What is wrong with Sparlock?
The release of the Watchtower's 2012 DVD, Become Jehovah's Friend - Listen, Obey and Be Blessed, received a huge amount of attention on the Internet by the Jehovah's Witness community. Amongst former JW's, it was labeled negatively as a manipulative piece of propaganda. Whilst some comments by active Witnesses showed they too had concerns about the message, others praised it as containing valuable messages for children, particularly around being obedient, and avoiding the occult. It is important for infants to obey their parents, and true that the Bible warns against the practice of spiritism, so can the DVD be viewed as valuable, or does it contain a message that parents should be concerned about.
The main areas of concern are:
- Discouraging Critical thinking
- Controlling by Fear and Guilt
- Crushing imagination
- Us and Them
The Sparlock video discourages critical thinking in the child. The message of lesson two is "Obey Jehovah", even when there is no explanation why. The mother does not reference any Scripture that says a wizard is bad, or even attempt to explain what is wrong with a wizard, it is just to be accepted that it makes Jehovah sad. The message is black and white; wizards are from Satan and make Jehovah sad, because Mum said so. The underlying message is therefore, "obey Jehovah without question."
Imagine what would happen if the child questioned the mother, such as that it is only a toy. The answer would be, "do not question Jehovah!" That is a statement that will arise constantly through the witness child's life. When as an adult Caleb has any sort of doubt the response will be, "Wait on Jehovah", or "Who are you to question God?" However, it is not Jehovah being questioned, but the rules made by men running a religion. This is indoctrination at its most insidious level, as it crushes critical thinking, and this video encourages doing so from the youngest of ages.
Sparlock is training the child for acceptance of Watchtower rules, an important lesson that is required to remain with a Jehovah's Witness, and key to running a high control religion. As a Witness child grows, the rules will change, but the unquestioning acceptance must not. The demands won't be to discard a plastic toy that makes Jehovah sad, but to avoid "worldly" school friends, forgo a higher education, shun a disfellowshipped relative, or refuse a blood transfusion. Though the Bible does not specifically discuss any of these, a Witness child is well conditioned not to notice, and accept them as directives from Jehovah.
This deviates greatly from intelligent child rearing, which is based on educating children how to think. For instance, a child can be taught they must not go on the road by two different messages. A parent can say, "Don't go near the road, because I said so", or "Don't go near the road because a car may hit and hurt you." It is obvious which is the better way.
Children raised a Witness will commonly struggle when they leave the religion later in life, because they find they do not have a clearly defined moral compass. Since the primary reason behind each decision was that Jehovah forbids it, if they no longer accept the Watchtower's definition of what Jehovah wants, then all morals need re-evaluation. Is it really bad to have a cigarette, drugs, premarital sex, bet on a sports match, get drunk, celebrate a birthday, have an abortion? The list goes on, and is confronting when a person suddenly realises they have no idea, other than that a religious leader told them it "makes Jehovah sad."
An important aspect of a child's emotional and mental development is through their imaginations. The Power of Magical Thinking - Research Shows the Importance of Imagination in Children's Cognitive Development states:
"But, increasingly, child-development experts are recognizing the importance of imagination and the role it plays in understanding reality. Imagination is necessary for learning about people and events we don't directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world." wsj.com Shirley Wang (as at 23rd Aug 2012)
Fairy stories are beloved by all children, and children learn quickly to distinguish these as stories and not to be taken literally. Imagination remains in adults, who continue enthralled by fantasy, science fiction, action heroes, or even love stories. Across the board, religious holy texts too are filled with mythological stories. The Bible abounds in vivid fantasy, such as its many celestial descriptions, or the portrayal of warring kingdoms with imaginary beasts.
The struggle between good and evil is a common theme in holy books and fairy tales. It is a common and healthy story line played out by children. Sparlock is not a wizard fighting against Jehovah, he is a fairy tale with special powers, like Mickey Mouse. Caleb could use Sparlock as the bad wizard to be defeated, or as the good wizard working for Jehovah. It is his fantasy world for him to control and develop. A Witness parent would not want his child playing with a wizard in an occult like manner, or describing Sparlock as the hero with Satanic powers. That is where the role of the parent may need to step in.
Disney Junior defines itself as "Where the Magic Begins." Where does the Sparlock story now place the majority of children's cartoons, which abound in fantasy and magic? Classics loved by Witness families in the past, such as Peter Pan, The Lion King, The Wizard of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, or the Sword in the Stone.
Magic is an event that has a supernatural origination.
"the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces" Oxford Dictionary
Although magic is regularly used with an occult connotation, by definition the source can also be God. To the casual observer, it is not possible to tell whether the source is God or Satan. For instance, in Acts 8:9-13, Simon was "practicing the magical arts", leading people to conclude he was "the Power of God".
The Sparlock message is confusing, as much for an adult as for a child, as the Bible shows that God's followers practice magic, even if they are usually referred to as miracles. Sparlock looks like Moses, complete with white beard and staff. In the story of Moses' encounter with Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron battle magic tricks with Pharaoh's magic practicing priests. Aaron could be described as a magic practicing priest himself; the contrast being that he followed a different God to the Egyptians. To those watching, it was not possible to tell whether the same or different supernatural source was behind turning the staffs to snakes. When Aaron performed a miracle, Exodus 8:7 tells us "…the magic-practicing priests did the same thing…."
