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There have been numerous high profile cases brought against Christian couples in recent times. The BBC reposts that Mr and Mrs Own and Eunice Johns of Derby are the most recent being told by their local council that they will not be allowed to foster children because of their traditional Christian views on homosexuality.

This case carries great significance with regards to discrimination law. The Johns requested that the judge rule that their faith should not be a factor in determining their suitability to become carers. But in one of the most emphatic judgments to date the judge stated that discrimination law protecting sexual orientation should take precedence over that protecting religious conviction.

This ruling is likely to be used in case law due to it’s unambiguous judgment. Today we see that Western Democracy not only expects those of dissenting opinion to tolerate the liberal hegemony but to endorse it. The message is clear in this case: protecting sexual orientation is more important than protecting religious conviction.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-12598896

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The Emergent Onion

You won’t find better parody than that which isn’t intentional. Having spent a short time now observing the actions of The Emerging Church myself and my good friend Luke stumbled across an apparent similiarity between the logo for The Emergent Village and The Onion

Since Emergent theology is rampantly postmodern and you just can’t parody postmodernism since it almost is, by definition, a parody, I did find it quite amusing that the two logos shared such similarities.

If you like a good dose of irony then there’s no better ideology to go to than postmodernism. Consider for a moment holding to a philosophy that effectively defines itself as being undefinable because words do not have any objective meaning whilst all the time using words to define its non definition. Confused? Well, have a look at emergent village’s FAQ page in which they categorically declare their dislike of confessional creeds.

We don’t have a problem with faith, but with statements (read more here).

So far so good right? Well hold on to your ironicometers, they’re about to bust through the roof. The words (read more here) lead to this page in which they lay out their anti-creedal creed. Take that satire!

Please forgive my tone. I don’t want to be thought of as mean spirited. I find the motives of the leaders of the emerging movement to be challenging. They place a strong emphasis on being uncritical of fellow believers and engaging in society changing social action. For that they can be praised. But while they confess the gospel message with their lips the reality of that seems somewhat different. Emergent theology doesn’t try so much to engage with postmodernism as it does be postmodern. And if objective truth is laid aside in favour of subjective interpretation, this writer can’t see any other consequence than for the objectiveness of the gospel to suffer as a result.

Sure, I think we should embrace doubts, questions, uncertainties and even the surety with which we hold our interpretation of scripture. But all the while we recognise that there is objective truth even if we have not yet attained to it. Emergents appear to regard certainty as dogma, dogma as absolute truth and absolute truth as unrighteous arrogance. In short, if there is objective truth, emergents don’t seem to want to know about it.

Which leaves me with one question. If words cannot have objective meaning, what is the purpose of writing books, blogs and sermons that can rightly be interpreted any way you feel it works for you? Take Brian McLaren’s interpretation of John 14:6 in The Secret (read: Gnostic?) Message of Jesus. He denies the exclusivity of Christ and offers a wider and, presumably, better interpretation of Jesus’ words. I might just thank him how well he lays out the case for the exclusivity of Christ and when he says I read him wrong, as a postmodern, am likely to be well within my rights to reply, “That’s not how I read your words.”

Insane Clown Posse have claimed they believe in God and have immortalised this in their latest single “Miracles”. The Guardian reports the breaking news that, apparently, they’re evangelical Christians. I don’t read anywhere that it says that but given their penchant for telling scientists to stop ruining the mysteries of life it fits quite nicely with the popular stereotype of a backward thinking, fearful and ignorant evangelical explaining mysteries by saying God did it because they don’t have a naturalistic explanation. So, regardless of what they actually said what’s the harm in greasing the wheels a little, y’know, economising with the truth and slapping a title on them?

F*****’ magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist
Y’all motherf****** lying and
getting me p****d.

I mean come on, with that kind of unequivocal religious language they’re hardly going to be Hare Krishnas are they?

