God, doubt, and The Truman Show

September 26, 2006 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

It often seems to me that Christianity is way too preposterous to be true. Sometimes when I’m laying awake at night, I wonder how I can possibly be so deluded as to actually believe the story.

In light of my struggles with the preposterousness of faith, the movie The Truman Show fascinates me. The film is not specifically religious, but it functions as a penetrating allegory for doubting Thomases like me. And at the moments when I’m convinced Christianity is impossible, the film helps provide me with a rationale for faith in spite of the odds.

Before I explain how, here’s a run-down on the plot if you haven’t seen the movie:

10012674.jpgAll the world’s a stage

Truman Burbank, the movie’s central character, is as ordinary a guy as you could ever hope to find, except for one fantastic detail: his life is a non-stop TV show, and he’s the only one who doesn’t know it. Truman thinks he has a normal existence and doesn’t realize that every move he makes is being broadcast via thousands of hidden cameras to anyone who cares to turn on the tube.

In reality, the island town in which Truman lives is not a real town; it’s merely the extremely elaborate studio of the show that revolves around him. His “mother” is not really his mother, his “wife” is not really his wife, and the company he works for is not a real company.

In fact, all the hundreds of people Truman knows are merely actors contriving to keep him thinking that his is, indeed, a normal life.

More to reality than first appears

Eventually, however, Truman begins to realize that something is not quite right. One of his major clues comes from a girl whom he had once asked out on a date during his college days.

The girl, whose name is Sylvia, is an actress on the show, but her conscience is pricked over the farce in which she is participating. She tries to tell Truman the truth about his life. But before Sylvia can explain, she is snatched away by her “father” (another actor), who tells Truman that Sylvia is not in her right mind.

Once the seed of truth has been planted in Truman’s head, however, he begins to see other disturbing indications that something is amiss: one day, for example, he accidentally stumbles into a backstage area of the studio. On another evening while examining his wedding photos, he is shocked to find that his “wife” has her fingers crossed in one photo.

On yet another occasion, Truman discovers that the people who populate his subdivision appear on a timed cycle: a lady riding on a red bike, a man carrying flowers, and a dented Beetle all move on a continuous loop, appearing at predictable intervals one after the other.

Truman slowly comes to the realization that he is somehow being watched. He determines to break out of the world in which he has been living in order to get to the true world.

The end of the movie plays out the drama of what happens when a man begins to realize that what he thought was real is not real at all, and that there is a larger, truer, unbounded reality quite apart from the circumscribed world in which he is living.

A Truman scenario for the whole human race

What intrigues me about The Truman Show is that the human race as a whole faces a situation very similar to Truman’s. We are led, as Truman was, to believe that the world we know is the extent of reality: our physical universe is all that is real, and there isn’t anything beyond this natural world.

Life contrives to make us think the face value of reality is the real thing. All is ultimately matter and energy, we are told, nothing more.

Most of the time, this explanation makes sense. It seems plausible that our world could be a naturalistic phenomenon, devoid of the supernatural. After all, our scientists and philosophers, priests of secularism, give us plausible explanations of how we got here: a mammoth explosion, random change over time, it’s all that simple. There’s no such thing as a supernatural realm, no such thing as a God.

Things that just don’t fit

Every once in a while, however, we are confronted with bizarre occurrences that don’t quite make sense. There are, for example, coincidences that look remarkably like miracles. There are stumping questions-without-answers (like, “what was there before the Big Bang?”). And there are ancient tales about a man who claimed to be the Son of God and who is said to have risen from the dead.

These are things, like Truman’s wife crossing her fingers in their wedding photo, that just don’t fit. And it is at moments like these that naturalism doesn’t quite answer to reality. We are like so many Trumans beginning to realize that the truth is very different from what we’ve been told.

To top it off, the human race is confronted by a “Sylvia” in the midst of our bizarre situation. We have the testimony of One who claims to be an outsider and Who informs us that there is a reality beyond reality. Matter and energy are not all there is, maintains this Source; we’ve been fed a lie by an arch deceiver.

One thing I know

It is impossible to prove, of course, that my world is a Truman-style affair; I have no way of demonstrating with certainty that there is a reality beyond this physical cosmos.

Yet the Christian worldview makes a great deal of sense in the midst of all the anomalies in my world. It explains the nagging contradictions of human existence by positing that there has indeed been a great deception; a crafty liar has contrived to keep us from knowing the real story.

Yes, the claims of Christianity are still preposterous, and I have no proof that they are true. All I know is that I keep stumbling on crossed fingers in wedding photos. And I keep hearing echoes of a Voice who claimed to have the truth that would set me free.

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One book Creating my own enemies

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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