Stage One: The Audience

Now we’ll show you what we discovered as we looked at the story in your Bible through the Eight Stages of Story, which McKee laid out in his book, Storynomics.

You’ll see that we also draw from other writers who write about story, and plenty of Christians philosophers and apologists too.

We hope it helps you to see why our team does recognize that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God is the Great Storyteller.

Stage One: The Audience

Here is how McKee describes this first stage…

Robert McKee: Stage one of the creation of a story is deciding on the target audience, that target audience’s need, even if they don’t know what they need. You know what they need and once they have what they they’re be happy to have it. 

Why Is Robert McKee’s Marketing Strategy The Only One That Works?, By Bruce Weinstein, Forbes, March 20, 2018


Before an author composes his story, he needs a clear vision of his audience and the final effect his work will have on both their thoughts and feelings.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And again, that fits with what Shawn Coyne calls the Internal and External Content genres…

1. EXTERNAL CONTENT GENRES define your protagonist(s) external objects of desire. 

What they want. 

2. INTERNAL CONTENT GENRES define your protagonist(s) internal objects of desire. 

What they need.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

So, who is the target audience in the story in your Bible?


And what is it we need and want?

As we explored before, it’s a combination of the desire for the good things – love, happiness, meaning, order, etc., etc. – and escape from the bad – suffering, evil, chaos etc., etc.

And you can be game with that, right? Paula showed us this…

The first question is of life’s purpose and meaning: What does life and living really mean? Then there comes the question of pleasure and enjoyment: How do I fulfill my desires? The pursuit of pleasure is at the core of our existence. We work, we earn a living, we return to our homes, but then we make decisions for our enjoyment: Are there any boundaries for pleasure? Then there is the third question: What does one make of all the suffering and pain we see in this world? 

There you have it. Meaning, pleasure, pain. And all of these hang on the hinge of the fourth major question, a very defining one: How and why am I here in the first place?

Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods

So, who is the target audience in the story in the Bible?

Human beings…

The Christian Story is like many other great stories in that it deals with the great issues all people struggle with and the great questions everyone asks. It’s a story about peace shattered by rebellion, about love and betrayal, about self-sacrifice, and about redemption. All of our deepest aspirations, all of our longings, all of our hopes and even our struggles – all of the conflicts in all of history are all tied to this story. 

Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality

And one place to begin is by seeing how the story in the Bible begins by starring your God as the Active Protagonist…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

And it means the story of every person flows from your God.  

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then the human connection to him is very foundational.

And your God is the author of the story…

The biblical story from Genesis to Revelation is a great drama, a great saga, a play written by the living God and staged in his wonderful creation… It is not our play; it is God’s play….

Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship, by N.T. Wright

The biblical drama requires the presence of the Lord God as the leading actor in its story line. Yet the Bible also requires that we acknowledge God as the scriptwriter, director, and producer of this grand drama.

Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure, By A. B. Caneday, in BEYOND THE BOUNDS: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, EDITED BY JOHN PIPER, JUSTIN TAYLOR, PAUL KJOSS HELSETH

Another parallel is our conceiving characters in a story. We do that because we are made in God’s image and God does that. We are his characters and history is his-story. The difference is that we are not quite so creative as to give our characters life outside our minds. He is.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics

We have a direct line to the One who knows what happens on the next page because He has written the whole story.

David Jeremiah, Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World

According to Jewish tradition, God is, among other things, a writer.

How Jews became ‘people of the books’, By Daniel Burke, CNN, April 12, 2017

And look at this passage, by the way…

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Isaiah 46:8-11

So, human beings are the audience.

And we all have needs and wants…

We are driven through life by our needs and wants. So must the characters we create be motivated by what they want. The driving force of characters is their desire.

Sol Stein, Stein On Writing

We all share the same crucial human experiences. Each of us is suffering and enjoying, dreaming and hoping of getting through our days with something of value.

Robert McKee, Story

As you know, there is so much material we could place here, because the needs and wants of human beings are so deep and wide.

It looks like it’s a combination of the desire for the good things – love, happiness, meaning, relationship, order, etc., etc. – and escape from the bad – suffering, evil, chaos etc., etc.

My core identity involves my deepest desires about who I am and who I long to be. When I give it careful thought, I realize that my deeper longings are not simply vacation longings. I want something more. I want to be a certain kind of person. I want a life that is centered on what is real, what is beautiful, and what is good. I want a life filled with relationships with other people that are characterized by trust, love, security, and fun. My deeper longings are for something much more than comfort and pleasure.

Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires

But for now, we have chosen just a few of them to consider, although our team wants to expand it over time.

Look at this again, from McKee…

More often than not, confusion in story is due to a confusion of desire. It’s when you do not understand what your character wants, that the story goes left and right, up and down, forward and backward and confuses you, because you cannot find that spin of action. You cannot find what it is the character wants, and therefore is constantly struggling to achieve it. And so it becomes confusing.

The same thing would be true of life. When you’re stifled in life, and feel stuck and you don’t feel like you’re living your life fully, the best answer I know, the best way I know to get back on track is to ask yourself the same question: What do I want? What do I really, really want? In the midnight of my soul, ask yourself that question and come up with the honest answer. And then have the courage to pursue that desire. And life becomes a lot more livable.

Doesn’t necessarily mean that your story’s going to have a happy ending. You may or may not get what you want out of life. But at least when you’re pursuing a desire that in your heart you really want, and not what other people want, not what you think you should want and all that. But when you’re pursuing a desire that you really, really want, then as I said, life becomes livable. And your life story comes to life.

Robert McKee, Q&A: How Do We Live a Better Story?

And consider this, from one of your famous pastors…

Life is war. And the main battles are fought at the level of desires, not deeds.

Do You Read the Bible Like a Nonbeliever?, By John Piper, Desiring God, AUGUST 22, 2017

And these “main battles” also seem to point to something we all experience…

The creative force that rouses powerful storytelling is, as Jean-Paul Sartre taught, scarcity. There simply isn’t enough of anything in this world to go around: not enough food; nor enough love, and never enough time. To satisfy human needs from their most basic to their most dream-filled, we must battle paucities that deny our yearnings. In short, the essence of reality is humanity’s ongoing strivings against negation.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And notice how all this connects with these insights…

All stories are a form of communication that expresses the dramatic code. 

The dramatic code, embedded deep in the human psyche, is an artistic description of how a person can grow or evolve. This code is also a process going on underneath every story. The storyteller hides this process beneath particular characters and actions. But the code of growth is what the audience ultimately takes from a good story. 

Let’s look at the dramatic code in its simplest form. 

In the dramatic code, change is fueled by desire. The “story world” doesn’t boil down to “I think, therefore I am” but rather “I want, therefore I am.” Desire in all of its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it, and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way. 

John Truby, The Anatomy of Story

It is easier for the reader to identify with a want that is close to universal and not too specialized. The wants that interest a majority of readers include gaining or losing a love, achieving a lifetime ambition, seeing that justice is done, saving a life, seeking revenge, and accomplishing a task that at first seemed impossible.

Sol Stein, Stein On Writing

So, human beings are the audience. And here is a key passage in your Bible which caught our attention…

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:7-13

We’re still thinking about it. Because, as we’re trying to be true to our crazy assignment, we have to consider the possibility Christianity may be the story we are in.

So, we want to show you some things we found, from a couple of your more insightful Christian thinkers, about the depth and reality of desires…

Our desires go far deeper than our imagination or our thought; the heart is deeper than the mind. “Out of the heart are the issues of life”, says Solomon. It is our center, our prefunctional root. At this center we decide the meaning of our lives, for our deepest desires constitute ourselves, decide our identity. We are not only what we are but also what we want.


Another way of seeing this strange truth about ourselves is to notice that we are double selves. We identity with, or find our identity in, not only what we are but also what we want to be, not only our present actual selves but also our hoped for, future, potential selves.

Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Here’s more from Lewis and his book Mere Christianity…

The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

And that book wasn’t the only place he wrote about desire…

Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.

C.S. Lewis, Readings for Meditation and Reflection

In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

And Peter Kreeft gives the following explanation of what has been called The Argument From Desire…

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

The Argument From Desire

And here is what Kreeft thinks about the power of the argument from desire…

Next to Anselm’s famous “ontological argument”, I think it is the single most intriguing argument in the history of human thought. For one thing, it not only argues for the existence of God, but at the same time it argues for the existence of heaven and for something of the essential nature of heaven and of God – four conclusions, not just one. For another thing, it is far more moving, arresting, and apologetically effective than any other argument for God or for heaven.

Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing

Desire is powerful stuff.

