The 2012 “Safeguard Your Heart” District Convention has already generated controversy among thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses with the release of a new animated children’s DVD entitled “Become Jehovah’s Friend: Listen, Obey, and Be Blessed”. The wave of criticism aimed at the film has already received media attention in Norway and Denmark.
The DVD, which is introduced by Governing Body member Anthony Morris III, features two short animated films centering around the exploits of a fictional young boy named Caleb. Though short, the films are made to a very high standard of animation, not unlike those standards found in the well-known “Toy Story” movies. However, it is sad to note that, though visually impressive, this new DVD seems determined to undermine and weaken a young child’s critical thinking and reasoning skills. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than a story depicting young Caleb being coerced with false reasoning by his mother into throwing away a toy wizard that has been given to him as a gift by a friend. The explanation? Because, apparently, “Jehovah hates it”.
The film is introduced by Anthony Morris III, who was apparently chosen to represent the Governing Body in introducing this film because he is one of the few members who actually has parental experience. Morris hails the medium of animated movies as “a powerful teaching tool” in capturing the imagination of little ones. Indeed, there is very little attempt made to conceal the fact that this film is intended, first and foremost, to sculpt the minds of young Witness children into those of compliant followers of the future. As Morris remarks, “Children can learn so much during their formative years. Lessons they learn at a very young age can make an impression that lasts a lifetime.” It would be nice to think that the “lessons” conveyed in this film would be solely wholesome and beneficial ones. However, in the second film in particular, entitled “Lesson 2 – Obey Jehovah”, the underlying lesson is far from positive.
I understand that many reading this article would be appreciative of the opportunity to see the movies for themselves before forming any opinions, and I would urge you to do this. When this article was first published on jwsurvey.org, both animated lessons were freely available on YouTube. A few days after being posted, all video clips associated with the DVD were removed from the Google-owned website at the request of the Watch Tower Society on the grounds of copyright infringement. This development surprised many, since the back cover of the DVD features the following declaration:
This publication is not for sale. It is provided as part of a worldwide Bible educational work supported by voluntary donations.
If the DVD (and the material contained therein) is truly free and intended for educational purposes, then it is difficult to comprehend why the Society would wish to remove their videos from YouTube, particularly since their appearance on that website fell under the remit of “fair use”, and was therefore not strictly in breach of copyright rules. Furthermore, if the videos are truly educational, surely the Society would wish them to reach as broad an audience as possible? Is that not the entire purpose of our preaching work, to reach people with our message via publications produced by the Slave Class?
However, remove them they did. Since this development, the videos have re-emerged with wary “YouTubers” expressly drawing attention to the above-quoted statement on the back cover. One such video containing Lesson 2 (which forms the focus of this article) is embedded below. Provided it has not yet been removed by the Society, I would encourage you to watch the video if you haven’t done so already.
(If this video has been removed, please notify us and we will try to embed another link of the same movie, perhaps from an alternative website)
Obviously, whether the above embedded video works or not, if you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you should be receiving your own copy of this DVD at your next convention. If for any reason you are unable to view the DVD and would appreciate a brief overview of the contents, a transcript of “Lesson 2 – Obey Jehovah” (from the moment when Caleb’s mother discovers him with the toy) is below:
- Mom: Caleb, what toy is that?
- Caleb: It’s Sparlock, the warrior wizard!
- Mom: Woah! A warrior wizard?!
- Caleb: Yeh, my friend gave it to me. All the kids are going to see the movie. Can I see it too?
Mom: Oh, your friend gave this to you… hm. You look pretty excited about this. Why don’t you come over here and get your snack, okay? (sighs)
- (Caleb sits down to have his snack.)
- Mom: Is this toy magical?
- Caleb: Uh-huh.
- Mom: Caleb, who likes Magic? Jehovah? Or Satan?!
- Caleb: Satan.
- Mom: Right. Magic is bad. That’s why Jehovah hates it. Do you REALLY wanna play with something that Jehovah hates?
- (Caleb looks at his toy sorrowfully.)
