Christian Worldview

Killer Barbies

In case you haven't heard, our children are in danger of dying of cancer from chewing their vinyl toys. At least, that's what we've been told on ABC News. As with all such reports, Americans instantly reacted with fear even panic. But the whole story makes me wonder, are Americans really afraid of toys—or something else? ABC's News Magazine 20/20 recently broadcast a report about a link between phthalates, a chemical used to soften plastic, and the appearance of kidney tumors in mice. The report–which was put together with the assistance of the environmental group Greenpeace—strongly suggested that children who suck on toys containing phthalates are risking their health. But it now appears that reports of deadly rubber duckies and Barbie dolls have been greatly exaggerated. Science writer Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute points out that while massive doses of phthalates did cause tumors in rodents, "other studies showed the chemical caused NO harmful [effects] in guinea pigs" and monkeys, or in human cells. 20/20 isn't the only news outlet to run scary stories with little basis in fact. Not long ago, the U.N. estimated some 110 million landmines are buried around the world. Well, it turns out the 110 million estimate was a little bit off—by about 100 million mines. A report from a Swiss foundation that clears landmines says the number is actually less than 2 million. And then there are the population projections, terrifying us about famines, all of which have proven false. Killer Barbies? Landmines under every step? Why do so many Americans uncritically swallow such exaggerated and alarmist reports? Let me submit one possibility: Many moderns live with an inchoate sense of anxiety, even dread. We can't say why we feel this way, and we can't point to anything we've done that would merit death from landmines or chemicals. Yet, the sense of unease is there. The endless gloom-and-doom reports, (remember the Alar and Radon scares?), reinforce this sense of dread. And where does it come from? I'm not a psychiatrist, but I wonder if it isn't actually displaced guilt. For all our noisy protestations, we know there's something wrong with the way we've ordered our society. We know that if we were living as we ought to be living, men would not abandon their families, women would not line up in front of abortion clinics, and kids would not open fire in school yards. We see the consequences of our sin and folly, but we don't admit the connection between cause and effect, at least not openly. We know we deserve God's judgment, but instead of saying so, we look for punishment in all the wrong places. Stories of killer toys and poisoned apples feed our sense of guilt and impending doom. And this is precisely what God told us would happen. In Leviticus 26, He warns the Israelites that if they do not follow His commandments, they will live in such fear that they will flee even when no one is pursuing them. Our irrational fears are the inevitable consequences of disobedience to God's law. So when the next scary story comes out, examine the claims rationally and carefully. We don't need to be bullied by groups peddling irrational fears. And ultimately, the most important thing is to teach our kids that the only healthy fear is fear of the Lord. That's a fear that will save not only our lives, but also our souls.


Chuck Colson


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