Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
Mickey Mouse Matrimony:
The Disneyfication of Religion
Marriage has been a central building block of society in every civilization. Far from a private affair, or one which is dictated by personal whims and tastes, marriage has been recognized as the beginning of a journey which is at best challenging, at worst difficult, and ultimately critical to a stable family life. The ancient marriage rite of the Church places every marriage within the context of the marriages which have gone before: the marriages of the patriarchs of the Old Testament are invoked in the prayers of matrimony, the prayers of the saints are sought for the blessing of the couple with children according to the will of God, and the Presence of the Lord Himself in the Holy Mystery of Marriage is invoked to bless the union of the man and wife. Marriage takes place within the context of the whole Church down through the ages: no couple enters it alone, since the holy witness of the Church recognizes that alone, a marriage can only end in failure.
The American corporation that poses as a theme park recently announced it was expanding its menu of options for couples who dream of a wedding in fantasyland. The Disney Corporation, which has for years sponsored weddings in its theme parks, is expanding its line of princess rental dresses for brides who want to look like Cinderella for a day. Available settings for the one-day affairs range from a Polynesian setting, to a beach party, to a romantic castle retreat.
Notably absent from the menu was any sense of marriage within the context of the Church. Like much of the religious culture of our time, a Disney wedding is plug-and-play, marriage a-la-carte, or as the classic series of paintings by the British painter Hogarth was entitled, Marriage-a-la-mode (that is, marriage according to current fashion, not marriage with ice cream - although this is certainly an option at the Disney theme parks). Weddings at Disney begin to look so much like the rest of our popular culture, a sad exercise of opt-in, opt-out consumerism, with the focus on the experience, much like a vacation escape.
In the real world, there is a vast difference between a wedding and a marriage. The need for long term endurance and stability is the key to love and joy in a marriage and in a family. This is the very reason that the Orthodox Christian marriage service is rooted in eternal things: because eternal things survive, where fantasies fail.
Much of what passes for "spirituality" in western culture is all about fantasy and escaping reality. It is no surprise that many pragmatists reject such indulgence as spiritual fluff - because it is fluff. Still many others, eager to give a spiritual flavour to their fantasy world, adopt it ad hoc; this has been the basis of many quarters of emotion-driven Protestantism and "charismatic" Roman Catholicism for the last few centuries. Both rationalism and spiritual fluffiness fail when it comes to living an authentic Christian life, as Saint Gregory Palamas teaches, and so many of the Church Fathers affirm. Knowing God is something much more than clever thinking; it is certainly much more than living out candy-coated fantasies.
Of course, the Disney Corporation does not enlist the Church Fathers as wedding consultants. If it did, fairy tale castles and coaches, along with fantasy settings and marriages on the beach would not be found on the guest options list. The Disney menu offers a selection far more consumable - far more easily sold.
Several years ago, a hurricane hit the Disney theme park in Florida, doing limited damage, but leaving a startling mark on the facade that most visitors see. Building exteriors which gave the illusion of permanence were overnight revealed to be nothing more than brightly coloured pressboard, held with rivets to ugly steel frames, hardly the stuff on which the foundations of childhood, married life, or faith should be built. Those who entered the park in the hours after the cleanup caught just a glimpse of this reality, as crews rushed to restore the cheery theme park illusion. The park in the hurricane; the Disney wedding; the glass coach: this is the spirituality of fantasyland.
For Canadians who often define themselves based on our differences with Americans, and as Orthodox Christians seeking the depths of the authentic Christian Church, we might ask ourselves which world we aspire to emulate more, in our weddings, in our marriages, and in our lives. The two choices could not be more different: life in Christ is true life, because it is Eternal Life, while fantasyland religion is false life, a shadow and a dream, as the Orthodox memorial service puts it.
And glass coaches and slippers, like the dreams on which they are built, are easily - and inevitably - shattered.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.