So, Paula showed us some of the other powerful human desires which are so relevant to your story in America as your house is dividing…

The Need for Relational Connection

One of the most powerful ways to see the need for relational connection is  the need and want for human closeness. It shows up as the top topic in bestselling books…

But perhaps the most interesting similarity between Grisham and Steel is that their top-shared topic also happens to be the topic our model found most useful in identifying bestsellers. What that means is not that it is the most common topic among bestselling writers, since those topics may also be common in non-bestsellers. Instead, it is the topic that is most overrepresented in bestselling books when compared to nonbestsellers, and thus it has considerable predictive power. Put more bluntly, it is a topic that writers would do well not to ignore. The topic is deceptively simple, perhaps even mundane, when seen against the backdrop of bold topics such as sex and crime. It is a topic that is indicative to scenes of human interaction and relationships, but we need to be more specific than that. It’s not as heady as romantic love, or passion, and neither is it the typical relationship between teacher and class or employer and boss. It is more specifically about human closeness and human connection. Scenes that display this most important indicator of bestselling are all about people communicating in moments of shared intimacy, shared chemistry, and shared bonds. 


We said that there are several topics, such as twenty-first century technologies, that are overrepresented in contemporary bestsellers compared to novels that tend not to sell in big numbers. The top differentiating topic is what we have called human closeness, and that closeness can exist in any type of relationship.

The Bestseller Code, by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers

And look at this…

Since social connections and love are so central to the human experience, we are vulnerable to great social suffering. Anyone who has ever grieved the death of a loved one understands all too well just how much our connections to others mean to us. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to continue talking to family members after they are gone and to even experience hallucinations of them. A study of widows found that the longer they were married, the more likely they were to have visions of their deceased spouse or feel his continued presence. We may not be the only species that mourns our dead, but with the blessing of our greater consciousness comes the burden of greater social pain. Humans have a unique awareness of past and potential future social loss and harm. Even the fear of our own mortality has a distinctly social flavor: Research reveals that one major facet of death anxiety is the fear of being separated from loved ones.

The Curse of Modern Loneliness, By Clay Routledge, National Review, January 16, 2018

In these politically polarized times, we are repeatedly reminded that humans are a tribal species. But our sociality goes much deeper than that. Whether our idea of a good time is a quiet evening at home or a night on the town, all of us must form and maintain rich interpersonal connections to survive and thrive. From the basic attachment of an infant to his mother to the complex global economy, social relationships are key to human success.

Not surprisingly then, a significant amount of human activity is driven by the need to belong. Consider the personal risks we will take and ambitions we will deny to preserve meaningful social bonds. Or the extent to which we will throw caution to the wind for love. Or the bond of brotherhood that inspires great courage under fire in the chaos of war.

The Curse of Modern Loneliness, By Clay Routledge, National Review, January 16, 2018

And Paula showed us this passage…

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Genesis 2:18

See that? It’s so foundational in the Christian story.

And notice how need and desire for relationship shows up on stage in the following two passages, which are so foundational to the controlling idea in the Christian story…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

John 17:1-3

And one of your famous preachers shines a light on it…

This is what God wants most from you: a relationship! It’s the most astounding truth in the universe-that our Creator wants to fellowship with us. God made you to love you, and he longs for you to love him back. He says, “I don’t want your sacrifices-I want your love; I don’t want your offerings – I want you to know me.”

Can you sense God’s passion for you in this verse? God deeply loves you and desires your love in return. He longs for you to know him and spend time with him. This is why learning to love God and be loved by him should be the greatest objective of your life. Nothing else comes close in importance. Jesus called it the greatest commandment. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

The Need and Desire for Meaning

Now let me show you some of what Paula showed us about the human desire for meaning, because, as we’ll explain when we begin to look at our version of the story we are in, it looks like it may be the Elephant in Our Room. Here goes…

Our greatest desire, greater even than the desire for happiness, is that our lives mean something. This desire for meaning is the originating impulse of story.

Daniel Taylor, Ph.D., The Healing Power of Stories

One of the most important books of the 20th century — it remains a best-seller 59 years after it was first published — is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Marx saw man’s primary drive as economic, and Freud saw it as sex. But Frankl believed — correctly, in my opinion — that the greatest drive of man is meaning.

One can be poor and chaste and still be happy. But one cannot be bereft of meaning and be happy — no matter how rich or how sexually fulfilled one may be.

Explaining the Left, Part III, By DENNIS PRAGER, National Review, August 28, 2018

What will endure is the human need to find meaning in our lives, to have something beyond ourselves that calls us to some form of higher moral values. For many, the fulfillment of this need is, and will continue to be, the practice of religion and/or spirituality.

Perhaps it is my own unrepentant optimism that drives what I see as the future of religion, but I think it is well-founded. Religion helps us make sense of a sometimes-confounding world. How we search will change, in keeping with changing societies. But people will continue to think, sense and feel. The search for meaning is something humans will never shy from.

