Kevin Kalpstein seems to think Toy Story is an atheist, humanist parable. Of course, he’s probably reading way too much in to it. Like when people think that Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia is some sort of messianic figure. Whatever. Like Dawkins, Kalpstein uses the word “delusion” to describe any sort of religious belief, which seems rather strong, so I’ll point out that it’s his usage, not mine. But still, I thought this was amusing:
Begin by considering the characters. Buzz Lightyear starts as a delusional character who thinks he is a “space ranger.” The delusion gives him his purpose, and he expends all his energy on fixing what he thinks is his space ship so that he can rendezvous with “star command” and complete his mission. He even recruits the other toys to help him. He is mystified that his attempts to contact star command by radio never receive any answer, but his conviction that star command exists remains unquestioned.
Later, Buzz learns the truth. He really is a toy. He is cured of his delusions, and what happens?
First, there is the denial. He tries to fly out a window to prove that he is the real Buzz Lightyear, and gets badly hurt doing it… Then, Buzz is confused and disoriented. With his world view shattered, he doesn’t know what to do. He just goes along wherever he is led. He looses all sense of purpose. If he can’t be the real Buzz Lightyear, what is the point of being anything?
How many times have I heard a theist ask something along those lines: “If you don’t believe in God, what purpose do you have in living? Why don’t you just give up and die now, if you’re only going to die eventually anyway?”. Such questions are insulting and ignorant, but they do seem to be an accurate reflection of the thinking of some theists. Buzz’s behavior is consistent with such a mentality.
But what I really like, what makes this an atheist film and not merely an anti-religious one, is what happens near the end. Buzz finds another reason to carry on. He realizes that there are other things worth living for and worth working for. In his case, making a young boy happy is enough of a purpose for life to have.
I think this is probably a message found in a lot of movies in our Western culture. It’s indicative of our individualism, and how far from a truly Christ-centered worldview our culture is. The message you hear in a lot of movies is ‘Rely on yourself, and not someone else to save you.’ It’s not necessarily a purposely-made parable about atheism, but rather an indication that much of the popular culture that we all (Christians and everyone else) feed on has a primarily humanistic message. The little green aliens who worship “The Claw” in Toy Story are probably the closest it gets to parodying any form of religion. But Klapstein concludes,
What better parable for secular humanism could there be? The main character confronts his delusions, rejects them in favor of truth, and finds a purpose in his life by making others, and in particular, a small boy happy. He abandons his delusions, and chooses instead to devote his efforts to improving the real world.
Next time: Why Veggie Tales teach hostile agnosticism.