Worldview and Hank the Cowdog

“Our choices are shaped by what we believe is real and true, right and wrong, good and beautiful. Our choices are shaped by our worldview.”
–Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live.

In May of 1985 CBS Television ran a thirty-minute, animated version of my first Hank the Cowdog book. I was excited. At that time, I was self-publishing theHank books on borrowed money and needed all the help I could get.

Hank was to be one of thirteen episodes, each based on an outstanding children’s book, in a series called “CBS Storybreak.” The series was hosted by a trusted name in children’s broadcasting, Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo.

My first impression was that the TV version stayed pretty close to my book, but after watching it three times, I realized that they had taken the family out of my story! Sally May had become the ranch boss. Loper and Slim worked for her, and it appeared that they all lived together in the bunkhouse. Little Alfred, the child in my book, had vanished into thin air.

I was stunned. They had removed all traces of the kind of home life that had been a source of strength to me, my parents, my grandparents, and back as far as we could trace our family history.

At first I thought it must have been an accident. (We were more trusting of the media back then.) It was not an accident. Someone at the network had decided to use a Saturday morning cartoon series, and my Hank book, as a platform for a secular ideology that viewed women as an oppressed minority, men as brutes, marriage as slavery, and motherhood as an insignificant waste of time.

They bought the rights to my book, which was trusted by parents, teachers, and librarians, and injected it with their social viruses. I was particularly outraged because the Hank stories were always meant to be read aloud by families.

At the time the Hank story aired on national television, I had never heard the term “worldview” and did not even realize that I had one. Or that the television people had one. Or that our worldviews might be very different.

Mine is Christian and traces back to the small town in rural West Texas where I grew up. It contains the values of a group of people who work the soil, tend livestock, and operate small businesses. We believe in thrift, personal honesty, fidelity in marriage, hard work, and the importance of being good parents.

Our lives center around work, school, family, and church, and our system of values derives from the book that William Tyndale and others translated into English in the sixteenth century: the Bible.

In the first chapter of that Book, we find two extraordinary statements: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Those two statements lay the foundation for a Christian worldview and have profound implications for anyone who is involved in the creation or production of cultural materials.

Last December my wife Kris and I participated in an event that might serve as a model of what can happen when a Christian worldview expresses itself through an artistic medium. The small community in which I grew up, and to which I now belong, is remarkable in that every December for the past fifty years we have performed the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah.”

This evening service was held in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist church, where Kris and I have been members for thirty years. Ours is a beautiful church, whose architecture invokes an attitude of worship. It has been called “Cathedral of the Plains” because of its vaulted ceiling and splendid, stained-glass windows. For decades we have had a strong music program (choir, piano, and pipe organ) that adds the harmony of sound to the harmony of space, affirming a God who created structures of beauty in the very texture of the universe.

By six o’clock that evening the sanctuary was filled, and a hush spread through the crowd as the string ensemble from the Amarillo Symphony took their places and began to play. Looking out at the crowd, I recognized people I had known over a lifetime. I saw Methodists, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, Catholics, Campbellites, members of small non-denominational churches, and five varieties of Baptists. I saw farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, lawyers, teachers, merchants, and a large contingent of home schoolers, all dressed in their finest clothes. They had come to hear fifty local musicians, most of us of average talent, perform a composition written in 1741 by a German Lutheran living in England. When we left the church that night, our thoughts had been elevated, and our spirits had been nourished.

I found myself thinking, “This is art! This is where it begins and what it should do.” Art and worship are not the same, but they do come from the same source, and art functions best when it reflects the structure, sound, texture, rhythm, and beauty that God has built into our world. And even the humor.

When art is done well, it can approach an act of worship, as it does every time our community chorus sings Handel’s masterpiece. It is a model I would recommend to any home schooler who wants to write, sing, act, paint, sculpt, play an instrument, conduct an orchestra, or direct a movie.

That is a sentiment that most of the people in my hometown can understand. The people who made “CBS Storybreak” do not understand it at all. And that is the problem.