? In other words, feng shui is, by scholarly account, an integral thread in the Asian cultural tapestry and worldview and not some faddishly new and narrowly Buddhist belief. And what this suggests is that, unlike fundamentalist Christian antipathy to gays and evolution, feng shui is so widely embraced by Asian peoples that Disney’s building its Hong Kong theme park in a way that honors feng shui’s principles is, at the very least, likely to draw more paying customers and bring in more money than not having “Gay Days” and evolutionary displays in its American parks could probably ever do. In other words, isn’t it more plausible to believe that Disney doesn’t respect Buddhists more than fundamentalist Christians or disrespect fundamentalist Christians more than Buddhists, but that it’s simply trying to earn more money by making its businesses more attractive to a broader range of people in ways that are both legal and harmless? Isn’t this more plausible than your implication that Disney’s on some kind of sinfully perverse mission to slight fundamentalist Christianity and offend fundamentalist Christians?

Third, you call feng shui “kooky.” But if by “kooky” you mean that feng shui is strange, crazy, or silly falsehood, why is the belief that there are methods for optimizing the flow of vital energy for good health and prosperity any kookier than countless fundamentalist Christian beliefs including the belief that God was given birth in human form by a virgin to show us the only “way, truth, and life” out of all the ways taught by all the world’s enduring religious traditions, and that he then rose from the cross after his crucifixion to visit with his disciples before ascending to heaven?

Fourth, you dismiss feng shui as sheer “superstition.” The same dictionary I consulted earlier defines superstition as: “A belief, practice, or rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance.” No doubt your dictionary would agree. How then is feng shui any more superstitious than the belief that reading a book penned by men and following its prescribed conduct and praying and repenting to an unseen deity will send one to a heavenly realm of everlasting bliss after one dies? Many would no doubt agree that feng shui seems a whole lot more rational and credible than these Christian bible stories.

Fifth, isn’t Disney a private company that does not claim that either it or its theme parks are Christian? If so, why is it under any obligation not to allow gay people a special day for gathering in its privately owned, non-sectarian parks to enjoy rides and other attractions together, and why should a modern, privately owned, non-sectarian theme park not be able to present a display of modern biological science’s best understanding of life on this planet?

Finally, why would an intelligent and thoughtful Christian person feel offended if a privately owned, non-sectarian company runs its business and theme parks in ways designed to optimize its earnings by appealing to the broadest possible range of customers both here and abroad?

I could ask many more questions about your article, but I’d like to see and respectfully consider your answers to the questions above before I proceed or form any strong conclusions regarding the merits of what you wrote in Breakpoint.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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