Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ignorance, Cynicism and Martin Sheen

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
by Ben Howard

When I was a junior in high school I took a speech class. Near the end of the year, the teacher invited three of us to participate in a countywide speech competition at the Kiwanis Club, or maybe it was the Rotary Club.

I remember our theme was something fluffy and optimistic, you know, the kind of speech that a wide-eyed kid is supposed to give to impress middle-aged adults. Something about integrity, or responsibility, or some other vaguely defined value of that ilk. All the specifics are hazy, but I do remember my speech. I titled it, “Ignorance is Bliss.”

I'm sure you'll be astounded to discover that my remarks on the virtues of knowing fewer things in order to be happy did not win me any prizes on that day, but I'm still convinced that in spite of its cynical nature, it was an honest statement.

Fast forward eight years to the summer of 2012.

Ignorance is much more difficult now. It actually takes a concerted effort to not know things. As a fan of sports/movies/TV/music/rock opera/etc, this is a bittersweet pill. The central story, the movie or the game, is now couched in background narrative that distorts the way we consume it.

For instance, I'm a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I've been ecstatic about the team all year, and that excitement only escalated as they reached the NBA Finals this June. However, because I'm a sports fan in the modern world, I'm also privy to the Achilles heel of my favorite team's likable image: the team's owners.

In case you didn't know, let me burst your joyously naive bubble. The Thunder used to play in Seattle, until they were bought by two energy magnates Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon. In the least subtle and most egregious way possible, Bennett and McClendon lobbied to move the team from Seattle to their home state of Oklahoma. This violates the fictional Hippocratic Oath of Team Ownership: First, do no harm to the fans.

So, what is a conscientious sports fan to do? Of course, I was overjoyed by my team's success, but ghostly images of sad children in faded Gary Payton jerseys were never far from my mind.

How about an example from the movies? I love superhero movies, so I was excited, though a bit confused to see that they were doing a reboot of Spiderman this summer. However, I quickly learned that Sony pushed the reboot because otherwise they might have lost the movie rights to Disney. Was this a creative decision? Was the world clambering for another Spiderman? No. Sony just wanted to squeeze as much cash as they could from the franchise.

And I still loved the movie! It was fun, it was electric, it had Martin Sheen! Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were flirty and cute and I loved every second of it. Would I have enjoyed it more if I didn't know the films origin story? I think so.

The 16 year old version of me may have been right when he argued in favor of ignorance. In fact, I know he was right. People are happier when they don't know things.

But it's also deeply immature and that's why those judges were right not to reward me. Truth is not found either in burying our heads in the sand and claiming ignorance lest we discover some piece of unwanted news, nor does it come from spinning into a self-righteous frenzy over the cynical flaws that inhabit the objects of our affection.

That's called maturity. It means realizing that the world is full of flaws including the things we enjoy. That doesn't mean we throw them away and march off in search of perfection, it means that we have to live in the tension between our idealistic notions and the world that actually exists. Just because something's a little cracked doesn't mean it isn't beautiful.

This is the reason why the church is worth salvaging. Does it have it's flaws? Yes, deep ones. Can it still reflect beauty and honesty and love? Yes, profoundly. Can it still embody Jesus? Can it still be filled with the Spirit? Can it still be the image of God? Yes, yes, yes.

My generation has been really good at skepticism and cynicism. We've learned how to pick things apart, how to deconstruct and criticize, but I'm not sure we know how to build. I hope we can learn. I hope I can learn. It's too easy to be cynical; too easy to let the background noise overwhelm the actual story. Here's to growing up.


When he isn't opining about the betterment of society and the church, Ben is watching episodes of West Wing. Martin Sheen! You can follow his Jed Bartlet-influenced views on Twitter @BenHoward87.

1 comment:

  1. "My generation has been really good at skepticism and cynicism. We've learned how to pick things apart, how to deconstruct and criticize, but I'm not sure we know how to build. "

    That's it.