Keep it Simple. We are Stupid, afterall.

kinnon —  October 28, 2008 — 10 Comments

We want simple solutions. Keep it simple, stupid. This one’s better than that one. No need to dig too deep. Just go with your gut. Everything will be fine. Trust me. Everyone wins in the end. Really.

This would seem to explain why Fireproof, the movie produced for half a million has grossed $23.6 million in its first month of release whilst Amazing Grace, the intelligent movie about William Wilberforce which cost $29 million, grossed a million less than Fireproof at the end of it’s entire run.

You see, Amazing Grace deals with 20 years of Wilberforce’s parliamentary fight against the slave trade. It is an epic battle that leaves him battered and bruised. It deals realistically with the ugly side of humanity, even, dare say, the ugly side of Christians. Fireproof, on the other hand, provides a simple message – Get Jesus, He Fixes Everything. To quote John Armstrong,

There are no tensions in this film that go unresolved. There are no problems that cannot be met if you simply love Jesus enough. This is not life.

The first part of this post was triggered by Andy Crouch’s post, Amazing Gross. The gross speaks volumes about the “Christian” audience as Crouch suggests quoting William Goldman, “nobody nows anything.” Crouch adds, “let the reader understand.”

Fireproof is the kind of movie where the writers start with a solution and work their way backwards. It reminds me a lot of what’s happening in the church’s response to the US elections.

Most of my friends have bought “Change You Can Believe In.” One wears a shirt emblazoned with the date of Bush’s last day in office. We need CHANGE. Whatever that might mean.

Those of us who would dare to suggest that Obama’s abortion position is cause for more than grave concern are written off as single-issue voters. In near Orwellian doublespeak it is explained, as if to children, how Obama’s presidency will actually lead to fewer abortions. This, of course, right after he signs the Freedom of Choice Act as his first act as president – a promise he made to Planned Parenthood on July 17th, 2007.

The simple narrative is Bush = Bad. McCain = Bush. Obama = Good. Vote Obama.

It’s a narrative pushed by the Main Stream Media and a narrative that many of my friends echo – people who I would have identified as prophetic voices. They have become shills for a political campaign. (Note, as Imbi and I discussed with an American friend last night, I would probably write-in Bugs Bunny if I had a US vote. Our American friend can’t and won’t support either candidate. )

In a post never published, called Not for Prophets, I wrote this:

I spent almost a decade (in my teens and twenties) actively involved in Canadian politics – with one party. The Liberals. (Ostensibly similar to the American Democratic Party.) I disengaged from active involvement in party politics when I became a Christian at 27. (Though my political leanings became more Red Tory than Liberal.)

Twenty-six years later I still remember the thrill of the campaigns. The demonization of the opposition. The creation of talking points to put our opponents in their place. The door to door thrust and parry. It was a blood-lust, team sport.

I should also have written that it was all about the creation of simple narratives. Us – friend, them – enemy. Destroy the other.

I’ve watched this simple narrative with the same blood-lust play out on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Writers who are Christians have been as politically partisan and graceless as those who claim no belief system whatever.

Earlier this electoral season, Ben Witherington quoted his friend James Howell, pastor of Myers Park UMC,

People ask me: are you liberal? or conservative? Sometimes my reply is: it depends on the issue – but my true answer is: neither! The Church drifts into absurd irrelevance if we do nothing more than baptize one or the other of the prevalent options society has dreamed up. We have our own perspective, which at times seems in sync with this or that policy – but then Bam! …we surprise everybody with a wrinkle, a twist. We are not middle of the road, although when we are most faithful to God we are likely to annoy (and occasionally to please) liberals and conservatives in equal measure.

How could this be? Human institutions, political parties, and even the noblest people who choose public service, are sinful, flawed; self-serving agendas get in the way, or the perils of the moment blind us to a greater good God would have us pursue. And frankly, not everybody out there is exactly “lost in wonder, love and praise,” deeply immersed in the Bible, and prepared to “take up your cross and follow” (Mark 8:34). Many citizens in both parties don’t think twice about God, or God is like a good-luck charm they think will help them get the goodies they crave. Politicans fawn over the electorate; they will “say anything,” and they even hire wizards to advise them on how to talk religious folks into voting for them. Parties and politics are not surprisingly out of sync with God.

Howell later quotes Hauerwas (who was prominent in our conversation last evening) and then Lincoln,

“The Church is not simply a ‘voluntary association’ that may be of some use to the wider public, but rather is the community constituted by practices by which all other politics are to be judged” (Stanley Hauerwas).

Abraham Lincoln told the truth about “sides” who boast of God: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered… The Almighty has His own purposes.” Knowing this, we treat each other charitably, and look to God for something better: “With malice toward none; with charity for all… to bind up the nation’s wounds – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

UPDATE: John Armstrong has an important post from earlier today that needs to be included in this discussion – a post triggered by Peggy Noonan’s book, Patriotic Grace. Armstrong says,

This will all be over in one week. It appears that Barack Obama will soon be President Obama. When I tell conservatives that I want him to succeed they go into orbit, especially conservative Christians. They seem to genuinely hate this man. They think he is a criminal who has no right to live in the White House. I ask: “What is different from this response and the way the far left has attacked President Bush so fiercely for nearly eight years now?”