There are numerous magical stories in the Bible. Moses' copper serpent with healing powers, the burning bush, Balaam's talking ass, the Angel that killed 186,000 Assyrians, Jesus walking on water and turning water into wine, the apostles handling snakes, healing people and raising the dead. Being a magician does not therefore indicate that a person is a worshipper of Satan.
Neither does the Bible discourage education into other points of view, even when this includes religious beliefs or magic. Moses was educated into the ways of the Egyptians.
Acts 7:22: "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds."
Daniel was educated in Chaldean teachings. The teachings and practices of both the Egyptians and Chaldean's were steeped in occultism. Whilst Daniel chose not to eat of the kings diet, and refused to bow to an idol at the risk of death, he did not refuse the education, which included their ways of magic.
"To make sure that the Hebrew teenagers would be molded to fit in with the Babylonian system, Nebuchadnezzar decreed that his officials "teach them the writing and the tongue of the Chaldeans." (Daniel 1:4) This was no ordinary education. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains that it "comprised the study of Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic . . . , and other languages, as well as the extensive literature written in them." "The extensive literature" consisted of history, mathematics, astronomy, and so on. However, "associated religious texts, both omina [omens] and astrology …, played a large part."" Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! p.34
Directing by Fear and Guilt
Although the mother does not use Scriptural reasoning on why wizards are bad, she does reference the Bible (through a Watchtower publication) to explain what happens to those that "make Jehovah sad", pointing to a picture of Adam and Eve, old and wrinkled after being expelled from paradise.
This is key to high control religion; fear and guilt. Caleb does not know why Sparlock makes Jehovah sad, just that it does. He will be punished by Jehovah, just as Adam and Eve were, if he wants to keep Sparlock. If he likes Sparlock, which he obviously does, he will feel guilt and fear of the consequences.
High control religion is also about “us and them.” “They are bad, we are God's chosen ones.” Caleb has learnt this at a young age. A child at school kindly gives Caleb Sparlock as a gift, and Caleb tells the mother that “all the kids are going to see the movie.” The mother explains that people with toy wizards are doing what Satan likes and makes Jehovah sad. Caleb now knows that the children at school are on Satan's side. What a way for a child to view their fellow classmates.
I recall a child in primary school telling the children in her class that Jehovah was going to kill them at Armageddon. She mentioned this so often it required the school principle to request a meeting with the parents. Yet that is exactly the message that a Jehovah's Witness parent instills in their children.
The View of Women
Other aspects to this DVD are interesting to note. In Lesson 1, Caleb's mother is on her knees, scrubbing the floor with a brush. What era does the Governing Body think we are living in? When she finishes cleaning, she changes out of pants into a dress for family worship, in her own home. It seems that the 1960's corporate dress code Jehovah's Witness must wear to meetings is also expected in ones own home for family worship. The Watchtower wife is presented as the Stepford wife, an era the Governing Body seem to look back to longingly.
The type of parental guidance the Watchtower promotes has long lasting affects on children. One of my most vivid early childhood memories was from when I turned 7. A well-meaning teacher called me in front of the class and had them sing happy birthday, much to my dismay. Upon finding out, my mother sat me down and chastised my, reading from Revelation that God vomits anyone lukewarm from his mouth, and that I had shown myself to be lukewarm for God. I cannot remember her explaining why birthdays are wrong - how could she explain the baseless Watchtower argument that since someone was killed at a Bible birthday that all birthdays are wrong. Certainly no one had been murdered at any of the school children's birthday parties I was not allowed to attend as a child. But I cannot forget the feeling of being lukewarm vomit in the mouth of God.
The latest version of the Watchtower Governing Body seems to be moving into an even more controlling era. Since the mid 2000's, there have been regular comments around the concept that:
"Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same?" Watchtower 2009 Feb 15 p.27
This control is extended to children. Magic in toys and movies has always been frowned upon, but previously it had been written that magical toys were not necessarily to be considered as bad.
"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.
Remember too the principle at 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous.” While a popular toy may not be objectionable to you, is it truly advantageous to purchase it? Could it offend or stumble others?" Awake! 1994 Sep 8 p.9
The 1994 Awake! presents a more balanced view than that portrayed by the Sparlock DVD, identifying that "magical" toys can be part of a child's normal imaginative process, as compared with the DVD message that a magical toy will make Jehovah mad. After watching the 2012 DVD, few Witnesses parents will feel comfortable openly letting their children play with such toys in front of other Witnesses.
Sparlock is just further reminder of the stifled childhood a Witness child undergoes. It is not only magical fantasy that a Witness is forbidden. They miss out on birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. They are not supposed to play with toy guns. They should limit friendships with worldly children at school. Whilst other children are playing sport on a Saturday morning, they are preaching door to door, hoping all their school friends do play sport and are not at home to taunt them. It is a childhood of control and isolation.
Is this DVD dangerous for children? My 4 year old son watched it, said nothing, and then continued on with things that he finds far more exciting. I expect that to be the typical reaction of children. In isolation it is nothing more than a B grade cartoon that will hold little long-term appeal for most children. However, the message is damaging to children, and will have an affect on those Witness children that are forced to watch it constantly by eager Jehovah's Witness parents wanting to instil their children with Watchtower conditioning.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2013