- Mom: Do you remember who we learned about at family worship? Who is this? (shows Caleb a picture from page 50 of the Great Teacher book)
- Caleb: Adam and Eve.
- Mom: Right! Did they obey Jehovah?
- Caleb: No. They disobeyed Jehovah, and he got very sad.
- Mom: So what if YOU disobey Jehovah, and play with toys he doesn’t like?
- (Caleb scratches his head)
- Mom: Do you think Jehovah will be happy? Or sad?
- (Caleb imagines a snake hanging down from a tree next to him, clutching his toy suggestively)
- Caleb: Sad.
- Mom: Yeh. Do you want Jehovah to be sad?
- Caleb: No! (slaps the imaginary snake away with his hand) I don’t want Jehovah to be sad with me!
Mom: No, I don’t want Jehovah to be sad with you either! So what do YOU think you should do with this toy?
- (Caleb looks at his toy again. The next scene shows him throwing it in the trash can outside while his Mom holds the lid open for him.)
- Mom: Caleb, I am so proud of you! You made mommy very happy! And you know who else is happy?
- Caleb: Jehovah!
- Mom: Yes! Jehovah loves you very much for obeying him Caleb. Hey, you know what I wanna do?
- Caleb: What?
- Mom: I wanna go ride bikes!
- Caleb: Yay!
- Mom: Let’s go!
Of course, I appreciate that many will dismiss these films as nothing more than fictional children’s animations. However, despite being fictional, Anthony Morris has himself admitted in his opening remarks to the DVD that the films are intended to have an impact on impressionable young minds. I believe this impact will be extremely negative, and I will explain why.
Owning a wizard = being a wizard?
As previously mentioned, in the second of the two videos, or “lessons”, young Caleb returns home from school with a plastic toy wizard that one of this friends has given to him. His mother finds him playing with the toy, and though expressing initial excitement, she wastes little time in sitting Caleb down and explaining that the toy wizard is “something that Jehovah hates”. Without reading a single scripture in support of her arguments, she manages to convince Caleb that the toy wizard makes Jehovah “sad”. She impresses upon him that, if he were to choose to keep it, this would be an act of disobedience to Jehovah akin to Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Caleb even imagines a snake tempting him with the toy, as though it is somehow satanic in origin.
Of course, in reality there is absolutely nothing harmful or satanic about children playing with plastic toy wizards. These can hardly be described as “something that Jehovah hates” since they are lifeless figurines. They are not objects of worship – merely the focal point of a child’s imagination.
True, under the Mosaic Law covenant, Israelites were strongly dissuaded from becoming “practicers of magic” or “sorcerers”. (Deuteronomy 18:10-13) Such practices were described in the bible as “detestable to Jehovah”, as was eating pig meat. (Deu. 14:3-8) As Christians, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law covenant, nor are we bound by its idiosyncracies such as circumcision and abstaining from pork. Obviously, the practice of witchcraft and sorcery still runs in direct violation of Christianity, but this is not what was depicted in the film. The film merely showed a child playing with a toy in the shape of a wizard, which is not something that the bible condemns, indirectly or otherwise, in any of its many pages.
I am certainly not suggesting that there is nothing harmful or dangerous as regards practicing sorcery, or that we should all go out and become witches and wizards. However, the scribes and pharisees were criticized by Jesus for overstepping boundaries of reason when it came to their rigid application of the Mosaic Law. (Matt 23:2-4,23,24; Luke 11:46) Such ones were so harsh with Jehovah’s people that they effectively built a “fence around the law” through their oral traditions, banning anything that might bring people even close to a situation in which they might sin. It is disturbing to note the parallels between the way the Scribes would have approached these matters, and the way the Governing Body is now clamping down on anything that is even indirectly associated with something that was “detestable to Jehovah” under the Mosaic Law.
