I love, love, LOVE Once Upon a Time.
Fairies, pirates, powerful women and the men who adore them, and really classy business suits… I have watched the whole series at least 3 times. (Yes, I binge watch. Don’t judge.) While it’s true that I just love fairy tales in general, in this case I actually have a good reason.
The themes are brilliant.
The most poignant example of the story is the power of redemption in the life of the once-evil-queen, Regina.
You see, her heart was twisted in hatred and revenge because of the bitterness she felt for losing her fiance, and the target of her anger was Snow White, who just kept loving Regina anyway. Sometimes that love almost broke through to Regina, but the very human mistakes Snow made pushed Regina back into her shell as “evil queen”.
But when Regina experienced the love of a baby, her adopted son Henry, everything changed. She learned to love him and to sacrifice everything for him. It took a long time (over a decade), but she eventually learned that letting go of her hatred and finding friendship and a place in the world was the only way to be happy.
By the end of the show, the Evil Queen was gone, because Regina had earned her redemption and chosen to love instead of hate, and she became a protective and loving mother and friend (and arguably the most powerful character in the show.)
The themes are many, but here are just a few that continually repeat:
- No one is really all good or all evil.
- The right path is never the easy one.
- A heart filled with love will give up thoughts of revenge.
- It’s never too late for an evil person to choose to do right.
See what I mean? Such wonderful, happy themes! It’s still a grown-up show – I’m not recommending it for your kiddos, but as television goes, it has a lot of redeeming qualities.
But… But… But!! I can hear you right now pointing out all the theological problems you see in the above list. Maybe you are concerned about “earning” redemption through good deeds.
Hear me loud and clear. I’m NOT telling you that you should get your theology from a TV show. You shouldn’t. Go to the Bible, your pastor, and your church for that. ‘Nuff said.
So, why mention this show on a blog about Christian living?
When I watch heroes (men AND women!) accepting their responsibilities even when they are hard and may mean loss of life and loved ones, I am reminded that Jesus said that to follow Him we have to be willing to give up our own lives.
When I see villains struggling internally with the a desire for both love and power, I am reminded that Jesus said no one can serve two masters (and money is but a form of power).
When I see parents letting go of all thoughts of hatred and revenge because the love of a child is so much more powerful than those dark motivations, I reminded that no one who has love in their heart can hold onto hatred for another.
You see what I mean? The TV show sure isn’t a Bible study, but it boldly stole from Christian elements to make a great story.
I could go on, but I won’t.
OK – so you get it. But I hear someone now: “Why does it matter what the themes are? It’s just entertainment.”
I clap with glee that someone gave me the perfect opening! Teacher hat goes on NOW.
Philippians 4:8 (KJV) says,
“8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Once Upon a Time glorifies honesty. It praises people choosing sacrificial love over personal gain. It encourages hope and discourages revenge and lies. It says that being good means making the hard, right, choices and learning how to care about other people, even when it hurts.
Conversely, many TV shows portray hardened, bitter characters and glorify self-seeking choices (and this is why I have stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy. A few redeeming episodes and compelling characters do not make-up for a general worldview that repeatedly undermines who God tells us to be.). Even worse, some TV shows turn the criminal into the “good guy” and elicit our sympathy for them, which turns our moral compass topsy-turvy..
You see, Entertainment matters because it alters our perspective
If we fill our minds with themes contrary to what we say we believe, we will eventually “change our minds”. Our entertainment can become our way of thinking, as a recent psychological study shows.
I’m definitely not saying “everyone should watch Once Upon a Time because it is “Christian”” (it’s not, and some might find it problematic for reasons I will not go into here.).
What I AM saying, is that it is our responsibility to first put the Scriptures into our minds so that we are changing our minds to think like Jesus and to second avoid entertainment that would draw our sympathies toward the world’s perspective.
If we aren’t spending even 5 minutes in the Bible every day, (and I certainly recommend daily time Bible reading time), we certainly can NOT afford to spend an hour or two every day watching entertainment that contradicts the principles by which Jesus said we should live our lives. But it sure seems like we watch a lot of TV.
I like Once Upon a Time for many reasons, but mostly because it keeps saying that sacrificial love and a moral core are the most important parts of a person’s character. I find it to be a refreshing spot of rest and idealism in the midst of a swamp of unacceptable entertainment, and it reminds me that the principles of love, honesty, truth, and self-sacrifice in the Scriptures are powerful enough to not just make good stories, but to change lives.