The Future of Religion Is Ascendant, by Emilie M. Townes, Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2015

In addition to asking about feelings of gratitude, the new study also asked respondents how often they think about the meaning and purpose of life. Slightly more than half of Americans (55%) – including 59% of Christians, 53% of members of non-Christian faiths and 45% of religious “nones” – say they think about the meaning and purpose of life at least once a week. Regular contemplation of life’s meaning is most common among those who are religiously observant in a variety of ways. For example, two-thirds of those who say religion is “very important” in their lives (67%) also say they regularly think about the meaning and purpose of life, compared with 38% of those who say religion is “not too” or “not at all” important to them.


A majority of U.S. adults (55%), including roughly six-in-ten Christians, think about the meaning and purpose of life at least once a week. Within Christianity, most members of historically black Protestant churches (72%) and Mormons (71%) often think about the meaning of life, as do majorities of evangelical Protestants (64%) and Orthodox Christians (63%). By comparison, 52% of Catholics and 51% of mainline Protestants say they regularly ponder the meaning of life. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 45% say they think about the meaning and purpose of life at least once a week.

U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious, Pew Research Center, November 3, 2015

Still, in the end, human beings require coherence and meaning. They cannot live, at least they cannot live well, if they feel that life and history are nothing but “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The Myth of the Civil War, by Matthew Berke, First Things (October 1991)

Yet podcasts are not churches. They are not political parties. They don’t patch over the existential void so much as reveal how avidly we yearn to fill it. “People need to have meaning, to be needed, and have a purpose in life,” said Mr. Junger. “If you live in a safe society with plenty of money, and you need something bigger than you to engage with, the shrine of the body and the temple of the mind, then go for it — you’ve got nothing else to do.”

The Podcast Bros Want to Optimize Your Life, By Molly Worthen, New York Times, August 3, 2018

There is something else we want to show you which we discovered by looking at your Bible through the lens of story.

Since one basic thing which makes story compelling is how it involves meaning, consider what our team found about the connection between meaning and God – if Christianity is the story we are in, of course …

Without God, no basis exists for morality, meaning, the dignity of human beings, knowledge, or truth. Humans cannot reject God and pretend as if everything remains the same without him. In Wojtyla’s words, “[t]he tragedy of atheistic humanism … is that it strips man of his transcendental character, destroying his ultimate significance as a person.” Similarly, Wojtyla adds, citing the Second Vatican Council, “when God is forgotten the creature itself is unintelligible.” Schaeffer agrees, stating “[m]an, made in the image of God, has a purpose—to be in relationship to the God who is there .… Man forgets his purpose, and thus he forgets who he is and what life means.” Without God, therefore, humans self-destruct in nihilism.

Living Truth for a Post-Christian World: The Message of Francis Schaeffer and Karol Wojtyla, by Eduardo J. Echevarria, Acton Institute

If there is no God, there is no ultimate meaning to life. If we came ultimately from nothing and die ultimately into nothing, we are ultimately nothing. If we are made in the image of God, we are the children of the King of Kings. But if we are made only in the image of King Kong, we are only clever apes.

Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity

Nothing is more basic than the recognition that being constituted in the image of God is of the very essence of and absolutely central to the humanness of man. It is the key that unlocks the meaning of his authentic humanity. Apart from this reality he cannot exist truly as a man, since for man to deny God and the divine image stamped upon his being and to assert his own independent self-sufficiency is to deny his own constitution and thus to dehumanize himself.

Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, The True Image

The doctrine of the Trinity makes the most concrete and practical difference to our lives that can possibly be imagined. Because God is a Trinity, God is love. Because love is the supreme value, it is the meaning of our lives, for we are created in God’s image. The fact that God is a Trinity is the reason why love is the meaning of life and the reason why nothing makes us as happy as love: because that is inscribed in our design. We are happy only when we stop trying to be what we were not designed to be.

Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity

If we are loving persons, day to day, then everyone who encounters us day to day is influence by our example and moved, either a bit or a lot, to become more loving.

Still, a question remains. Does any of this, even whether we are a loving person, ultimately matter? William Lane Craig sees the question of ultimate meaning as being tied to the question of God’s existence. Craig writes:

If God does not exist, life is ultimately meaningless. If your life is doomed to end in death, then ultimately it does not matter how you live. In the end it makes no ultimate difference whether you existed or not. Sure, your life might have a relative significance in that you influenced others or affected the course of history. But ultimately mankind is doomed to perish in the heat death of the universe. Ultimately it makes no difference who you are or what you do. Life is inconsequential.

