"Whatsoever Ezra does not know and sanction, that thing is
heresy, worthless for knowing and wicked to consider. ... Such is our
comfortable position and sure faith. Would he not betray himself an alien cynic
who should otherwise portray Main Street, or distress the citizens by
speculating whether there may not be other faiths?"
-- Sinclair Lewis, "Main Street" (1920)
I ran across something rather ... unexpected today.
It's a rather magnanimous, roundabout denunciation of the magnificently haunting and dramatic "pre-show" film that opened The Living Seas. The one that began with the words that, to me, define everything The Walt Disney Company used to be about: “Try to imagine.”
And it opened my eyes to one possible, and possibly rather upsetting, reason for the change in EPCOT from serious examination of the world in which we live to lighthearted fun.
It’s a possibility I had never considered before.
Try to imagine ... that a number of ultra-conservatives who believe in the concept of “intelligent design” (a concept that didn’t really exist until the late 1980s) put forth the view that the scientific theories presented in The Living Seas were at odds with their religious beliefs. And try to imagine that their concerns were brought to Brad Rex, who was vice president of Epcot, and who made no secret of his religious faith and had no problem talking about it openly and publicly.
Now, please understand, I am not opposed to any belief system that is different than mine, with one provision: It should not be forced upon me, nor should it be used in a way that positions itself as superior to anyone else’s. I believe in exposing people to different faiths, different beliefs, different ideas.
That’s why science, to me, has always been so fascinating: It attempts to prove theories using facts, and rarely, if ever, sets forth the notion that its ideas are absolutely inarguable and unwavering; it’s why, for instance, the theories of evolution and relativity remain, to this day, “theories.” If they cannot be proven to any degree that is entirely infallible, they must remain theories.
So I never, ever imagined that anyone would take exception to some basic education, some awareness they might not have had before. Indeed, one of the reasons I lament the passing of The Living Seas was because it presented its offerings so simply, without fanfare – the seas that surround us were shown only to be extraordinary wonders we have barely begun to understand.
And then I read that blog entry.
And I got to wondering. Is it possible that Disney bowed to the wishes of a rather vocal group of ultra-conservative evangelicals and “Nemo-ized” The Living Seas, made it into a happy, un-threatening place, all because a group of people felt that the science on view in the pavilion was antithetical to their religious views?
It’s certainly possible – and possibilities are hard to discount.
Holding this view as plausible, it explains why discussion of man’s role in nature (in “Symbiosis”) was replaced with cute, cuddly “Lion King” characters. The effect of an animated warthog on nature is much less difficult for conservative groups to explain to children than, say, a factory’s impact on the environment.
It explains why, despite the appearance of one of the most visible gay-rights advocates in the country (the world, perhaps), “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” is much less threatening than an exploration of how man’s dependence on fossil fuels is depleting our earth’s resources. (The Big Bang and dinosaurs are still represented, but might they be on the chopping block in future incarnations?)
Perhaps I am too concerned, drawing too many tenuous connections.
But I have to wonder, given the role of faith in life of the executive who was in charge of Epcot, the rather interesting viewpoint expressed by Randall Niles, and the relative inanity (and harmlessness) of The Seas With Nemo and Friends ... is it possible?
Almost by definition, science exists to challenge our notions of the world in which we live. Challenge, it appears, is becoming a scarce commodity – and it’s quite possible that we are paying the price for demanding a world in which tough answers aren’t sought. (I won’t dwell on this idea, except to say I can’t believe that “easy credit” and “easy answers” aren’t related in at least the smallest of ways.) Science is challenging, it is difficult, it can even be confrontational if your own world view conflicts with it – just as it was for those who for centuries insisted the world was flat and the earth was at the center of the universe.
To hear that we are one small sphere amid “a hundred thousand million suns” does indeed fly in the face of any conservative views.
But I wouldn't expect hard science if I were a guest to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, I likewise don’t expect religious views, or their influence, to factor in to a visit to EPCOT.
Perhaps they didn’t. That's very possible.
And yet ... perhaps they did.
Try to imagine.
One well-placed letter, one influential guest complaining about EPCOT’s lack of “inclusiveness.” One guest threatening a boycott – or, worse, suggesting that his or her family might not buy the new Disney DVD because their sensibilities were disturbed by a dramatic, memorable recitation of the science of the creation of our little planet.
Try to imagine.