Soul is filled with Christian attitudes, values, and truths, but the imagery that shapes the story comes primarily from a New Spiritualist worldview. Surprisingly, the New Age spiritualism in Soul whimsically rejects many of the lies perpetuated in our culture through secular and materialistic worldviews that assume that we each can find fulfillment in success, but we have no soul and no higher purpose. Some viewers may get caught up by the New Age elements in Soul and miss its positive themes. Others may embrace the entire movie indiscriminately because it highlights the existence of the soul and the purpose of human beings. How can we hold these two sides in balance, gleaning what truths there are in Soul and discerning which parts can be subtly misleading?
When We Are Too Wary of Other Worldviews
If you were asked whether a secular worldview or a New Age worldview was more similar to a Christian worldview, how would you respond? Maybe you see New Spiritualism as an ally against materialism, or maybe you see rational, no-nonsense secularism as a buffer against the enigmatic illusions of New Age beliefs. Or perhaps you see both of them as completely different than, and contrary to, Christianity.
Indeed, the best way in which to answer “which one is more similar to Christianity,” is to choose neither one or the other. Instead of asking which of the two is closer to the truth, we should instead spend our energy determining how each is similar to Christianity and where they diverge from it. Every worldview outside of Christianity contains hints of the truth mixed in with falsehoods. The truth in each is, in part, what can make other worldviews so compelling, because all truth is from God. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”1 This applies even to truths present in false worldviews.
It is all too easy to lose track of what is really true. Even while holding firmly to essential theological doctrines, we can lose sight of many important truths. We find True North in the person of Jesus Christ, but because we are fallen, each of us is like a ship with a rudder that pulls to the right or to the left. We need constant course corrections (Is 30:21). Otherwise, we will unconsciously drift away from True North. Perhaps the greatest danger in rejecting other worldviews completely is that other worldviews can actually provide some course corrections. Counterintuitive as it might seem, the truths lodged in other worldviews can help us see with clearer eyes. When we look at our own beliefs from an outside perspective, we may uncover blind spots in our worldview we would never notice if we did not step outside of it momentarily. Secularism can remind us to seek truth when we wander into shallow, feelings-based “faith.” As Soul has done for some of its viewers, New Spiritualism can remind us that we can never find our purpose in material things or worldly success and that the metaphysical realm is real and vital.
When We Are Not Wary Enough of Other Worldviews
For any of us who have drifted towards the siren-song of materialism and earthly success, Soul gives a gentle course correction towards True North, reminding us that we have souls and that we cannot find our meaning or value in earthly success. While a small push might put us back on the right track, a big push can set us drifting in the opposite, wrong direction. If we fail to distinguish Christian elements from non-Christian elements in an edifying and inspiring story like Soul, we may drink in the Christian values and swallow the New Age assumptions along with them.
In Soul, the main characters learn to appreciate the little things in life. Soul 22, when she is accidentally thrust into life in a real body, finds out quickly that although life is full of difficulty and ugliness, there is also pleasure and beauty. She first realizes this when she is offered a piece of pizza. In the middle of complaining about life, she gets her first whiff of pizza: “Yeah this place is worse than I thought, it’s loud, and it’s bright… wait, what is that in my nose?” she says with surprise. Another main character is a middle-aged Jazz teacher who just got his big break as a performer. He doesn’t find the fulfillment he expects from making it as a Jazz player, but he realizes by the end of the movie that the fulfillment he has been chasing in a Jazz career is actually all around him in his everyday life. The central message of Soul is that we can find purpose not in success, but in enjoying the little things in life. But as to why we can find any purpose, Soul stays mysteriously silent. “Purpose” seems to be little more than a synonym for contentment or happiness.
When 22 is finally ready to start her own life, Joe asks the deity-like characters (known only as “the Jerrys”) what 22’s purpose is, and they reply, “We don’t assign purposes, where did you get that idea?” “Purpose” doesn’t seem to exist. Influenced by a New Age worldview, Soul communicates that there is no higher purpose, but that we find purpose from within ourselves, in our own experience of happiness or contentment. But within the upbeat message about finding happiness in life, it’s easy to miss that Soul subtly suggests that we don’t have any inherent purpose, and that it’s ok to live without purpose—a quite disturbing suggestion.
22’s question, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” is a great question, but on a closer inspection, Soul cannot give a satisfactory “yes” to the question. New Age spiritualism lacks any basis upon which to say definitely that living is worthwhile. The Christian truth that Soul presents is that all of life can be lived in joy and wonder with contentment. But where it goes wrong is implying that purpose is something that comes from external factors (people or circumstances) or from inside of us that we define for ourselves. We need to discern what is true and what is misleading in Soul to avoid unwittingly drifting into unchristian beliefs. Christianity provides the foundation needed to claim that our lives have any real purpose. We can live in wonder and joy by appreciating every aspect of our lives as part of a greater purpose that comes from him who is the Fountainhead of all purpose: God the Father.
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