Thus, the contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the research of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good people everywhere to better the lot of the human race – ultimately all these come to nothing. Thus, if atheism is true, life is ultimately meaningless.

The emphasis in positive psychology on meaning objectively understood raises the question of God’s existence. If God does not exist, then our actions – even large ones such as curing deadly diseases – ultimately make no difference. Everyone ends up dead.

Christopher Kaczor, The Gospel of Happiness

If we do not have God for a Father, we will not see our fellow man as our brother. If we are not made in the image and likeness of God, we will not treat every life as created equal and endowed with unalienable rights—indeed, we will view our neighbors as random, meaningless cosmic dust that gets in our way.

Natural Law, Social Justice, and the Crisis of Liberty in the West, by Ryan T. Anderson, Public Discourse, March 10th, 2017

And look at this You Tube video…

The Absurdity of Life Without God (William Lane Craig)

This is all so depressing.

For us, at least.

Because our team now understands the boring nonplot nature of our version of the story.

If our version of the story is the story we are in, then it’s intrinsically meaningless and ultimately all absurd.

The Need & Desire for Happiness 

Look at this…

Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin.

The Life-Changing Discovery of Christian Hedonism, by Sam Storms, Desiring God, NOVEMBER 17, 2011

Remember this famous observation?

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 425

And look at this unique way the desire for happiness shows up in the story of America…

Every human being wants to be happy. From the philosophical classics of Plato and Aristotle to the great texts of the world religions, to poetry and song-writing down to the present day, we find this permanent truth inscribed in the great works of men and women, because it’s inscribed in our hearts. America’s Founding Fathers understood this. A right to “the pursuit of happiness” was given by God, they wrote in the Declaration ofIndependence, and it can nor be stripped away by any king or potentate who happens to wield the sword ofstate for a time. 

Happiness has never been easy to come by, let alone hold onto. Even to say precisely what happiness is presents a challenge. Nonetheless, when life brings us joy and contentment, we know it.

Ben Sasse, Them

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

The Declaration of Independence

The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved; and that the Government, which they have instituted, for the protection of their liberties, maybe perpetual.

George Washington, Eighth Annual Message to Congress (December 7, 1796)

Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

Abraham Lincoln, Lewiston, Illinois, 1858

Does that make you happy in America?

The Need & Desire for Order

Robert McKee understands that one of the basic human needs is for order. He is insightful about this, and our team feels it too…

McKee: The desire in human beings for order, for meaning, to understand causal connections, the desire to control your existence is genetic, all right? Because the underlying imperative of life is to survive, and chaos is the enemy. Therefore you must bring order. You must be able to predict, you must be able to take an action with a sense of what will probably happen when you take the action, and have some confidence that you’ll get the results you intended, or you’re out of control and therefore death is right around the corner. The classical model shows retroactively, when you get to the ending, how indeed everything was connected, and gives you a model for experience that, somehow, will help you live well.


And consider these…

The passion for … replacing surprise with order, is a persistent part of human nature.

George Gilder, Knowledge and Power

We must return to order, which Russell Kirk so aptly called “the first need of man.” Outside of order, there is no common ground upon which to govern the nation. Instead, it will lead to what some are calling a savage “tribalism.”

The American Descent Into Uncivil War, by John Horvat, The Imaginative Conservative, October 14, 2018

For while postmodernists may celebrate the great divorce of the self from ultimate criteria, the ineradicable fact of suffering and death and the inherent human longing for meaningful order and social attachment dictate that some moral vocabulary will fill the void.

To Wonder Again, by Eric S. Cohen, First Things, May 2000

In the first chapter of The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk asserts the preeminence of the human need for order. On the edge of human affairs, on the margins of human striving, lies the “gaping void”—chaos—“that always threatens to swallow us whole.” Keeping ourselves away from it is life. Getting nearer to it is death. These forces of order and chaos are at war within and without ourselves, for “the want of order is the mother of confusion.” We can’t avoid the pull of chaos alone. We need the strength of others to resist with us. The city encircles and protects us. Through mutual striving to stem off chaos, human beings create the conditions and the elements of good order.

The Uprooting of American Order, By Jeff Polet, Modern Age, WINTER 2019

Human existence is a constant battle among competing impulses – between self-love and the love of others, between the noble and the base, between the desire for freedom and the desire for order and security-and because those struggles never end, the fate of liberalism and democracy in the world is never settled. It is an illusion to believe that the present democratic age is eternal rather than transient, or that it can survive without constant tending and constant defense. 

Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back

And so, we began to wonder — If Christianity is the story we are in, where does our deep desire for order flow from?

