Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Written by: on February 20, 2020

I have a relationship with Walt Disney dating back to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. I was in the third grade, and my class made a field trip to the Fair, where I first saw the wonders of Disney’s animatronics. The Carousel of Progress was a rotating theater audio-animatronic stage show attraction created as the prime feature for the General Electric (GE) Pavilion. Upon the close of the Fair, the show was relocated to Disneyland until it was subsequently installed and reopened in Tomorrowland of the Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World) in 1975. It continues to this day as the oldest and longest-running attraction of either park that garnered Walt’s “hands-on” collaboration.[1] But what I loved most was the message of the accompanying song written by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote and produced many classics for Disney.

Carousel of Progress Lyrics

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow is just a dream away.
Man has a dream, and that’s the start.
He follows his dream with mind and heart.
And when it becomes a reality, its a dream come true for you and me.
So there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away.

I was born to a German immigrant meat-cutter and grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. Subsequently, I spent the balance of my at-home years growing up in my mother’s small- town in rural Louisiana, where my high school graduating class numbered 36. For a multitude of reasons, I have always believed in a better tomorrow, probably fueled by a combination of fantasy, immigrant hustle, and dogged stubbornness (and probably other less pleasant descriptors). Upon reading Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, I immediately thought of the Carousel of Progress, and the inspiration of it’s visual and lyrical presentation.

Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist and the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of eight books for general audiences, including The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), where he makes the case that violence in human societies has, in general, steadily declined with time. Our subject text for this week, Enlightenment Now (2018), continues his optimistic thesis of The Better Angels of Our Nature by using social science data from various sources to argue for a general improvement of the human condition over recent history.[3]

According to Alison Gopnik, the strength of Enlightenment Now is that it expresses liberal Enlightenment values with masses of data and compelling arguments (i.e., Pinker is a very entertaining speaker in his TED talks.) However, the weakness of the book is that it doesn’t seriously consider the contextual human values for a given localized group. Gopnik contends if the case for progress is going to be convincing, it will have to speak to a wider spectrum of listeners and incorporate a more inclusive conception of flourishing.

While Pinker is honest about significant exceptions to his extracted pattern (e.g., inequality, suicide, and climate change), he doesn’t think they undermine his argument. Gopnik contends if things are so much better, why do so many people feel so much worse? The deeper reason that ordinary, well-meaning people feel that something has gone wrong, is because Pinker’s graphs are explicitly about the welfare of humanity as a whole. Gopnik continues that while Pinker’s empirical approach supports the Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, rational individual, it can also lead to alienation and isolation, which makes tribalist mythology all the more appealing. That is, tribalism (and its accompanying ills) can be seductive when people feel that their local connections are under threat.[4]

Pinker expounds upon the need for us to focus upon or “savor” the empirically substantiated accomplishments of the Enlightenment. Rather than being led along by media-driven bleeding headlines, Pinker challenges us to look at the gross metric data. Recognizing that reading the metrics from the good or bad end of the scales is equally accurate and valid, Pinker contends that while progress is not utopia, our subsequent derived imperative should be to strive to continue progress rather than curse a disappointing lack of results.[5]

I must say I have been much more inspired by Pinker than many of our other assigned selections for this semester. While I am very sensitive to the fact that progress can often lead to complacency and lethargy, I also am very cognizant of the essential need for the fuel of hope. Yes, I am a white man born during the sociological construct of the Boomer generation. Therefore, many tell me by definition, I am privileged and elite, and have experienced and can more easily perceive progress from my perspective. I am not debating the blessings I have certainly received and do not deserve. My argument would be without a more careful examination, without the realization that progress has occurred from where one started, there will be no resultant hope to fuel the steps needed to walk into one’s future. I opened this post by sharing my childhood delight with Disney’s Carousel of Progress and the message of its accompanying lyrics. My current delight is affirmed by coaching others to see where they have come from and where the Holy Spirit has and is bringing them. Every time we once again remember and remind ourselves of what God has done for us, it fills us with faith and the hope to energize our daily walk of progress.

