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Evangelicals say 'Save the trees!' message of 'The Lorax' movie misses the mark

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, a 3D-animated movie based on a children's book, may be the only "family-friendly film" in the theaters right now, but many evangelical leaders hope Christian parents aren’t taking their children to see this movie thinking that its “PG” rating means it's largely free from objectionable content. "Family films" such as 2010’s Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton have enjoyed successful box-office sales this time of year due to the dearth of “clean” movies at the theater. Parents have rewarded The Lorax for this. For two weeks in a row, the movie kept at the top of the U.S. Box Office, and now the film has brought in over $158 million domestically. While the movie presents a colorful, fun, and humorous romp, the environmentalist message of the film is anything but subtle—and that’s what bothers many Christians.

Once-ler, the Lorax, and the cute creatures of the forest
Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment

"It’s obvious. It’s trite. It’s cliche. It’s disappointing," says Dr. Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, speaking about Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. He’s not the only evangelical leader who hopes Christians don’t blindly allow their children to imbibe the ideas of the movie just because they're expressed in an animated film with cute characters. Dr. Ken Ham, a creation scientist, and the founder of Answers in Genesis, said he’s concerned the movie teaches an unbiblical view on man’s responsibility to nature. "Nature doesn’t have dominion over man. Man has dominion over nature," said Dr. Ham.

In the movie, the character Once-ler eventually goes too far in using the colorful truffula trees of the Dr. Seuss world to make useful "Thneeds" and selling them to others. He cuts down all the trees until there are no more left, leaving the forest a barren wasteland. But long before this happens in the story, he is confronted by the short, orange character of the Lorax, who seems to believe it is morally wrong for Once-ler to chop down even one tree—for any reason.

"I wonder if the people who wroteThe Lorax wrote it on paper," says Christian filmmaker Stephen Kendrick from Albany, Georgia. Kendrick has produced such successful Christian films as Courageous and Fireproof. “Were their screenplays written on paper? Are their checks signed on paper?"

Kendrick is not the first person to suggest the filmmakers who made The Lorax are hypocritical in their environmentalist message. Says Dr. Ken Ham: "Actually, I see an incredible inconsistency with the secularist. From an evolutionary perspective, when they’re talking about ‘Save the Whales’ and ‘Protect these Trees’ and all the rest of it, well, what about a ‘Save the Tape Worm Society’? What about a ‘Save the Polio Virus Society’? You don’t see that, do you? And they’re inconsistent because from their perspective that’s all a part of the life continuum, right? So we should be protecting all of it, right? From an evolutionary perspective, why not let man rape the land? I mean, after all, isn’t he just another [natural] selection pressure? So whatever man does, let him go. Maybe by stopping him doing that, you’re stopping something evolving that needs to evolve. It’s just a totally inconsistent position."

These Christian leaders, however, do not advocate raping the land as the Once-ler eventually does in the movie. "Do I believe in cutting down trees? Yeah, replant them! What’s the big deal?" says Stephen Kendrick. "If you don’t, they’re going to rot and die anyway. So sometimes it’s going to actually be better for a forest to clear out disorder, and plant some good trees."

"I believe that nature is to be exploited," Pastor Baucham says. "I believe that it is to be exploited for our purposes. I believe when you look in creation, and you look at man being told to go and to exercise dominion [in Genesis 1], you know, Adam is being told here’s the Garden, and what God has done in the Garden, go and make the rest of the world like this. Because the rest of the world is not going to be like that."

"We’re not to go out there and destroy it," adds Dr. Ham. “God wanted man to subdue it, to look after it, to learn about it. But now we’ve got this idea that if there’s a swamp in an area and we do something to it, we’re destroying it. Actually, man has the ability and the intelligence he can go in and improve it. So, again, there’s this false idea anything natural is good. Let fires just burn out of control because that’s natural, therefore that’s good. Now there is a place for having fires in forests, but there’s also a place for recognizing that in a cursed world they can get out of control and destroy, so you can’t just let them go either."

Another fault cited about the film is the way it depicts nature as being orderly and beautiful on its own without man to care and cultivate it. Until the Once-ler shows up, the forest is inhabited by cute bears and fish who never try to hurt each other but only playfully enjoy the wonders of the naturally perfect forest.

"The most beautiful thing you see in a garden tended by human beings,” says Dr. Baucham, "that is put in a orderly way, so that there is rhyme and reason to the colors and sizes and shapes and things of that nature. Animals left unto themselves, they ravage one another and kill one another. But when men is exercising that dominion, now all of a sudden they’re tame, and they’re being useful, and they’re being partners with us in our pursuits."

"You can only understand what you should do when you take the true history of Genesis concerning a perfect world marred by sin," concludes Dr. Ham. "If you don’t understand that, and the God-given role man has, you’re going to get it wrong with regard to environmental issues."

The movie appears to attempt to evoke biblical imagery at least a few times to perhaps appeal to Christians. At one point, the Once-ler demands that the Lorax show some of his miraculous powers, but he refuses as Jesus on trial before the cross. Then later the Lorax ascends into heaven promising to return, again evoking imagery of Jesus Christ. But despite all this superficial imagery, the worldview of the film is what these evangelical leaders say is most important and contrary to Christian teaching.

"One of the underlying assumptions that I like to challenge, too," Dr. Baucham adds, "is the idea that there’s nature and then there’s humans. As though we’re not a part of nature! Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re not only a part of nature, we’re the stewards of nature. We’re the crown and glory of God’s creation. So nature is not better off without us. Nature’s nothing without us. It's destructive, and it's evil, and it’s cruel without us. It's only with us, that the reflection of the image of God is seen and this pursuit of improvement in natural resources is achieved."

Stephen Kendrick agreed with these assessments. But should Christians consider making movies that address environmental issues? “Yes,” he says, but “Our theology and our a biblical worldview affects every area of our filmmaking, and so regardless of the topic, we have to come back and say not, ‘What does pop culture say?’ and not ‘What do I feel?’ but ‘What does God say?’ and ‘What does He want?’ and ‘What’s on His heart?’ His values are eternal and unchanging. We have to view the earth through the lens of God’s ownership and we are stewards of it.”


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