Modern notions of order and disorder are largely shaped by mechanical concepts derived from Newtonian physics that suggest that the universe is an orderly, albeit supremely complex, machine. Such clockwork imagery is not found in Scripture, which sees the orderliness of the universe in much more personal terms.


Although the divine orderliness of the universe is often manifested in patterns of regularity, the divine order is most frequently described in Scripture by various separations or distinctions. For example, in the creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis, God overcomes the formlessness of the primeval universe with a series of boundaries: between light and darkness, day and night, sea and dry land (Ps. 104:9), the firmament and the heavens, the creatures that live in those various realms, and human beings, created in the image and likeness of God and called upon to rule over the rest of the creation (Gen. 1:28).

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An Encyclopaedic Exploration of the Images, Symbols, Motifs, Metaphors, Figures of Speech, Literary Patterns and Universal Images of the Bible By Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid

The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator.

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man: the image of God

The cumulative case for theism focuses on four fundamental mysteries. We bump up against these mysteries time and time again: the mystery of cosmic order, the mystery of purposive order, the mystery of a moral order, and the mystery of human personhood. These profound mysteries are pervasive in human experience. The mystery of cosmic wonder is felt in the strange way humans experience the universe as a “might-never- have-been.” The mystery of purposive order is felt as we perceive the value produced by the order of nature, and it strongly suggests that there is mind at the root of the universe. The mystery of a moral order, felt in the experience of “oughtness,” conveys to us an objectively real order of rightness and wrongness. The mystery of persons points us to the supreme person.

All of these mysteries are what Peter Berger calls “signals of transcendence within the . . . human condition.” They can plausibly be seen as clues pointing to the reality of a being with many of the characteristics of the Christian God.

The Mystery of Persons and Belief in God, By C. Stephen Evans

We’ll try to explore this more as we continue to revise this report, but I have to take a break now. My order for pizza from Pizza Hut has arrived! And it brings back memories from our time in Beijing when Paula and I used to go there for lunch.

Does Story Have an Essential Form or Order?

Since your God is a God of order, what if story has an essential order or form?

Because Robert McKee sure caught our attention…

[I]n truth there’s only one story. In essence we have told one another the same tale, one way or another, since the dawn of humanity,and that story could be usefully called the Quest. All stories take the form of a Quest.

Robert McKee, Story

And the more we studied his work, the more we came to see how it looks like there really may be a basic core and essential form to story.

Remember what McKee wrote in his latest book?…

What is a story, precisely? The essential core event in all stories ever told in the history of humanity can be expressed in just three words: Conflict changes life. Therefore, the prime definition becomes: a dynamic escalation of conflict-driven events that cause meaningful change in a character’s life.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And here are some descriptions of story, from McKee, which Paula showed us …

In McKee’s description, this is what a story is: a human being is living a life that is more or less in balance. Then comes the “inciting incident.” (McKee borrows the phrase from “Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting,” which was written in the late forties by John Howard Lawson, the first president of the Screen Writers Guild, and an inspiration to McKee.) The protagonist reacts, his life falls out of balance, and he now has had aroused in him a conscious or unconscious desire for whatever it is that will restore balance—“launching him on a quest for his object of desire against the forces of antagonism.”

The Real McKee, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

So what is a story?

Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes. It begins with a situation in which life is relatively in balance: You come to work day after day, week after week, and everything’s fine. You expect it will go on that way. But then there’s an event—in screenwriting, we call it the “inciting incident”—that throws life out of balance. You get a new job, or the boss dies of a heart attack, or a big customer threatens to leave. The story goes on to describe how, in an effort to restore balance, the protagonist’s subjective expectations crash into an uncooperative objective reality. A good storyteller describes what it’s like to deal with these opposing forces, calling on the protagonist to dig deeper, work with scarce resources, make difficult decisions, take action despite risks, and ultimately discover the truth. All great storytellers since the dawn of time—from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day—have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.

Storytelling That Moves People, A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

But let me try to answer that question by making a simple and clear definition of story itself. Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life. To do so, that character will conceive of what is known as an “Object of Desire,” that which they feel they need to put life back into balance. They will then go off into their world, into themselves, in the various dimensions of their existence, seeking that Object of Desire, trying to restore the balance of life, and they will struggle against forces of antagonism that will come from their own inner natures as human beings, their relationships with other human beings, their personal and/or social life, and the physical environment itself. They may or may not achieve that Object of Desire; they may or may not finally be able to restore their life to a satisfying balance.