Anyone can see that there is a huge gulf between playing with a toy wizard and actually becoming one. Even so, the Governing Body now evidently feels that owning such an item is tantamount to actually BEING a wizard, even if the owner is a mere child with no knowledge of magic, wizardry or witchcraft. It is alarming to think that a small group of men with such power could arrive at such a conclusion. As I write, the Governing Body are making extremely sensitive, profound and far-reaching decisions on matters of doctrine and scriptural justice that influence the lives of millions of adherents around the world. If they can get it so badly wrong with toy wizards, what does this say about their judgment on far more serious and weighty matters? – Matthew 23:23,24
I personally find the apparent shift in policy deeply disturbing. It is true that the organization has long voiced concern in its publications over the prevalence of the occult in movies and literature. However, traditionally the Society has always kept its distance in allowing parents to decide for themselves how far these principles and views should be applied or enforced in their own homes. As an example, note the following quote from a 1994 Awake! article:
“What about toys based on popular fairy-tale or science-fiction characters? Such stories generally deal with the triumph of good over evil. Some parents thus view the ‘magical elements’ in these tales as simple flights of a childish imagination and see no harm in letting their children enjoy them. Others may fear that the stories could stimulate an interest in the occult. (Deuteronomy 18:10-13) Without judging others, parents must make their own decisions in this regard, considering the effects such stories—and any toys based on them—have on their children.” – September 8th, 1994 Awake!, page 9.
The above quote sets out a far more balanced approach to this issue that allows parents the flexibility to choose for themselves what toys are appropriate for their children – without being judgmental of those who view things differently. However, the release of this DVD marks an end to those times of patience and latitude on the part of the Governing Body. They evidently feel it is now time to intervene, and lay down some ground rules.
Yes, the Governing Body now seeks to step into the shoes of parents around the world, and decide for them what toys their children may or may not play with. I never thought I would see the day when parents began to receive instructions from the Governing Body on how to police their children’s toy chests. However, this harsh and invasive new strategy of the Society is a mere footnote when it comes to the real reason for my dismay as regards this DVD. Unquestionably, the worst thing about it is the fact that the Society is now unashamedly producing films that seem specifically designed to rob a new generation of its reasoning ability.
In the film, no logical or scripturally-based argument is offered to Caleb as to precisely why Jehovah “hates” toy wizards, or why they make him “sad”, or why owning one would be an act of disobedience against God. Caleb is shown a picture from the Learn From The Great Teacher book (page 50) depicting Adam and Eve as a withered and miserable old man and woman following their sin. This somewhat scary and morose picture is shown as the consequences of disobeying Jehovah, but no explanation is given as to WHY owning a toy wizard constitutes an act of disobedience that would leave Caleb in a similar predicament to the first human pair. Caleb is merely informed that Jehovah doesn’t like the toy when his mother says: “So what if YOU disobey Jehovah, and play with toys he doesn’t like?” The key question of WHY Jehovah “doesn’t like” Caleb’s toy is by-passed as almost irrelevant.
Caleb’s Mom even neglects to read the scripture from Deuteronomy 18 that I mentioned above. Some would argue that Caleb might be too young to be confronted with scriptural arguments from the bible, but this doesn’t stop his Dad from pulling out a bible in Lesson 1 when Caleb treads dirt on his Mom’s clean floor. Surely if Caleb’s toy is so offensive to God, this warrants a similar appeal to the scriptures for guidance? But this doesn’t happen. Evidently what the scriptures have to say on the matter is of no consequence. Instead, Caleb is merely pummeled with baseless implications about his toy to which, faced with no alternative, he eventually yields.
The over-riding tone of this particular short story is “don’t ask, just obey”. This is precisely what the Society has always asked us to do in their publications, especially by means of spurious teachings such as “increasing light” and “waiting on Jehovah”. However, it is one thing to suppress the critical thinking skills of adults, but it strikes me as wrong and profoundly damaging to inflict such backwards ideology on young and impressionable minds from early childhood. Such thinking sets children up for the worst possible start in life, and robs them of valuable cognitive tools.