So are the Insane Clown Posse really evangelical Christians? It doesn’t matter. To answer that question is to miss the point.* For what it’s worth this writer gives a big resounding no. But not because of their “fruits”, more because of their art. Anyone who says they want to “f*** science” and generates the type of inane rambling they have been responsible for will be able to see that they are parodying American evangelicals. What makes it so hard to spot is the sad fact that it’s not beyond evangelicals to smack on a shed of make up, swear loads then claim that Jesus was an illiterate gangsta who would’ve cursed it up a storm while rough ridin’. Christian Side Hug anyone? It’s these types of nonsensical, cringe worthy, appeal to the masses wif da lingo type stunts that make it so hard to tell when Christians are being serious.

Their schtick mimics much of evangelicalism’s anti intellectual approach to science but probably pushes the boundaries too far to be Kauffmanesque satire. What I mean is, they’re good but they’re not that good. But they are that good aren’t they? Because everyone’s talking about it. Everyone from wild haired science professors to evangelical Christians are condemning them. And isn’t that the mark of great satire? That every side of the debate either ends up infuriated or mocking the other but no one can really tell who the joke is on?

It’s a shame to say their fans don’t posses the same subtleties they do. Or don’t. I don’t think I’ve made my mind up yet whether they’re post modern artistic geniuses or a bunch of self important wannabe genius comedians (I’m leaning to the latter). Over on the Christianity Today blog, some of the fans of ICP give the game away in the comments section. One fan claims he’s a minister with tattoos who has been inspired by ICP. Another agrees saying that they have helped them through some dark times on their walk with God. The problem is, they’re the first four comments, the syntax and grammar are all almost identical and they were all posted within 24 hours of one another by users Rev Bigirishjuggalo, Jack the Juggalette, Impboy and Polkat.

One can only sit and wait now while the commentators try to refute their comments one by one. Way to blow the game guys.

Maybe I’ll be the first to say it but perhaps ICP actually *want* all of this negative attention because that’s the truest form of post modern art, you’ll never really know the answers, it’s just parody. Right from the red faced evangelicals to the arm cutting Juggalos, ICP have gotten everyone talking. You never know, gasp, they may even get some publicity and sell some records.

* The point being that religious people are very very very stoooopid for those who didn’t quite pick that up from the post.

In a recent TV interview British journalist Virgina Ironside said that she would put a pillow over her child’s head if it was suffering deeply.

Often we are utterly outraged by what a person says without being able to articulate our objections. I believe this is the case here. Is it wrong that Ironside would want to kill her child if it was suffering? From her point of view, absolutely not. She regards herself as compassionate in ending rather than prolonging the immense suffering of another human being. This, she considers, is more loving than allowing the child’s pain to continue. Inevitably, she has been compared to Hitler (who isn’t?) because it’s often the only way people can express how abhorrent they think the view being shared is. But while that outrage is justified it is important to articulate why we are outraged without reverting to platitudes.

I might suggest that the most horrific thing going on here is not that Ironside would want to end the pain and suffering of her child. Surely any loving parent would be deeply saddened and distressed by seeing their child in incredible amounts of pain. However, what is outrageous is the notion that killing the child is a loving and noble act. While many would think it, it is my conviction that most would dismiss it as a right they are not afforded, that the sanctity of life is too precious for them to decide whose should be taken and whose left. No one wants to be in that position and, I believe, anyone with a modicum of God invested moral fiber would dismiss the notion that killing their child to put it out of pain as totally abhorrent. Added to this is her sheer incredulity that others do not feel the same way as her. Her demeanor communicating an air of “you mean you wouldn’t kill your suffering child? What kind of human being are you?”

What follows is my notes from a short lecture I gave entitled “A Christian Rationale for Teaching The Crucible” on the evening of a performance of extracts from the play by some of my students.

A Christian Rationale for Teaching The Crucible

The Crucible tells the true story of the famous Salem Witch trials of 1692 in the newly founded America. In this new and highly Christian society, a group of young girls were found dancing in the woods at night and casting spells, an act which is regarded as a cardinal sin due to it’s connection with pagan practices. Some of the girls are taken sick and the town credits this to the presence of the Devil in their Godly society. What follows is the untangling of an elaborate web of deception and revenge as one village member accuses another of being a witch in order to exact some long awaited punishment for what they perceive as a previous wrong upon them.

