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Culture Wars: A New Myth

The human race has always had a need for fiction. It seems deeply engrained in us, this yearning to know more about the great wide somewhere, even if it doesn't exist in reality. My little brothers and sisters are always begging for "A story, a story! A new one!" Even adults sometimes look at the stars and wonder if there's something else out there.

Of course there is something beyond the stars, a Reality bigger than our imaginations. We Christians know all about this Something Else, know it intimately. But not perfectly. No one really can. But still we quest--inquiring minds want to know. Those that don't know God quest, too, and try anything they can to fill the emptiness.

God has given mankind this yearning to lead us to Him, and those that seek will find. Imagination is from Him, too, to help us be wise enough to believe in what we can't see. And this imagination leads us to worlds of wonder and glory, far beyond what we know in grubby reality.

I don't know exactly when fiction was invented. Perhaps Adam himself, holding his young sons close to him on a dark, clear night, pointed to the sky and spoke of what God had made, and imagined a story about why the stars were in that certain pattern, or where the moon went when it waned, or what happened to the flowers when their bosoms folded tight shut for the night. Little stories like that answer the philosophical questions of a child, so foolishly wise.

Stories can be both mirrors, reflecting the world to reveal its naked, shocking reality, and lamps, illuminating the world as it is meant to be. When David took Bathsheba and killed her husband, the prophet Nathan told him a story about a rich man and a poor man, the rich man with many sheep, the poor man with only one lamb he loved like a son. When Nathan said that the rich man had taken the poor man's lamb to feed to his guest, David was shocked and demanded know who that man was, so that he could be punished for his wickedness. And when Nathan revealed that David himself was the cruel, greedy rich man, David saw the truth and was heartbroken.

When logic doesn't work, fables and parables that seem disconnected from the matter at hand will often open up the locked heart-doors. Jesus knew this, Cicero knew this, Abe Lincoln knew this. Fiction has always had an important role to play in human life.

In our own era it has become even more vital to those of the 'civilized' world. With the explosions in technology from the printing press to the Internet, stories have gained more and more importance to the average citizen. The invention of the television especially contributed to this. Now we have stories on a daily basis, new stories, exciting stories, stories that are getting bigger and 'better' all the time, free for the flip of the switch, with the nominal cost of a little time and sensitivity to violence.

Now it's the image, not the word, that's the national medium, but the content is still stories. Just nastier, bloodier, slimier stories in little bite-sized pieces in between an hour or half-hour of commercials. But oh, they're enthralling stories! Just watch for ten minutes, and I'm stuck. Can't move forward or back. Just stuck.

But we still have the same old need for stories. Stories that appeal to the eye and ear with image and music, but also to the heart and mind with character and plot. Especially, it seems, for the grand, encompassing myth, the kind that can't be told in a single story, or book, or trilogy, or episode, or movie, or even television season. The kind that goes on and on in everlasting sequels. They're called cultural phenomena, I believe.

In the early half of the 20th century, that was JRR Tolkien and his tales of a magical land far removed from our own. In the latter half of that century, when attention moved from word to image, it was Star Trek, which is still going strong into its fifth spin-off, and Star Wars, which is getting more attention all the time. Stories that appeal to that childlike sense of wonder, the yearning to know something beyond.

And yet, now, stories must have more than wonder and good storytelling to appeal to the majority. Now they must also have good graphics and special effects, dramatic plots and moving music, fast-paced action and at least some appeal to children. Good acting is also a plus, and a lightsaber or phaser rifle never hurts.

Stories are usually good, letting us use our imagination and perhaps escape from harsh reality for a little while. Star Trek and Star Wars do well as cultural phenomena and appealing myths, but they're flawed. The former has a lot of Evolutionary thinking and pseudo-science that tries to do away with God in the universe, and the latter also tries to take God out of the picture by replacing Him with a warm-and-fuzzy Force. It's all part of the desire to have no one to account to, to be able to do what you want in your all-too-short life here in grungy reality.

Both phenomena have their good points. No one can be a good storyteller without observing some fundamental truths of the universe, and writers of both culture hits can't help but say something true once in a while. But then, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Take God out, and life has no meaning. You're born, you live, you die, what's the point? Non-Christians have been wondering for decades, and they'll keep on wondering forever, because without the Reason for being here, there's just plain no point, and there's no point to Star Trek, and there's no point to Star Wars.

And still the quest continues. What's a culture-watcher to do? They're not going to listen to us, and they're not going to watch a Christian TV special.

Give them something to quest for. Where logic won't work, where they'll throw stones at preachers, a little mirror-lamp might reveal something. We need a new myth, something with appeal, with good graphics and special effects, with dramatic plots and moving music, fast-paced action and at least some appeal to children. Good acting is also a plus, and a lightsaber or phaser rifle never hurts. But make sure there's something behind the flashing lights and razzle-dazzle. Make sure that what glitters is gold, this time.

We need a new myth. Tolkien did a marvelous job and he will never be equaled, but transmuting his tales into movies won't help a thing. Too many people that love his books will be disappointed, and the moviemaking machine will leave way too much out. I hate all books made into movies, but movies made into books, well! That's a different matter. Start with a culture phenomenon with meat on it, and build from there. But make sure there's meat, okay? We've been gnawing on bones for far too long.

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