Who is worse in this constant polemical tearing down of our social fabric? Both sides point to the other. Peggy Noonan suggests we need to rise above our fierce partisanship and reaffirm what it means to be Americans. To this end I will not only pray for Barack Obama if he wins but I will do everything in my power to support him as an American while I remain committed to my political philosophy. One thing I do know—this angry, mean-spirited period in our history needs to end, the sooner the better. Nothing serves the nation’s real interest when we engage in non-stop name calling and character assassination.

Original Ending: Let me end this long-winded post by pointing you to another post of mine which I wrote on March 30th called We Need A King. Like Dan Edelen has done recently, I remind my brothers and sisters of the people of Israel and their desperate desire for a King in 1 Samuel 8. Please read God’s response to Samuel again as you prepare to vote.

The following Chris Falson and the Amazing Stories video is in that post – I’m sticking it in this one to belabor my point – as is my wont. (Back in the early 90’s, Imbi and I produced and directed the project from whence commeth this song. BTW, this version is a rough cut. The Muppet on piano is Rob Mathes. This was shot at Dana Point Calvary Chapel behind the Orange Curtain in SoCal.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

10 responses to Keep it Simple. We are Stupid, afterall.

  1. Bill,

    Thank you. Thoughtful, brilliant, provocative blogging. I am in your debt for this.

  2. Superb, honest, deeply true.

  3. Hey, I was born and raised behind the “orange curtain.”

    I met the filmmaker behind Fireproof a couple years ago. His screenplays (three so far) are saccharine fairy tales suitably dumbed-down for the American Christian sub-culture. The man is a marketing genius.

    I really can’t stomach either presidential candidate. What’s far more important to me in this election are the ballot initiatives. Hundreds of $billions in bond issues — I encourage everyone in every state to send a message to their lawmakers: vote NO on ALL bond issues.

    We need to learn how to live within our means. Creating new debt is not the way to do it. Politicians seem only to know how to print and spend increasingly more money.

  4. I thought it was the star power of Kirk Cameron. 😉

  5. I’ll be glad when it’s over. There are people on both sides of the fence that I respect but don’t necessarily agree with. I hate the tension of it all.

  6. Its helpful to have your perspective from “the outside,” Bill. There are several Canadians here at the sem and I have learned a lot from their views on our election.

    I’m not thrilled with Peggy Noonan. According to the last column of hers I read, a good American is apparently one who meets her standards of communication skill. It came off rather snobby and it only added to my dismay that it seems many are evaluating the candidates according to image rather than substance. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this, however, since here in America everyone is glued 24/7 to either a TV, Computer monitor, or iPod. We need a god who suits our medium, I suppose.
    But seriously, I don’t care how much was spent on a candidate’s clothing for a gig, or how smooth and calm another candidates speeches are, or how many “gaff’s” another candidate makes, or their age, or their medical history… I want to know where they plan to take the United States, and how they plan to do it, and what values, mores and philosophies drive them. Alas, few ask questions that get to the bottom of this and those who try are summarily shot down. This, too, nobody seems to take note of and ask, “what does this mean?” in any way that is helpful. Mostly, there’s just more shouting. What a mess.

  7. Great post, Bill!

    We voted Conservative in the Canadian election (and happy to see Harper at least get a few more seats supporting him), but we’re not voting Republican in the US election. Context matters (and the neocons have coopted and perverted the Republican platform to an extent that I can’t support it until there are some party reforms).

    The sad part about the “dumbing down” is the oversimplification: you’re either an A) flaming-liberal-commie or a B) warmongering-capitalist-oppressor. There is no middle ground in most American’s minds. In America, I get to be despised as an A, in Canada, I get to be despised as a B. 🙂 Ah, the beauty of wedge politics! Peace and love!

  8. Politics equals passion. Always has, always will. This “angry, mean-spirited” period in our history has been around ever since we became a nation and held elections. Read history.

    What does “rise above our partisanship” mean? The two-party system presumes partisanship, does it not? Does anyone in this country want one-party government? Please think.

    Respect and reasoned arguments, yes. An effete, passionless defense of what one believes? Never.

  9. Rob – I’m with you on that last statement. Getting there is a community effort. When I step over the line into disrespect and poor reasoning (as I am apt to do) I am deeply grateful for those who call me to account with passionate, respectful, and well-reasoned arguments!

  10. This is a therapeutic election. Who one votes for is intended to make one feel good about oneself. One of my closest friends, an Obama supporter, told me that he believes that Obama will not lead according to his past political convictions, but from the middle. My heart sank. Not because I though he was mistaken, but that he, the smartest guy I known, invested so much hope in a narrative that is clearly designed for him to get elected. I felt he was hoping against reason, and that has become the meme of this election.
    Great post, Bill.


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