The presence of the self proclaimed witch hunter Reverend John Hale forces the accused of the town to either confess to witchcraft or be hanged. Either way, those who are accused are left in a situation which leads to inevitable loss. The instigator of this mayhem is the young Abigail Williams. We never get to glimpse the real person that she is, all her behaviours are elaborately concocted displays in order to get what she wants. And what she wants is John Proctor, a clear minded, strong farmer who sees through the madness of the witch trials yet harbours a deep and dark sin so abhorred by his contemporaries. He has engaged in an adulterous affair with Abigail, forsaking his wife and allowing his sin to get the better of him.

The play charts the progression from the shaky foundations on which the first accusations are made to the final act wherein the town will once again come to its senses having witnessed the hanging of Proctor as a witch.

Written by Arthur Miller, the Crucible is a modern classic. It was penned during a time when America suffered one of its modern day witch hunts through Senator Joseph McCarthy and his whipping up of the political mob to lynch those who may swear any kind of alligence to communist activities.

The play is a critique of hysteria caused by majority groups in society. In it’s wider context it laments the destruction caused by using minority views as scapegoats for moral depravity. In the immediate it criticises the place where religion and politics meet and where personal moral convictions lead to the oppression of those on the outside of the clique. I have re-produced an article for you from the Royal Shakepeare Company’s 2006 production in which the production team make it abundantly clear that the fundamentalist Christian foundations on which America was built are still deeply rooted in society today and are now finding their fruition through the politically religious right. So why study it? Where does the Christian draw redemptive lessons from a story which is anti-hysterical in it’s wider context yet equates Christianity with the whipping up of that hysteria and lays the blame for much of our fear squarely at the feet of religion?

We must take care not to dismiss Miller’s central point. His motivation may be anti-religious, however, this does not make his analysis of the events of 1692 in Salem any less salient given the horrific behaviour of many of the participants. We may do well to draw truths from Miller’s work while carefully analysing where he makes non-sequiters in the implied conclusions of the material.

I would like to outline just a few of the lessons we can learn from studying this terrific and exciting script.

Warnings

As Christians we cannot be ignorant of our heritage. We believe sincerely and truthfully that the saving power of the gospel is what will bring about change in the heart of man. We believe that Christ’s death is for all people across all of history (ironically, a view not held by the Calvinist Puritans). However, we must take care not to idealise all actions by Christians as laudible. The Salem Witch Trials are a dark portion in the history of protestant Christendom and we do well to learn the lessons of the society the Puritans tried to build. In moving away from England in 1620 they sought to build a society that was based entirely on the Bible, one in which no hint of sin would be tolerated. Unfortunately, they made a categorical error when it came to the gospel. God is the author of salvation, a political system cannot force anyone to be a Christian, this is the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit.

Hypocrisy

Students study the hypocrisy of the Puritans and compare it to that of the Pharisees in Matthew 15 which reads

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
Matthew 15:8-9

those who spoke God with their lips but did not act it out in their hearts. The people of The Crucible’s Salem, by this time second generation Puritans, held in high regard the need to be Godly. Their outward appearance was entirely pure, they attended church, spoke with regard for one another in public and read their Bible’s every day. Yet behind closed doors things were happening which negated this outward purity. People were stealing land, gossiping, back biting and using their influence to accuse others with which they disputed of witchery. This is aptly summed up in Mrs Putnam’s line “There are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires.” In this we see the need to not only proclaim the gospel with our lips but to hide it in our hearts as well. Sin is an ever present danger for us all and far greater than we give it credit for. The people of Salem had words on their lips but sin in their hearts. The sin of the village is encompassed in John Proctor and Abigail Williams’ extra marital relationship which, while not a real event, is written into the play to symbolise the hidden iniquity in the town at the time.