[1] Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney%27s_Carousel_of_Progress

[2] Carousel of Progress Theme Song Lyrics, https://www.google.com/search?q=carousel+of+progress+song&oq=Car&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j35i39j0l6.4673j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[3]Steven Pinker, Wikipedia, accessed 02/20/2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Pinker

[4] Alison Gopnik, “When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough.”, The Atlantic, April 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/steven-pinker-enlightenment-now/554054/

[5] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case For Reason, Science, Humanism, And Progress (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2018) 324-326.

About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

11 responses to “Disney’s Carousel of Progress”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    This is so fun Harry. Great to hear you enjoyed the reading and I LOVE World’s Fair stories.

    Sounds like we need to add another Advance to Disney . . .

  2. Good stuff Harry. It’s significant you mention that you’re part of the younger Boomer generation. I think that’s the generation born right after WWII. So I can imagine things were very optimistic back then. I’m guessing that was the general feel of your peers back then?

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Actually, that was not the feeling of my small home-town. It was an impoverished area where education or military service were the only paths “out.” For those who wanted a better future, these were the paths they chose to pursue. I guess in hindsight, those who chose these paths were viewed as being ambitious.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    I just watched the Disney doc on Disney+ and it was amazing! I too, liked a lot of the reading because it does enlighten one to see what the data says, but I’m learning that the data doesn’t always tell the full story or that someone has another set of data points that can “trump” yours.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You are so right how one data “sound-bite” can upstage another data “sound-bite”. I suppose the conundrum of our time is what is progress and how is it assessed relative to my perspective (whatever that might be)? Having said that, I continue to press for Holy Spirit-led examination to discover that God is in fact at work which inspires how faith and our feet to “keep on keeping on.” Thanks again for your insights.

  4. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent post, Harry. I enjoyed hearing a bit of your story. Where we come from certainly influences our perspective. My mother, a life long church goer, set a tone in our home of an apocalyptic future filled with negativity. Now watching her life come to an end with fear and dread is speaking loudly to me. It was the era she was born in and the theology she was taught. Today’s Church must have a message of progress, hope, and an expectation for a “big, beautiful tomorrow.” Thank you!

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      I grieve that the church has at times informed and formed more negative than hopeful inspiration. It is not lost on me that the most hopeful songs of the church have been born out of and inspired by the lives of those living in the most destitute of situations. Perhaps that is why soulful renditions of song or preaching speak so powerfully to me. “Today’s Church must have a message of progress, hope, and an expectation for a “big, beautiful tomorrow.” ” Yes, Lord, may it be so! Thank you, Tammy, for your powerful words of encouragement.

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Harry! It is interesting how much our parents and our upbringing can influence our understanding of progress. I’m the daughter of an immigrant and I know that my dad lived in a shed for the first year his family arrived while his dad worked to fund and build a basement. It was very tiny and there was no running water. The next year they lived in the basement while the top house was built. They didn’t have much. My childhood was leaps and bounds better than theirs. It’s that comparison that does lead me to see in my own life what Pinker is suggesting. I suppose the challenge is trying to figure out what is uniquely Christian in where we are trying to get to (on earth that is) and where Christianity and Humanism might overlap. What did you make of his insistence that faith did more harm to reason and progress than good? How have you seen the church shift to ‘reasonable’ approaches over the years—particularly in your denominational context? Thank you as always for sharing!! I love that we were both drawn to the same critique of the work and even the same quote!

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You are so amazingly inspiring! Thanks for sharing a bit about our similar stories. I think Pinker is fair in his assessment of faith from his limited perspective. However, the constituents of our cohort are living testimonies committed to living out our faith creatively with reason and desiring progress where we see not enough. The church is shifting, we are part of that shift, let’s collaborate how to lead the shift!

  6. Mary Mims says:

    Harry, I love your story of the past and the progress you have made, as well as the progress many have made. However, my problem with Pinker is his attribution of progress to man and not God. It is our faith in God that has given us success. I want to make sure that progress can continue to future generations. That can only be done through faith in a living God.

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