My wife and I do allow our children to watch some TV, but we often feel vaguely guilty about it, even though we’re super careful in what and how much they watch. Here’s one reason why we feel that guilt: my five-year-old son was watching his then favorite cartoon, a preschool version of Transformers, a set of rescue robots who live on Griffin Rock, an island town, and most nights he would request that his bedtime story for the evening feature a certain subset of those characters. He would carefully pick out certain ones that had to be in the story I was about to tell, and maybe toss in an archnemesis or two that they had to thwart that night.
One evening I made up a story about how it was raining glue and the Transformers were asked to stop the glue and clean up the mess. Maybe, someone suggested, these rescue robots could make it rain? “Only God can make it rain,” replied one of the Transformers—I said. My little son immediately interjected, “There’s no God in Transformers!” I informed my firstborn that I couldn’t tell a story in which God wasn’t allowed. He wouldn’t hear of it. He was very insistent. We hit an impasse, and I can’t remember how I solved it, or if I did! We may have had to call in Mom’s wisdom, I don’t recall…
Listen: I promise this preschool show never once said, “Repeat after us Transformers, kids: ‘There is no God.’” But after 25 or 30 episodes in which God and His word are never consulted for answers, and in which God is never thanked for rescues, my son got the message very clearly: Transformers is a secular world, a world where God and religion are not just absent, not just ignored, but forbidden. I checked, and I think there are churches on the cityscape in the background in some of the shots used in that cartoon. But in a secular place like Griffin Rock, religion isn’t ever encouraged, or even allowed, to come out of the buildings in which it’s stuck.
The assumption is that religion obtrudes, that it doesn’t belong out in the public square, that it really ought to stay private—that assumption is more often implicit than explicit. It’s just in the air. Without ever being told in so many words that God doesn’t belong, the fact that He’s never invited is itself a message that people get loud and clear. And as soon as you push the boundaries of this assumption that God doesn’t belong, people will pop up and object like my five-year-old did.
I’m not whining, however, just observing. And I do not think I have uncovered some conspiracy; I don’t believe that the secularism of Griffin Rock was fully purposeful. Stories people tell reflect their worldviews, that’s all. This is the situation the Bible would lead us to expect.