What Did You Just Say to Me??? (Thoughts on Donald Duck and the Meaning of Conscience in the 19th, 20th, 21st and 1st Century)

Donald Duck as he first appeared in The Wise L...

Donald Duck as he first appeared in The Wise Little Hen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 1938 Disney view of conscience:  “Donald’s Better Self”-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDLWbBrvA40

I came out of a party lifestyle.  I grew up with no background whatsoever having to do with Christianity.  My parents’ had actually both rebelled against institutional religion.  Christianity in particular.  In high school I ended up getting involved with some weird, psychologically dangerous drugs.

Once when I was having a rather bad, intense experience on one of the occasions that I took strong drugs, I took so much that it actually put me into a mini coma for about half a minute.  I literally thought I was dead for a bit, and then came to.  I was so afraid that I prayed to God (whoever He or “It” was to me at the time!)  And I was filled with this intense feeling inside of me- it was a gut check that made me want to change everything.  I wanted to stop all the destructive stuff I was doing and start a brand new life in that moment.  Unfortunately I fell back in with bad things after a couple of weeks.  But I always held on to that moment where it seemed like everything was so clear, and doing the right thing was so attractive.  My guilt for doing bad things seemed to fester in me, especially after that experience.  Nothing wrong brought me satisfaction, and things that once brought a thrill turned into dark addictions that eat away at me.

I had a basic idea about God (or my conscience) because of what my Dad had told me about God when I was young…  One night when I was in 5th Grade I was having some bizarre nightmares.  I called my Dad in a fit of fear, and he told me; “Pray to God, and you won’t be afraid anymore…”  It was something really simple like that.  But I would often try it, and it would work.  In those moments, I’d realize that it was silly to be scared and to worry.  Something in me would realize that it was ethically right to not be afraid and be at peace.  It seemed in those moments to be a waste of time to dwell in fear.

Maybe I had an idea about my conscience because of cartoons like the 1938 classic, “Donald Duck’s Better Self”!  Growing up I learned plenty of moral lessons from children’s stories.  My religious sources were Dr. Suess, Sesame Street and the Disney Channel (to name a few).  At the very least, they told me that I should try to do what’s right, obey my parents, wash my hands before I eat, and sing songs to rubber ducks.  A lot of the children’s stories that we read to our little 7-month old daughter Charlotte have good moral lessons like this.  We read them to her along with Bible stories because even before she knows what’s going on, we want her to be a voice to her culture!

But think about the title of that cartoon from 1938: “Donald’s Better Self”.  Now I’m not sure if Walt Disney was aware of it, but he was actually putting out a really Buddhist idea of “our good self” vs. “our bad self”…  Buddhist philosophy has many similar ethics to Christianity, but there is one fundamental difference that changes everything.  Buddhist philosophy says that all this power to do the right thing, to be loving, etc, comes only from within us.  They believe that God is within us and is a part of everything, and all we have to do to unleash our “God potential” is to center ourselves.  Therefore, Donald has a “good Donald” and a “bad Donald” within him.  Granted, they seem like separate, angelic entities.  But you get the nuance.  What is really communicated in that cartoon is that we have the power as moral agents to choose what is right, and let the “bad self” or the “good self” have dominion over us.

In a letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, the apostle Paul gave a comprehensive history that describes the pagan world as he knew it in the 1st Century.  It’s basically a history of human depravity!  Let’s look at that passage…  Be ready to be offended, because you will find that one section, or another describes you in the present or past!

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Sidenote: It’s important to say that The wrath of God is not an irrational emotional outburst. It is his personal reaction to sin based on his holy character. (Asbury Bible Commentary)  So don’t read “wrath” here as God being a big angry jerk or nasty Grandma with a paddle.  God is completely loving and fair!) 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (In this context, these were idols that people literally worshipped in Rome, along with a majority of the ancient world…)

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (God gives them up by withdrawing his restraining grace (Wesley)) 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

(Romans 1:18-32)

You see, God gave you a spirit.  A.B. Simpson described our spirits this way; “The divine element in man, or that which is aware of God”, so whether you acknowledge Him or not, God gave it to you!  And when something rubs against your spirit, which is the seat of your conscience, you can feel it, right?  You can sense when you’re doing something unethical.

When we do the wrong thing, we feel guilty about it!  It’s just a fact!  There is not one single person in the world that doesn’t experience guilt.  Now don’t get me wrong, people may numb themselves to their guilt.  They justify what they’re doing even though they have a feeling it’s not right.  But at the end of the day, most people who are sane will admit that they’re unhappy with the choices they make, wishing they made better ones instead.

How often do you get that feeling in your gut?  How often do you hear the distant voice of your conscience or Jiminy Cricket or “good Donald” or whoever else?  God put that ability to reason out the right thing in you!  That is your Spirit talking.  It is something that you own and have free will over.  Freud called our spirit the “superego”, and was aware that we also had a natural self called our “id” that would be in conflict with it.

See, it’s so important to know the verses that are before that whole section of Romans that we just looked at.  They say:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

If you follow that stinging feeling of having to do the right thing, and you are sane and in your right mind, it will lead you to Jesus…  People come to faith in Jesus because they just get sick of their inability to do the right thing.  People come to Jesus because they realize that they can’t ever do the right thing on their own.  You see, the scriptures aren’t like any other religion.  They say that we’re all prone to do bad and fail, and God is perfect, but God decided to reach out to us in love and give us His power through His Son Jesus’ death for us, and Jesus is now sitting at God’s right hand, working even more powerfully today through the people that follow Him!

When you truly walk with Jesus in faith, not just believe in Him in your head or heart, you get the Holy Spirit!  And then your spirit/conscience is activated to it’s full potential!  This is the way we were truly meant to live as human beings, empowered by the Holy Spirit and making the maximum amount of right choices possible!  To be sure, we will fail because we are still human and still struggle against sin, but with the Holy Spirit alive in us, we become progressively more capable of desiring the right things all of the time!  Here’s the question- do you want to be activated to your full capacity as a moral agent, or are you content to live in the depression of the in-between, or even worse, amidst the misery, chaos and dark eternal destiny that sin brings?


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