The following video, posted on YouTube recently, makes a similar point…
It genuinely distresses me to think of the many thousands (potentially millions) of young children who will be played this video and taught that, when it comes to making decisions, reason and logic come a poor second when others are asking you to conform to their own weak consciences. Both films strike me as a not-so thinly veiled attempt on the part of the Governing Body to mold a new generation of mindless automatons who will follow all of their commands no matter how unreasonable these may be, or how little scriptural explanation is offered on their part.
Ignorance and unquestioned loyalty aren’t the only messages to young minds in this movie. There are other more subtle messages regarding showing lack of appreciation, and fearing everything from the outside world. After all, Caleb is given his toy wizard by a friend at school. The toy’s character, “Sparlock”, is evidently the lead character of a forthcoming movie, and we all know that toys connected with children’s movies are hardly ever cheap. This was therefore a generous gift from a virtual stranger, yet nowhere is gratitude expressed to this person for their kind gesture, neither is any thought given as to what will be said to this friend when Caleb turns up at school the next day empty-handed. Put simply, whoever this friend is, his feelings are of no consequence whatever to Caleb’s mother, because this person is a “worldling”, and therefore a destructive influence on her young boy and a threat to his ongoing indoctrination.
Although there are many such hidden messages, certainly the overriding theme of Lesson 2 of this DVD is that of showing mindless loyalty to an organization, even if no reasons or explanatory scriptures are presented. Obedience comes first, and any questions are irrelevant. This is precisely the lesson that the Governing Body wants young children to learn and absorb.
I have nothing in particular against the overall message of Lesson 1, in which Caleb is taught the value of respecting his parents and being obedient to them. Yes, I found certain facets of this first film slightly disturbing and backward. For example, it is Caleb’s mother who is initially portrayed (rather stereotypically) as cleaning the home rather than his Dad, and she is down on her hands and knees with a sponge rather than using a simple floor mop to clean the floor. It seems a little draconian to pull a bible on a young child for what was essentially an accident rather than a deliberate “act of disobedience”. It’s also curious that Caleb’s Mom feels compelled to change from trousers into a skirt for the “family worship” evening. This seems fairly “over the top”, but evidently this is what the Governing Body now wants mothers to do. Finally, towards the end of the film when Caleb has tidied up his mess and is ready to join his family, his mother tells him: “Thank you! I’m so proud of you for obeying!” This seems like quite loaded language for a mother to use, especially to a young boy.
A Stifled Generation
Lesson Two and Caleb’s courting of divine wrath over a simple toy wizard is certainly the most disturbing and intellectually stifling of the two videos. I personally think the Governing Body knew exactly what they were doing in commissioning this film to be made. Regardless of their reasoning, I still find it frankly inexcusable that they can push their agenda on impressionable young minds in such an overt manner.
I readily admit to anyone that I am not a parent at this stage in my life, nor is it my business to tell parents what they should or should not show to their children. However, I feel deeply moved to draw the attention of discerning Jehovah’s Witness parents around the world to what I consider to be a very damaging film.
Irrespective of their own beliefs and upbringing, conscientious mothers and fathers need to have the opportunity to think long and hard about what they want for their children, and how they want their children to develop intellectually in the long-term. If you are a parent, and you still feel comfortable sharing “Lesson 2 – Obey Jehovah” from this DVD with your little ones, then I cannot stand in your way. However, it would be remiss of me not to warn you against potentially compromising your child’s development if I have the means to do so. I hope you can respect my motive for this article, if nothing else.
If the Governing Body would like to have followers two decades from now who are mindless, spineless, easily offended and paranoid of displeasing others, then this is their business. What they CANNOT do is inflict these wishes on a whole new generation of little ones, and in so doing recklessly compromise their intellectual and emotional development. To embark down such a selfish and damaging path with young minds is, in my opinion, unforgiveable.
Chillingly, it seems that this is merely the first in a long line of similar animated films targeting youngsters, as Morris explains in his introductory remarks: “This is just a preview of what we have in store for you in the future.”
For more information, please read the article “What is wrong with Sparlock?” on jwfacts.com