The Wizard of Oz: The Power of Self

Posted: March 7, 2013 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Adventure, Family, Fantasy
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WizardofOzYou’d have to ask my sister, but I think I was nearly a teenager before I was able to watch The Wizard of Oz from beginning to end–with both eyes open.  That wicked witch of the west has to be one of the scariest villains in all of movie history.  And those flying monkeys!  For a movie made in 1939, this timeless film has it all–the action, the drama, the interesting characters, and the captivating conclusion.  Now, almost 75 years later, comes the release of the “origin story” entitled Oz the Great and Powerful which we will discuss tomorrow.  For now, let’s consider Frank Baum’s story of Dorothy and her adventures in the mythical country that is in no way like Kansas.

According to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz is the most watched movie of all time.  It has achieved that status mainly due to the fact that it has been shown on network television every year since 1950!  There are all sorts of themes in this movie which resonate so much with us.  The little lost girl who just longs to return home.  The defeat of the evil witch.  The lion, tin man, and scarecrow who find out who they really are.  The wizard who is not really all-powerful.  Cute and tough little Toto.  The emergence of strong female heroes and weak male figures.  Escaping vs. embracing your roots.  And the list goes on.

In the midst of all of these storylines, there is a real demonic message in The Wizard of Oz.  No, I’m not talking about that wicked witch and her henchman.  My apologies if this is your all-time favorite family film, but the insidious dual lie perpetrated by the story is that there is no God and your power to be who you need to be is inside yourself.  In other words, YOU alone have the power and the ability to get what you want.  You don’t need to seek a great wizard to get you back home or give you a heart, mind, and strength.  The Wizard of Oz is one of a long line of movies that has taught the deception that all you need is to believe in yourself and all will be well.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider when Glenda, the good witch, tells Dorothy that she has had the power to return to Kansas all along, she just didn’t know it.  And, after the disappointment of discovering the wizard was just a man, her three companions also learn that what they wanted most of all was also inside them all along.  Now to be a bit more gracious here, in the context of the Depression era of American history it may have been good medicine to tell a story with this sort of rugged individualism.  But unfortunately, this movie resonates with us in all periods and cultures because our rebellious hearts want to believe the power to have it all in this life comes from within.  And, in our sin, we don’t want any higher power to fix our problems either!

Scripture gives us a much different view of our condition.  Certainly, we are just like Dorothy–lost in a world buffeted by the forces of evil, and longing for our real home.  We are also like the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow who want to be “whole” yet have “holes” in our character.  But the gospel truth is that we need an external source of power and salvation.  There is nothing within us that can get us to heaven or make us completely holy.  Yes, we are image-bearers, but we are weak-willed sinners as well.  Left to ourselves, we will just keep wandering through Oz, held captive by our own inability as well as the evil all around us.  So even though Dorothy and her three friends are depicted as generally good, true humanity is totally depraved and unable to become good on its own.

And then there’s that pesky wizard.  What a disappointment!  The great and powerful Wizard of Oz is just an old man from Kansas with absolutely nothing to offer (except a failure of a hot-air balloon ride home).  We’ll focus much more on this man in my next post, but consider what this wizard says about God: Believing in God is useless–he’s just a fragile old man who deceives people with special effects.  God, like the wizard, roars and thunders, but there’s nothing there to back it up.  God is just a fake, with no power to change anything in this world.  Religion is just opiate for the masses.  That’s why we need to believe in ourselves!

So, the next time you sit down with your children to watch The Wizard of Oz, don’t miss the opportunity to talk with them about where the power to: (1) go home to heaven and (2) to live life on this earth comes.  It cannot be found within!  As believers, we have THE truly great and powerful God who by His grace gives us a heart, a mind, and strength to love and serve Him alone.

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