Modern application

The play is able to help us more finely tune our senses when it comes to modern day witch hunts. The Puritans behaved the way that they did because of fear. Their fear arose from the very real prospect that, having gone through the pain of the reformation, sin would once again enslave their town until such time as they would be under the rule of it either by secularism or, worse still, a return to Catholic Popery. The Puritans are to be highly commended by us Christians for seeking to live their lives according to the Bible; it was an experiment that was both to help them and harm them. While Godliness leads to contentment, in this case it lead to fear which in turn lead to the need to rid the town of anything suspected to be ungodly. The play was written during the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s in which the House of Un-American Activities hauled people (including Miller himself) in front of them demanding that they admit their allegiance to the communist party and name names or risk public disgrace. Secular interpretations of The Crucible equate the witch hunts of Salem with forms of religious extremism today, which is the most obvious interpretation. In an interview for The Royal Shakepeare Company, Dominic Cooke, director of the 2006 production in Stratford, answers the question “Why did you want to direct The Crucible?” with the following quote:

“I wanted to direct The Crucible because it seems, sadly, a play very much for our times. With Bush and Blair generating hysteria over terrorism and the frightening rise of Christian Fundamentalism in the US, there are real parallels between the world of Miller’s play and our own times.”

He is later quoted as saying,

“Similarly, our post 9/11 world is characterised by politicians, in the US especially, exploiting public fear to get away with destroying civil liberties and also blaming minorities, for example gay people, for corrupting American values. It seems society’s need to find scapegoats and go on witch-hunts hasn’t gone away. We live in very fearful times and Miller shows how dangerous it is to make decisions when guided by fear.”

It is interesting to note the centre pages of the programme which I have reproduced here.

Fundamentalism in RSC Crucible

On one side you can see the danger of Islamic extremism equated with what this director would interpret as Christian extremism on the other side. It is interesting to note the contradiction in what Cooke says. Cooke is quick to condemn those who are “finding scapegoats” through condemning practices such as homosexuality, a practice which is incidentally not new but has been classically condemned by Christians for millennia. He then, however, gives his reasons for producing the play as a commentary of the times we live in due to the “frightening rise” of religious fundamentalism1. Can you see the irony of producing a play about religious fear out of leftist fear of where our current climate may end up if we give in to fear? In other words, Cooke and those who share his view are no more immune to the dangers of fear mongering than the religious, making the application of Miller’s play wider than to groups regarded as religious bigots.

Turning this around we can see modern day witch hunts in numerous ways. It seems that sometimes tabloid newspapers almost exist to create witch hunts. When Jade Goody was accused of racism in 2007, the media launched a campaign to blacken her name and condemn anyone who may stand up with her. Another example could be said to be the fear that surrounds scientists who subscribe to a creationist view of the universe. Men and women have been demonsied and lost their jobs because of their beliefs about creationism. The underlying feeling of those who oppose this rise is fear that we will be dragged into a theocracy much like the popular myth of Medieval suppression of knowledge and progress.

In this play this evening then you will see a town divided by sin, you may see a sarcastic, even cynical, edge inherent in the text. Yet teaching the Crucible to our students can deepen their understanding of current criticism of Christianity, how witch hunts are still very real and most importantly, how, if we do not take care of our spiritual walk, our sinful nature can come rushing to the surface of our lives and choke the reality of the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

1. Fundamentalism has evolved in it’s meaning. Originally referring to anti modernist protestant Christians in the early 20th Century who withdrew from academia, they wrote a number of essays entitled The Fundamentals which can be accessed here. The essays consist of doctrines they believed were the uncompromising fundamentals of the Christian faith. As time has progressed we have begun to play fast and loose with the term and it now refers to anyone who takes what is regarded as an extreme view on religious topics. It is used in the pejorative sense and can be a confusing term.

John 9 gives us an account of Jesus’ encounter with a blind man whom he healed, much to the annoyance of the Pharisees. Cultural nuance is missed in our dealing with such texts. Jesus’ decision to spit in mud and rub it into the man’s eyes can seem puzzling unless its context is upheld. I had heard rumours that Jesus was defying the Talmudic tradition and performing a messianic miracle. While the messianic miracle is not something I have researched, my studies did bring up this interesting passage from Shabbat 108b:20, a book of discussions regarding permissive behaviour on the Sabbath. Specifically we are dealing here with lawful healings. For those unfamiliar with the narrative style of Talmudic literature we are peering into a conversation between Rabbis regarding what to do if a man has an eye ailment on the Sabbath.

