Humanism and the musical “Into the Woods”

A popular movie musical that has just come out is “Into the Woods” with lyrics by Steven Sondheim.  It is always good to see humanistic thoughts and values which are expressed by popular media that is outside the realm of the Humanist community. 

Part of the storyline tells of how a witch has taken a child, Rapunzel, and raised her as her own.  Rapunzel says to the witch who has raised her in isolation in her tower:

“I am no longer a child. I wish to see the world.”

The witch pleads with Rapunzel to stay with her, and stay a child rather than go out and observe life for herself and to experience life in a cold, dangerous world.  This is very true to the Biblical metaphor of a god not allowing Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  And this is true of many religions today who create a strong inclusive community who are afraid of their young people to go out into the world, the out-group, but would rather keep them inside even if it means keeping them in “blissful ignorance”. 

“Don't you know what's out there in the world?

Someone has to shield you from the world.
Stay with me.

Princes wait there in the world, it's true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.
Stay at home.
I am home.

Who out there could love you more than I?
What’s out there that I cannot supply?
Stay with me.

Stay with me,
The world is dark and wild.
Stay a child while you can be a child.
With me.”

In Humanism many of us believe that each human has the ability, and the responsibility, to determine what is right and what is wrong for ourselves.  We are not to take our values, or our beliefs, or our moral behavior from some outside source whether that be a religion, or a political party, or a guru, or even a parent.  Parents have the responsibility to teach their children to develop the skills necessary to develop these areas personally – not as a dictum from some outside authority.  Psychologists have often shown how religion acts as a surrogate parent which continues to control a person long after they have become independent of their biological parents. 

This song from “Into the Woods” does a good job of showing the harm done by sheltering and over-protecting a person even though the motivation and intention by the “parent” is well-meaning. 

For example, religious people and churches sometimes prefer to keep their kids out of public schools lest they be presented with the ideas of evolution and sex education.  When I was a kid, although the commandment was from my parents that I shall have no friends except those from my church, the church obliged by making sure that I was so busy that I had no time for activities or friends outside of the church.  Sunday had Sunday School, then the service, then Sunday evening service.  Monday had Stockade – a “Christian” boys scout.  Wednesday had prayer meeting.  Thursday had Mission Society meetings.  And Friday had Youth Group.  And then of course the church had special events whenever the school had special events like Halloween or the Prom – these were to keep us from wanting to go to an event where there might be dancing. 

And of course, today, religions aren’t the only outside influences in our society which tries to prevent people, young or old, from experiencing the world themselves.  Today there are groups like the Tea Party groups, or the FOX Entertainment (I refuse to call it FOX News) group that prefer to tell people how to think, which values to eschew and which values to promote, and how best to judge other people. 

People, young and old, need to be shown how to create their own values, what to believe in terms of reality, how to formulate their own personal world view, and how to shape their behavior in terms of these beliefs and values.  The direction should come from within a person, not from without.  And this is one of the things that Humanism is about.

David Kimball



About David

David's picture
Having been raised as a Fundamentalist Evangelical, I was driven rather than attracted to Humanism. Having been retired (unceremoniously by Raytheon) I am now finding time to be more active in my beliefs as well as my passions.

Add your comment