StoryLink: An Interview with Robert McKee, August 18, 2009

Story is a whole other mode of thinking. Story is rooted in causal logic. A story is X happens, and in reaction to X, Y happens, and because of Y, Z happens. The story is a dynamic way of understanding life as a dynamic of positive and negative changes of value charge, driven by the forces of conflict in life, in an effort to restore the balance of life. And so a story begins when something throws life out of balance, and everything to restore the balance discovers the truth of life, which is that there are forces in opposition to you that will resist your efforts to restore the balance, counteract your effects, even reverse your efforts. As you struggle through that, eventually you will be able to know enough truth to be able to restore balance.

Thinking like that means thinking in stories.


Q: You use the words “story design” frequently. What does that mean?

Robert McKee: An event comes along in life we call the “Inciting Incident.” Either by choice, accident, or both – life is thrown out of balance. That imbalance arouses in the protagonist a desire to put life back on an even keel. To do that, they conceive of something that they need, an object of desire so to speak, that they feel would restore life’s balance. It could be justice, it could be putting the bad guy in jail, or, as in the film About Schmidt, it could be a reason for living. Whatever it is, they pursue that desire. The design of the story is built from that inciting incident, when life went out of balance, to the climax when balance is restored for better or worse. Events must be shaped in a progressive way to hold the emotional and intellectual interest of the audience for two hours without interruption and deliver them a satisfying experience. Exactly how that works, film to film, story to story, is infinitely variable. The task of a good design is to hook, hold and payoff the audience’s interest. If that works, then the story can be in one act or ten acts; it can be mono-plot or multi-plot in any genre.

An Interview with Robert McKee, by Debra Eckerling, StoryLink, August 18, 2009

And look how those fit with this, from Storynomics

The form of story, at its simplest, goes like this: As the telling opens, the central character’s life, as expressed in its core value (happiness/sadness, for example), is in relative balance. But then something happens that upsets this balance and decisively changes the core value’s charge one way or the other. He could, for example, fall in love (positive) or out of love (negative). The character then acts to restore life’s balance, and from that moment on a sequence of events, linked by cause and effect, moves through time, progressively and dynamically swinging the core value back and forth from positive to negative, negative to positive. At climax, the story’s final event changes the core value’s charge absolutely and the character’s life returns to balance.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

So… does story have an Essential Form?

It looks like it does… 

When story aspires to art, it becomes an infinitely complex and endlessly variable thing. …. At the heart of all these variants, however, beats a minimal but essential form. When we use the phrase storyform, we mean it’s universal, irreducible foundation.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Here is what our team had found previously, concerning the elements which fit into that form…

A story is a design in five parts: The Inciting Incident, the first major event of the telling, is the primary cause for all that follows, putting into motion the other four elements – Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax, Resolution.

Robert McKee, Story

The five elements that build Story are the Inciting Incident (either causal or coincidental), progressive complications expressed through active or revelatory turning points, a crisis question that requires a choice between at least two negative alternatives or at least two irreconcilable goods, the climax choice and the resolution.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

And here is what McKee is now describing, in which those five elements still play a foundational role…

If we were to dissect every coherent story ever told, eight essential components, assembled over eight stages, would span the creative process from beginning to end:



Meaningful Emotional Satisfaction



Core Value







Protagonists Actions Versus Antagonistic Reactions

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And notice something else which McKee wrote about the essential form of story…

The essential form of story is simple. But that’s like saying that the essential form of music is simple. It is. It’s twelve notes. But these twelve notes conspire into everything and anything we have ever called music. The essential elements of the Quest are the twelves notes of our music, the melody we’ve listened to all our lives.

Robert McKee, Story

It looks like there is some kind of underlying order to story. And that’s certainly something we had never understood before we began this crazy assignment.

The Need & Desire for Identity

This human need connects to the simple story question: Who are we, here in the story?

“Who am I” is the fundamental question of our existence. Our self-identity is the window through which we perceive and engage the world; it determines all that we do. Our “inscape,” using the poet Gerald Manley Hopkin’s term, determines our landscape. … How we understand ourselves dictates how we behave. Emil Brunner may have overstated the case, but he put his finger on the importance of this concept: “The most powerful of all spiritual forces is man’s view of himself, the way in which he understands his nature and destiny; indeed, it is the one force which determines all the others which influences human life.”

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology

The admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as “human beings”, that is as those who “know themselves”. Moreover, a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life? … They are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. In fact, the answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives.

John Paul II, Fides et ratio: To the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the relationship between Faith and Reason, 1998.09.14

In his address, the Pope asked his “young friends” to consider the great question, what is a human being? It was, the Pope suggested, life’s most fundamental query…

George Weigel, Witness To Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II

Identity drives everything in life. Everything you do, every decision you make, is driven by your identity. It is driven by how you see yourself.

