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The Gospel According to the Movie Toy Story: YOU. ARE. A. TOY!

Update:  A response to the folks at Somethingawful.com is at the bottom.

Toy Story is one of those movies that is constantly playing at my house.  It is a ‘safe’ movie for kids and it has enough material for the grown-ups that I don’t mind it playing over and over again.  It was on again last night.  In fact, it is on right now.

If you don’t know Toy Story, it is simply a story about toys- toys who come alive when you aren’t looking.  In otherwords, a stock ‘toy story.’  In both movies there is a curious perspective presented that I really appreciated.  In the first movie, Buzz Lightyear has to come to terms with not being a ‘real’ Buzz Lightyear.  The realization that he is a mere child’s plaything drives him to drinking.  Woody the Sheriff helps him through this difficult time.  In the second movie, Woody the Sheriff finds out he is a valued collectible after he is separated from Andy, the child who owns him.  Ultimately, it is Buzz who brings Woody the Sheriff back to his senses, using the same arguments that had been deployed by him.  After all, both have Andy’s name written on the bottom of their feet.

Both movies address in their own way the difference between assigning value to yourself and having it assigned to you by someone else, someone more superior, something more real.  Here then is the first valid insight into theology- in both movies, the ‘toys’ come to the understanding that their self-assigning was less valid and less meaningful than the meaning they would have relative to Andy, the child that loves them.  If Toy Story were written to reflect modern secular humanistic relativistic atheistic worldviews, Buzz would have decided that he was a real Buzz Lightyear if he said he was.  And Woody the Sheriff would have decided that being a collectible, ie, prestigious in his own eyes, if the important thing is that we value our individual selves (ala Objectivism).

That the movies end with the toys coming to terms with the fact that they are toys and finding immense satisfaction in their created purpose is one of those wholesome lessons that proves that however much Hollywood and secular humanists try, theological messages resonate.  (See also Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty)

So, are we toys?

We don’t like to think so.  We would like to think that if we merely declared that we were completely independent and autonomous from any creator it would be so.  We would like to think that assigning ourselves whatever value we like means that we really have that value.  There is the theory and then there is the reality.  Buzz tried to fly to prove he really was the ‘real’ Buzz Lightyear and lost an arm.  You can only mock reality so long before you get hurt.  And like Woody the Sheriff discovers, coming to terms with your created purpose means that your value is found relative to a Lover but this is more ‘real’ and satisfying than the vaporous self-adulation apart from anyone else’s considerations.

So, are we toys?

The thing about meaning and value is that these concepts are inherently relative- relative in the sense that are relative to some entity.  A dollar bill has value- relative to the billions of humans who would like to have one.  It is humans which impart the value to the dollar bill.  The dollar bill is otherwise just a piece of paper, and if inflation does its worst, even humans may disregard it.  If the dollar bill were sentient, it would still just be a piece of paper.  Under the atheistic framework, we have no more value than a wadded up piece of paper, or a scrap of iron.  Nonetheless, something gnaws on us constantly, alerting us to the fact that we are something more than the mere matter that litters our existence.

In the ‘First Mover’ argument, cause and effect is tracked back to a final regress.  The argument is that if cause and effect could go on forever, it never would have started at all.  In short, there had to be a point where there is an unmovable mover who is able to cause without that cause itself being the result of an effect.  This argument is similar.  If who assigns value can regress infinitely, then value and meaning are fundamentally meaningless terms.  Eventually you must come to a point where a thing has value without it being assigned by someone else or some other entity.

As far as objections to the Prime Mover argument goes, the response as far back as Hume is that if one must posit such a thing for cause and effect, why not simply stop with the universe?  Why go on to ‘God.’  Can the same objection be made to the ‘Prime Value Instiller’ argument?  If so, the final regress would stop in just two possible places:  the individual human himself or the collective society of humans.

This is in fact what philosophical naturalists think.  But does it work?  Can you have such a view without, like Buzz testing his ‘realness,’ having broken ‘arms’?   And then the important question:  is it true?

For you see, Buzz and Woody the Sheriff may not have liked the fact that they were toys at various times in their existence, but they did not cease, for this reason, to be toys.

In fact, they found great pleasure in returning to their created purpose, and recognizing that their greatest value and highest satisfaction was found relative to the Child, Andy.  And being repulsed by the notion that they were a child’s plaything does not by any means serve as an argument that Andy doesn’t exist.  You see, this isn’t an intellectual objection to Andy’s existence at all.  It is an understandable objection- but it is not intellectual.  It is something else entirely.

I am a toy, and I have been sealed with God’s name, and frankly I love it.   I invite you, not to become a toy, because you have no power to change what you are, but to recognize that you are a ‘toy,’ and come to terms with it, and so enter into the “joy that was set before him.”

Fix your Eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2.

And we are that joy.

Fruit Rudy at the SomethingAwful.com forum says:

But I think he got it pretty wrong since  that author looked at being stamped with Andy’s name as being stamped by God’s name and I’d say Andy’s eventual farewell leaving behind the toys invalidates that.

Although in my defense, Toy Story 3 has only just now come out and I could not have known this when writing this post. Even so, even if I find a ‘Christian element’ in the movie, it doesn’t follow that the whole of the movie should continue in that pattern, especially when the movie itself isn’t set up as being a Christian movie. Besides, I had other arguments besides the stamping of the name. 🙂

Sorry, I couldn’t resist… I can’t let the claim that I was ‘pretty wrong’ pass without comment. 🙂


1 comment

1 ping

    • Paul Prescod on June 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Throughout the movies, the toys indicate their capacity to choose their own meaning for life. They “good toys” always choose relationships with each other, with Andy, with Bonnie, kids at the daycare etc. And their relationships with each other are especially valuable: they are not afraid to go to the attic (never to be played with again) as long as they are there together.

    In the first movie, Buzz gives up on his “higher power” (Star Command) and his “higher purpose” (fighting Zerg) in favor of focusing on relationships.

    That’s what we atheists do too. Focus on friends, family, humanity, animals and the environment rather than invisible and likely non-existent abstractions. I am happy with my choice to do this, just as Buzz is in the movie.

  1. […] while back I posted a blog on the ‘Gospel according to Toy Story.’  It has generated an atheist […]

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