I was listening to sports talk radio - something that, according to my wife, I do far too often - when the host of the show said something interesting. Commenting on the new animated movie “Smallfoot,” he said, “Even as an atheist, I was struck by how anti-religion this film was.”
Having never seen it myself, but feeling curious, I spent the next hour reading reviews and commentaries, and it turns out he was right - this “light-hearted” film has a message that is anything but light-hearted.
For those who haven’t watched the movie, let me fill you in.
“Smallfoot” is about a community of Yetis (Bigfoots) who live in isolated bliss on a mountaintop high above the clouds. Their way of life is guarded by the Stonekeeper, who keeps a set of inviolable rules written on stone (sound familiar?).
The insular mantra of the community is “Push the questions down!” and, according to the Stonekeeper, the only thing more dangerous than fear is curiosity.
One of the main rules is that “smallfeet” (humans) don’t exist. The whole community is thrown into chaos when a young yeti discovers a “smallfoot” and brings the information about its existence back to the others.
The movie sends a strong message. Religion is an antiquated tradition, guarded by those in power, and preserved only if unquestioned. The call to action is clear: curiosity will expose religion and overthrow the status quo.
As the host of the sports talk radio show remarked, “Smallfoot” doesn’t even try to hide its allegiance to the secular perspective.
How, as followers of Jesus, should we react to this film and its messaging?
First, we need to be aware that this view is not unusual. Most secular people see religion as either a social construct or political power, or often as both. So if nothing else, we need to know what those outside the Church think.
Beyond that, as the movie asserts, a worldview that suppresses outside challenges is destined to collapse - an unchallenged faith will not survive, nor should it.
Too many churches have resisted questions and those that ask them, and prefer peace over discord. But the road from doubt to deep faith is rarely smooth.
What’s more, we have created an overly narrow view of what it means to follow Jesus. There are essentials that we must agree on (the person of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, etc.) but there is room for healthy seeking.
Whether intentional or not, too many Christians reflexively “push the questions down” rather than exploring them deeply. We need to foster a culture where congregants are strongly encouraged to think deeply about every aspect of their beliefs. We should be searching out the Scriptures for ourselves and, with the help of a community of believers and wise teachers past and present, forge a resilient faith that can withstand the specious arguments made by Hollywood’s storytellers.
A critical aspect of a well-thought-out faith is being able to offer a credible defense of Christianity against the attacks of secular culture. One such attack is the false dichotomy of religion vs. science.
The common secular perspective goes something like this, “You either believe in myths and fairy tales, such as God, or in evidence, facts, and science.”
This perspective is presented as a fork in the road. You must choose one; you can’t have both. The consequences of this lie are severe. If you accept this dichotomy, then faith in God is indeed blind. You are forced to ignore any questions or curiosities you may have, and you simply must concede that faith and science are mutually exclusive—that to embrace one is to reject the other.
For atheists, this means that life’s major questions don’t merit serious consideration, and any transcendent longings or deeper meanings are illusory. Life is reduced to empiricism, test tubes, and lab results. This reductionist view of life may be popular in secular lecture halls and in pop-culture books on atheism, but very few people live as if this actually were true.
The truth is that science and faith are not contradictory. In fact, modern science owes a tremendous debt to Christ-following men and women whose beliefs didn’t inhibit their scientific explorations but fueled them.
In fact, rationality and an ability to trust in our “knowing” is best grounded in the idea of a transcendent mind, that created a rational, intelligible universe for us to discover. The uniformity of the laws of nature and the staggering regularity that we see all around us are best explained as the work of an intelligent creator, and they provide the necessary foundation for making scientific discovery possible.
As C.S. Lewis points out, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”
This transcendent foundation launched some of the greatest scientific minds in all of history, including Newton, Galileo, Mendel, Pasteur, and Kelvin. Johannes Kepler, the renowned seventeenth-century mathematician and astronomer, described his motivation for discovery in this way, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”
Followers of Jesus do not have to shrink back in the face of challenges offered by the secular perspective. The truth is, Christian theism adheres best to reality and is the most rationally sound of all the worldviews. In light of this, we need to take the time to understand the secular perspective and lovingly communicate the truth of what we believe.
Despite its myopic view of religion, a movie like “Smallfoot” does have value. It gives us insight into a common secular view of Christianity, and reminds us to welcome seekers and the questions they have. What’s more, it provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate that Christianity engages both the heart and the mind, and more than withstands the challenges posed by secular skepticism.