Even as it once happened that Rabin was walking behind R. Jeremiah by the bank of the Lake of Sodom, [and] he asked him, May one wash with this water on the Sabbath?20 — It is well, he replied.21 Is it permissible to shut and open [one’s eyes]?22 I have not heard this, he answered, [but] I have heard something similar; for R. Zera said, at times in R. Mattenah’s name, at others in Mar ‘Ukba’s name, and both [R. Mattenah and Mar ‘Ukba] said it in the names of Samuel’s father and Levi: one said: [To put] wine into one’s eye23 is forbidden; [to put it] on the eye, is permitted.24 Whilst the other said: [To put] tasteless saliva,25 even on the eye, is forbidden. It may be proved that it was Samuel’s father who ruled, ‘[To put] wine into one’s eye is forbidden; on the eye, is permitted’: for Samuel said: One may soak bread in wine and place it on his eye on the Sabbath. Now, from whom, did he hear this, surely he heard it from his father? — But then on your reasoning, when Samuel said: [To apply] tasteless saliva even on the eye is forbidden; from whom did he hear it? Shall we say that he heard it from his father, — then Levi did not state any one [of these laws]! Hence he [must have] heard one from his father and one from Levi, but we do not know which from his father and which from Levi.

This section properly demonstrates what I believe Jesus was doing in choosing the heal the man in the way he did. One cannot take from this passage that the law forbade healing a man’s eyes with saliva on the Sabbath. On the contrary, the Rabbis discuss the matters in order to come to the most suitable solution. I suggest that Jesus’ decision was with one of two directives:
1) To demonstrate his disdain for petty wrangling over words.
2) To demonstrate his disdain for unrelated artificial laws which have no bearing on the truth of the Torah law
3) The Pharisees possibly solidified what was said here as a “Thou shalt not” law, i.e. thou shalt not heal a man’s eyes on the Sabbath.

As Jesus had already done so in healing the man with the withered hand, he already flouted their laws knowing that they would hold it in higher regard than the more Godly act of bringing healing and restoration as a witness of God’s power.

Comments are welcome regarding your interpretation.

When he isn’t pulling stupid faces and wiggling his hips to draw a chortle from his audience, somewhere, sometimes, Jim Carrey can act. He demonstrates this in his 1998 hit The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir.

Truman Burbank lives in a world that revolves around him. His relationships are fake, his work is not real and his life is on display for millions to watch. He is the star of a reality TV show, The Truman Show. There’s just one thing, he doesn’t know. Ever since he was born his every move has been scrutinised by his audience without his knowledge. As he grows older he starts to question the reality around him and finds that he wants to break away from his every day existence.

It does not serve the purposes of this article to discuss the stinging, almost prophetic, critique of everything TV would become in the millennium. Instead I’d like to concentrate on the philosophical themes within the movie and what it has to say about the Christian worldview.

Whether one knows it or not, every movie propounds a worldview. Directors often use their art form to make philosophical, religious or political statements. From Seth Macfarlene’s controversial use of Family Guy to air his leftist views to Mel Gibson’s explicitly Catholic The Passion of the Christ, movies carry a message. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s overt and very frequently it’s convincing. Movies have the power to turn our views around by stating a case that often appeals to our emotions. The Truman Show is no different. Many Christians have seen a positive message in this movie, likening Truman’s escape from his home to the freedom one receives in Christ when they are set free from sin. Comparisons have been made with C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters, in so much as the arch evil Hollywood producer tutors his mouthpiece, Truman’s best friend, in order to keep him within the confines of his world in the similar way that Screwtape tutors Wormwood in the art of demonic manipulation of his subject. But I believe a closer analysis tells a very different story, one which fits more clearly with analogous religious criticism through the ideological framework of many contemporary artists.

I do want to say from the outset that I am not condemning this movie. It’s a favourite of mine. The well paced story strikes a balance between humour and thought provoking themes making it awash with opportunities to discuss the philosophy of film, religious themes and the ethics of media. But if you’re not that way inclined it can just be a great Saturday night movie rental. While this is a top draw movie that can be enjoyed for its entertainment value, I do believe that it is important that we understand the themes and messages therein lest we find ourselves absorbing its teachings and allowing them to become a part of our worldview without critical evaluation. In short, I suggest that we follow Paul’s teaching to “test all things” as it is useful for understanding what a person is advocating below the skin of their art.

