We all have a longing for what’s beyond us, for the supernatural.
This longing can only be truly fulfilled in experiential relationship with a loving, supernatural God. But it can be “entertained” by books or movies. Prime examples on Disney+ right now are Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Ms. Marvel.
Everyone knows that Disney loves their magic. They believe in the supernatural. However, Disney has always been careful about how they present the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)—they are willing to take more liberty with other belief systems or the occult. Some Christians feel that Disney has an agenda to promote the occult. I disagree. I think they simply calculate that poorly representing one of the major faith groups among their customers could do irreparable damage. So rather than criticizing Disney, I think that Disney films can be used to teach many truths about the occult that people of faith can agree with.
The following points, taken from Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and from Ms. Marvel episodes 1-3, are based on my understanding of the Bible and 25+ years of experience ministering in a Southeast Asian culture. WARNING: there are a few tiny spoilers here…
First of all, Christians and Disney agree that there is a spirit world. Disney just can’t be a fully reliable guide for us on how to interact with it, because they exclude Jesus from the equation.
But what’s left does warn viewers about some powerful truths:
1. The Scarlet Witch tells Dr. Strange that using dark magic “takes a toll out of the user.” The more she used it, the more evil she was willing to do to achieve her goals.
This has also been our experience working in a world of witchdoctors and shamans. Many of them offer healing and other small supernatural feats—for a price. Not only does the hurting person have to pay in money (or some bartered goods), but frequently they go home healed in one area but sick in a new way. For example, my good friend Ishak experienced a shaman “miraculously” heal his broken arm, but struggled with mental illness ever since.
On the contrary, when Jesus healed in the Bible and when he heals people today, it’s always free, no strings attached, no regrets. We’ve seen Jesus heal people of paralysis, hallucinations, tumors, and violent mental illness, to name just a few. It cost them nothing but simple trust in Jesus.
2. Using magic to resurrect the dead results in zombies—unnatural beings that aren’t fully alive.
I’ve never seen this, nor do I wish to. But I would like to see someone that Jesus has raised from the dead, because in both Biblical and modern accounts (even among people I know personally), those people are fully alive.
3. Our dreams may intersect with reality in ways we didn’t expect. The Scarlet Witch demonstrates this through “dreamwalking,” which is a way to interact with events somewhere far away while you dream.
I’ve heard of this concept in various forms in the occult. I’ve also heard of a similar phenomenon from a Christian pastor, Richard Wurmbrand.
Pastor Wurmbrand was arrested by the Communist government in his native Rumania and spent part of his many years in prison in solitary confinement. One thing God assigned him to do in order to maintain his mental and spiritual health was to preach to himself. He memorized many sermons while in prison so he’d be ready to preach again when he was released.
When he was finally released, others encouraged him to travel to the West to raise up prayer for the persecuted church. That’s where I met Pastor Wurmbrand and heard some of his amazing stories.
He shared that when visiting a church in middle America, someone came to him after the service saying something like this:
“Pastor Wurmbrand, my spiritual father, I’m so glad to finally meet you in person. Thank you for leading me to faith in Jesus.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You visited me in a dream ___ number of years ago [the time when he was preaching to himself in prison] and preached the gospel to me.” The person quoted some lines from a sermon that Pastor Wurmbrand had memorized in jail. “And I gave my heart to Christ.”
Using magic to manipulate dream effects is a bad idea; but God may be doing things through our dream lives that we would never have expected.
In another example, one night my wife woke up after dreaming her old college friend from Liberia was running with fire all around him. She immediately began to pray earnestly for him. Years later when they met, he told her of running for his life in the Liberian civil war, begging God to tell someone to pray for him—at the exact time that my wife received the dream.
4. Trying to defeat one supernatural evil with a stronger supernatural evil is risky.
From my experience, I would say that this is not beyond the realm of possibility. The people we serve frequently invite spirits to protect their family from evil caused by spirits from other families. It wouldn’t surprise me if this has some small measure of success, because demonic spirits may not play nice together. Yet the result is more and more fear, more and more bondage, never confidence of complete victory.
Ms. Marvel also includes a supernatural element, the appearance of the djinn.
Christianity tends to lump all supernatural forces into good—angels, or bad—demons. Islam also has angels and demons, but includes another category of spirit beings called djinn, from which we get the English word “genie.” They can choose to honor Allah or choose to be evil.
Unlike angels whose goal is only to serve God, and demons whose goal is to war against God, the djinn may have their own selfish agendas. This is the case in Ms. Marvel.
Among the people we serve, legend has it that when a great Islamic teacher came to our area to spread the faith, he brought a djinn with him from Saudi Arabia. His hometown welcomed the djinn with a feast in his honor. Now many years later, that town is the most extremist in our whole province. The police reported that one of the Bali bombings was planned there, and terrorist training camps were found just outside the town. Is this a coincidence, or does this djinn (or demonic spirit) have his own non-Islamic agenda??
To summarize, one redeeming factor from Disney is that we learn that even good-intentioned people can get into big trouble messing around with witchcraft, and that we should not be too quick to trust “spirit guides” who may have an agenda other than our good. Both of these truths put a spotlight on how great it is to be connected to Jesus. There is real supernatural power available to us through Christ for miracles, which are always free and always life-giving; and Jesus is a safe guide for us because his willingness to die for us proved that he always has our best interests at heart.
I don’t recommend Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness for children under 13 because of the explicit witchcraft and occult scenes. If you watch this film with your kids, it might be wise to follow up with a conversation such as in this blogpost.
However, I highly recommend Ms. Marvel for anyone 8 and above. So far in the first 3 episodes, the djinn are not presented as darkly as many other Disney villains. Meanwhile, I wish everyone in the West would watch this show with your kids because of the terrific portrayal of Pakistani American culture, including little bits of the Islamic faith. It’s a bold break with the last 30 years of Disney movies to gently present a community with an Abrahamic faith, and at least through the first 3 episodes, they’ve presented it brilliantly.