After a recent birthday party, my four-year-old daughter is now officially obsessed with the latest Disney movie, Moana. As a dad, I am very relieved because a). it’s not Frozen, and b). it’s not Frozen. Plus, I find this new film to be more enjoyable than a story about a misunderstood ice queen who just wants to let it go. Moana has action and comedy a-plenty, and as a guy, I was happy that the demigod Maui was almost a co-star, rather than just a periodic comic relief like Olaf in Frozen.
Being a mish-mash of ancient Pacific Island cultures, Moana has quite a bit of mythological backstory and context with gods and goddesses and world-ending consequences. The film’s villain is a fiery volcanic demon who looks like the younger sibling of Chronos in another bucket-o-gods movie, Wrath of the Titans. In that Greek-inspired fantasy, Chronos bursts out of a volcano and all hell literally breaks loose. Quite a different cinematic experience than Moana, but both movies share one common thread: the gods must be crazy.
Polytheism has been around almost as long as humanity. The Bible doesn’t pinpoint an exact moment in history when people started worshiping other gods, but it is clear from the Tower of Babel kerfuffle (Genesis 11) that mankind was already turning away from the true God and looking to other sources of greatness. The Ten Commandments instructs God’s people to have “no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The ancient Egyptians, the Vikings, Native Americans, Aborigines, the African tribes, the Greeks, the Romans – all prayed to many gods who presided over specific parts of life on Earth.
In our modern, Western, Judaeo-Christian culture, there is a tendency to romanticize these cultures and their pagan traditions (look up “Noble Savage”). Heavily diluted and warped reinterpretations like Moana and Wrath of the Titans make the gods more-or-less like us — impulsive, emotional, plagued with doubt, valiantly striving against insurmountable odds. Demigods (humans with god-given power) like Maui or Perseus are really just templates for our modern comic book superheroes.
This is all fun and games from our enlightened, high-tech perch where we can say, “Aw, that’s cute. The native is praying to his ‘fire god.’ Adorable.” Yet it’s important to remember that these “adorable natives” prayed with as much devotion, if not more so, to their gods, elders, and ancestors as we do to the God of the Bible. These myths were absolutely real to them. Of course, it was ignorance that imprisoned them (atheists say the same thing about religion today) but the fear and awe that these fictitious deities held over these cultures was enough to rule the people completely. They weren’t just stories; the gods were as real as their own flesh and blood.
All of this makes me very grateful that I know who the One True God is, as well as the fact that there is only One True God. It sounds a bit silly, but it is a lot simpler to worship one omniscient, omnipotent God than to worry about appeasing dozens or hundreds of lesser gods. My crops died, so I must have made the sun god mad … or is it the rain god? Perhaps the dirt god? Perhaps I am simply being messed with by a trickster god? Ain’t nobody got time for dat. As Captain America famously declared to the delight of Christian geeks everywhere: “There is only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”