Let’s explore two of the central characters. First we are introduced to Truman, the kind hearted, lovable hero of our story. It doesn’t take a whole lot of letter re-arranging and chin stroking to spot the inference. Truman is a true man. Or is he? What is a true man? Is Truman’s real personality that of what he has grown up as or is he a product of a manufactured environment? He inhabits an artificial world but he himself is real. Does that mean we are watching truth or an appearance of truth? The director of the show Christof (in the film, not the director himself) is interviewed and gives an apologetic to this criticism claiming that while the world is manufactured and on sale in the Truman store (a cynical, if justified, bite at western consumerism) everything that one sees in Truman is real because it comes from himself. Nothing is rehearsed we are told, nothing is planned because he doesn’t know he’s being watched. And if this is the case then that makes him real. The implication is that he is only as real as the world around him makes him.

Free will and determinism are up stage and center in our considerations then. Is Truman free to make his own choices and develop his own desires or are his actions an illusion, an imitation of free will brought on by an inability to see his predetermined fate? While he may make his own day to day decisions they are influenced by what would rightly be described as a higher power. One example of this conflict is the persistent need to manufacture ways to suppress Truman’s natural explorative tendencies. He has an insatiable desire to discover new lands, particularly Fiji, a place where “you can’t get any further away before you start coming back.” Quick fixes are needed of keeping him on the island so that he doesn’t find life outside and end the reality which so many people are finding entertainment in.

The producer’s methods employ questionable ethics to accomplish this such as choosing to kill off Truman’s father in a boat accident (he doesn’t really die of course because he’s an actor), thus causing Truman to be afraid of water consequently rendering him unable to leave the island. Truman may think he is afraid of water because of a traumatic event in his childhood but in reality he had no choice in it because it was an action taken by his puppeteers to suppress the true man who wants to be real to himself. Is it right that this man should be unwittingly driven to fear through the secret power of his creator?

While Truman’s actions are unrehearsed and superficially take on the appearance of free choice, the manipulation by his unseen environment makes them predetermined by the creator. The obvious implication is that Truman’s controllers represent classical perceptions of the Christian God. In Christian theology God is regarded as being master over the world’s destiny, working out a plan to bring about his own end. While we as humans may appear to make our own decisions, if God is omnipotent then we have never made a decision that he either didn’t know about or predetermine before we did it. In the words of the Westminster Confession “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”1. The theme of the movie echoes this by suggesting that this idea makes free will illusory and, if you’re cynical to go far enough, a cruel game played by God.

This God theme is explored through The Truman Show’s fictional creator, Christof.

As with Truman, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who this is referring to. Christof is a portmanteau of Christ and of, in that he is the Christ of Truman, his own personal creator. He is unseen and all powerful wielding total control over the show. He decides the direction of the show, who goes and who remains. In one particularly thought provoking scene Truman is out on the water sailing toward freedom. To stop him Christof brings about a huge storm. Persistent in his rebellion, Truman continues to fight his fear as Christof orders an editor to increase the waves. “We can’t let him die in front of a live audience!” barks one of the show’s stakeholders. “He was born in front of a live audience.” he quickly replies. The editor refuses to increase the obey causing Christof to react angrily and do it himself. His behaviour embodies much of what is criticised about the Christian God in today’s culture. There is a hint that this creator is a tyrant who is selfishly exploiting the freedom of a human being for his own gain, reckoning his desires more important than Truman’s free will. Such is a common argument amongst the new atheists, summed up rather eloquently by Dawkins’ in his book The God Delusion. There he says

