I’m always intrigued how art and popular culture use themes such as redemption and transcendence. This thread is most apparent in the movies.
Captain America, Batman, Harry Potter and all cultural blockbusters grapple with major philosophical concerns such as good vs. evil, justice, and sacrificial love. This is an undeniable God-planted yearning in the heart of every man, even those bred on the post modern values of Hollywood or Broadway. Many times in film and literature, the most hardened unbeliever, in creating his own art, will necessarily borrow from a worldview he scoffs at.
This Imageo Dei must make its way out in some way, even if inadvertently.
Tom, the lead character of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie, knows of this internal groping. He wants more to life than his nightly routine of movie screening after another monotonous workday. He’s not buying what his culture is selling anymore.
“I’m tired of movies… Look at them! All of those glamorous people – having adventures – hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there’s a war. That’s when adventure becomes available to the masses! Everyone’s dish, not only Gable’s! Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventure themselves Goody, goody! – It’s our turn now, to go to the South Sea Islands – to make a safari – to be exotic, far-off! – But I’m not patient. I don’t want to wait till then. I’m tired of the movies and I am about to move!”
Tom’s aching for self-actualization is misplaced. He knows he’s made for more than watching movies. But he deduces that means he should be the star and the center of the screenplay. As always there is a mixed bag of truth here for us.
People go to the movies instead of moving. I like the way Tom puts it. People go through the motions of life instead of living. The pit we can fall into is very similar. A self-professed Christian may go to church instead going out into the world. They sit in comfortable pews instead of reaching and loving until in hurts. They gaze into their narcissistic mirrors in preparation every morning instead of beholding the face of Christ in prayer and study. They watch T.V. programs about fictional families and friends instead of spending quality time with their own family and friends. In many ways, and many times quite literally, many of us go to the movies instead of moving.
Move Like An Illiterate Farm Girl
This trap of mere examination can be fallen into by philosophers, authors and theologians. G.K. Chesterton observes the common snare when comparing Joan of Arc to some of the respected thinkers of his day, Tolstoy and Nietzsche:
Joan of Arc, age 19, burnt at the stake for "heresy"
Joan of Arc….chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. I thought of all that was noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially plain pity, the actualities in earth, the reverence of the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find its secret…I thought of his (Nietzsche) cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their antagonistic ideals….she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.
Unfortunately, I find a large portion of my life strongly parallels that of Nietzsche and Tolstoy rather than that of Joan of Arc. Many times I am no more than an onlooker in the spectator sport of careful scrutiny. The sad narrative may be that many 21st century cultural Christians do have more in common with an atheist philosopher than a fearless crusader and national hero. The dilemma for the elitist philosopher and peasant believer is one and the same: We have grown accustomed to going to movies instead of moving. Nietzsche had a belief system but it rarely compelled him to any valuable action (and when his belief system was really strictly adhered to in Nazi Germany it was ultimately exposed as the malicious sham it was).
Move Like A Nerdy British Boy With A Wand
An illiterate teenage farm girl is rebuke to all ivory tower speculators and intellectuals who talk much and do little. The same is true for our modern-day cultural icons. We don’t admire Harry Potter for his views on evolution or the string theory, we admire him for his fearless stand for justice in the face of utter darkness and evil.
What Harry is in fiction, the saints of God have been (and are) in fact.
Similarly, we may have a stalwart of good doctrine but no accompaniment of sound action. A Christian worldview means little if not lived out in view of the world.
You know, those inescapable elementary twin truths of “faith and works”.
I pray my theology has hands and feet.
And I pray I find myself swept up into the only real eternal drama of good vs. evil, justice, and sacrificial love. It’s not found in a nerdy teenager with a magic wand, or a cheesy grown man wearing red, white, and blue tights.
It’s found at the cross of Jesus Christ. Forevermore. There every knee, expression of art, and philosophical musing will bow in humble awestruck reverence and fascination.