The Jehovah's Witnesses are going viral. Social media users have discovered 'One Man One Woman', a short animation about same-sex marriage.
In the clip, a mother tells her daughter, Sophia, that only straight marriage is in Jehovah's 'plan' and that people should abide by those rules if they want to reach paradise. The sequence ends with the little girl revising bible quotes so she can explain to Carrie, her school-friend with two Moms, the true path to paradise.
The theology of the cartoon is clearly homophobic. On social media people are calling it disturbing, bigoted, creepy and hateful.
But I think the parenting depicted in the video is to be applauded and encouraged, for several reasons.
First, the mother begins the discussion by saying 'people have their own ideas about what is right and wrong'. This is the essence of pluralism. This highly religious Mom is teaching her daughter that they live in a diverse society.
Next, the video carries no suggestion whatsoever that the lesbian couple and their daughter should be denied any civil rights, economic benefits or social courtesies in this world. The disincentive to being homosexual is located entirely in the afterlife (depicted in the video as a airline metal detector which denies entry to those with 'baggage').
This may seem unpleasant, but it is an astonishing concession by those of a religious persuasion. If anything, it is too idyllic. Outside of this cartoon world, religious fundamentalists make demands that the law of the land conform to their world-view. In many parts of the world people who does not adhere to religious orthodoxy is can be convicted of apostasy, branded a terrorist, or simply hacked to death.
It is also noteworthy that the mother in the video encourages her daughter to stay in the school, despite the fact that the teacher 'says that all that matters is that people love each other and that they're happy'. At least she does not move her child to a uniformly religious school or, worse, start home-schooling. A crucial problem with the current political discourse is that we create social bubbles, surrounding ourselves with people who think as we do. Plaudits to the CGI Mom in this animation, who sends her daughter right back into the pluralist environment.
This is surely the approach that we want parents with strong religious views to take. It is also how we should behave when we find ourselves in a similar situation. If a child of mine came home and said that others in her class were (say) denying climate change, I hope I would do what the mother in this video does: spend time with her daughter in front of an open book, giving her arguments that she can pass on to her schoolmates. Our ideologies may be one hundred and eighty degrees different but I think the parenting is sound.
Some might say that when little Sophia tells little Carrie that her two Moms will not being going to Jehovah's paradise, that will cause Carrie unnecessary distress. This may be true, but it is also inevitable in a secular society. Carrie's lesbian parents will be well aware of this. Don't forget that as soon as Sophia starts her proselytising, she will be subject to the critiques from her school-mates. Little Ricky from biology class may even tell her, in cruel terms, that Jehovah doesn't actually exist! This will be just as distressing. If the teacher has any sense about her (and on the evidence of the video, it seems she does) then she can turn Sophia's preachy playtime into the best Religious Studies lesson ever. All the kids could take a turn describing their family's values, and discuss which makes most sense to twenty-first century living. Sophia's biblical arguments about paradise and marriage may not stand up to scrutiny.
If we take a step back, the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses have commissioned this animation at all is something to be applauded... even if we find the message rather ugly. At a time when so much debate happens in shrill 140 character salvoes, it is refreshing to watch something that does not try to obfuscate the nature of its message. The Jehovah's Witnesses are seeking to persuade us with the best theology their faith can muster, using a very modern vernacular: Pixar-style animation.
These overtures should not be condemned, but countered head-on. It cannot be beyond the wit of those who celebrate same-sex marriage (whether they are religious or not) to animate a rejoinder in a similar style. 'One Man, One Woman' is a challenge and the start of a dialogue.
Now it is the turn of other artists to create the scenes that inevitably follow. Let us see what life is like in Carrie's home. What arguments do her two Moms offer to counter Sophia's Old Testament assertions? Or is the simple fact of their love enough to reassure Carrie that Sophia is very, very wrong?
Robert Sharp's novella The Good Shabti was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award.