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

2

While Dawkins’ portrayal of the Christian God is extreme polemic, perhaps even bordering on hysetrical, we see a softer version of this in Christof. He is egocentric, defensive of his decisions and quick to turn against those who disagree with him. In a TV interview he engages with an ex-cast member who is campaigning to free Truman from his artificial world. When she spits at him “What you have done to Truman is sick.” his reply appears petty and arrogant as he shouts her down declaring “Do you think because you stole some air time with him you know him?” This seemingly echoes much of God’s prophetic judgment against the nations in the Old Testament, in which the prophets declare “Thus saith the Lord” as He then goes on to declare that he knows the end from the beginning, that He knows all things and in knowing all things man should not oppose or question him. Of course the whims of Christof appear selfish and petty and he comes across as a weak, needful being who believes that he has the right to behave in this way because he is the creator of the show. The parallel is very clear, Christof is the Dawkins-lite version of God with only hints of the jealousy and mass genocidal tendencies.

At the end of the film Truman makes it to the edge of the world and is seen slamming his fists against the set to find a way out. He is interrupted by the voice of his creator coming from the clouds. There he explains everything. Truman asks “Was nothing real?” to which Christof replies “You were real.” At the final moment Christof excitedly blurts out “Well say something dammit, you’re on TV.” Truman gives his trademark catchphrase and walks through the open door and out of the world he has been an unwitting prisoner of for all his life. The music is jubilant, triumphant and we see the fallen face of Christof. Our last shot of him is one of a rejected father slumped in his chair, grieving the loss of his son. He is dejected, crest fallen and helpless. This echoes Nietzsche’s famous quote

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

3

And the world so quickly forgets as the two security guards turn to one another, shrug and say “Wanna see what else is on?”

The writers have nailed their colours to the mast in characterising Christof the way they have. They are standing with Nietzsche proclaiming that man’s thoughts are above God’s, that God is created in our image as a projection of our own selfish desires and our willingness to trample the rights and dignity of the people around us in order to get it.

In this article we have briefly explored the metaphysical themes of The Truman Show. The movie is littered with references to breaking free from the control that you are artificially put under. It is highly existential in it’s philosophy. Existentialism is the name given to a group of philosophical works from writers and thinkers in the 19th and 20th Centuries. While many of these thinkers disagreed in points of doctrine they shared in common the belief that man should focus on giving life his own meaning and that he should be individual and autonomous. The Truman Show thoroughly and cleverly analogises this and what it’s producers regard as the tyrannical mind control that subservience to a higher power can have on oneself. It is interesting to note that Truman’s first sign of his world not being quite what it seems is when a light falls from the sky. It turns out to be a broken studio lamp. Written on the side in bold writing is the word Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. This is a reference to Satan, who in classical protestant theology is also called the day star in Isaiah 14 that fell from the sky. In Genesis he appears as the serpent or the Nachash, the shining one, who tempts Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, in The Truman Show, the sirius light falls from the sky and is Truman’s first indication that everything is not what it seems. From this moment on he takes a journey into knowledge to find that his life is a fraud, eventually freeing himself from his Lockeanesque prison. We are not so naive to think that the writers are advocating following Satan. Instead what they are suggesting is that religion throughout the ages has regarded knowledge as evil and through it’s various writings has symbolised this in whatever its version of Satan is. Knowledge was the thirst of the Enlightenment thinkers who regarded the churches’ caution against certain types as a suppression of the truth that too much of it would lead one to realise that belief in God was an enterprise for keeping the masses under control. Or as Karl Marx said, “Die religion…ist das Opium des Volkes [Religion is the opium of the masses]”4

But these ideas are much older. For example, speaking in the mid 1st Century, Seneca is quoted as saying “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”5 Today they find not only a new expression through the development of enlightenment philosophy but also a new form in the arts which allows these philosophies to reach the wider collective conscience. From there, slowly but surely generations begin to absorb these ideas and most do so unwittingly. Recognising these messages is essential for the Christian so that we are able to filter and analyse them and see what sermon is being preached to us from the pulpit of the arts.

Footnotes

1 Westminster Confession of Faith (1643), Chapter III, article II, recovered from http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ An online version of the Confession.

2 Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pg.51

3 Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

4 Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Collected Works, v. 3. New York.

5 This quote is disputed as no original source can be found for it. It is found in What Great Men Think About Religion (1945) by Ira D. Cardiff, p. 342. It is used here with caution.