Justin Buzzard, The Big Story

Each, as an individual, needs to find who we are. …. And when you embrace it, it’s always through adversity. Nobody hands it to you.

Steven Pressfield, Writing THE LION’S GATE (5 of 12): The Proposal, Pt. 3—Why?

The desire for freedom is a powerful force for peace and stability in the world. But as powerful as freedom is in the hearts of men and women everywhere, it is not the only force that moves them. There is another, equally powerful force at work. This is the power contained in identity. Identity is the magnetic force field in which the energies of the world today are moving. It is a force that is little understood in the West, but one that influences and even directs events, from the broadest global and international politics to the most local and immediate situations.

Natan Sharansky, Defending Identity

The complete loss of one’s identity is, with all propriety of theological definition, hell. In diminished forms it is insanity.

Truths Still Held?, by George Weigel, First Things, May 2010

Why “what we are” matters. For Benedict, who and what we are—the question of theological anthropology—is the key to a proper understanding of our relationship to one another, our economic progress and regress, the nature of the family and marriage, humanity’s stewardship of the environment, the rule of law, intergenerational justice, as well as our openness to human life. Yes, Caritas in Veritate mentions all these topics, and several others. But the answer to the question of what constitutes integral human development—what are we and what is the good for us as individuals and as a whole?—is the unifying principle that connects them all.

Why You Can’t Just ‘Love Your Neighbor’ By Francis J. Beckwith, Christianity Today, July 10, 2009

And this sure seems to connect with our need and desire for identity…

Human beings do not just want things that are external to themselves, such as food, drink, Lamborghinis, or that next hit. They also crave positive judgments about their worth or dignity.

Francis Fukuyama, Identity

And that is why what Robert McKee says…

Culture is a quarter inch thick. Human nature is bottomless.

Robert McKee, Quoted in The God of Story: An Interview With Robert McKee, By Alec Sokolow and Tony Camin, Vice, July 1 2014

… so has the attention of our team.

Because, we are wondering if you will take a serious look into the implications of that. As you’ll see, it is so central to the story of America – and to your unfolding drama – and your conflict with China…

In a book expanded from his famous 1993 essay, Huntington described civilizations as the broadest and most crucial level of identity, encompassing religion, values, culture and history. Rather than “which side are you on?” he wrote, the overriding question in the post-Cold War world would be “who are you?”

Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era, By Carlos Lozada, Washington Post, July 18, 2017

But you won’t explore it, will you?

And if you don’t, that will so encourage us.

The Need & Desire for Freedom

In the Chinese Communist Party, we’re not about freedom. But, we do understand that people want it. And claim they need it.

So, let me show you some insights Paula Wong found. You can see a striking illustration of this from Joseph Frank, the noted biographer of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky…

On a more personal level, his intuition of the importance for the human personality of a sense of its own freedom, already present in his rejection of Socialist blueprints, was immensely broad and deepened. His observations of his fellow convicts revealed that freedom of the will was not only a social desiderata, not only a religious postulate, but a primordial need of the human personality. Acts that might seem senseless or irrational to a superficial observer sprang irresistibly, among the imprisoned convicts guarded night and day, from “the poignant hysterical craving for self-expression, the unconscious yearning for [one]self, the desire to assert crushed personality, a desire which suddenly takes possession of [someone] and reaches the pitch of fury, of spite, of mental aberration” (4:66-67). Dostoevsky compared this uncontrollable fury to the reaction of a man buried alive and hopelessly beating on the lid of his coffin; the certain knowledge of futility would not restrain his visceral desperation. From that time on, the notion that rationality or reasonableness could be counted on as a controlling and dominant force in human life seemed to him the height of folly.

Joseph Frank, The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881

And you’ve probably seen this, from the famous Mel Gibson movie Braveheart…

Braveheart In Defiance Of The English Tyranny! BRAVO

Look at this, from your President Reagan…

Let us ask ourselves: What is at the heart of freedom? In the answer lies the deepest hope for the future of mankind and the reason there can be no walls around those who are determined to be free. Each of us, each of you, is made in the most enduring, powerful image of Western civilization. We’re made in the image of God, the image of God, the Creator.

This is our power, and this our freedom. This is our future. And through this power—not drugs, not materialism nor any other “ism”—can we find brotherhood.

Ronald Reagan: Remarks to Citizens in Hambach, Federal Republic of Germany, May 6, 1985

And this…

Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.

Whittaker Chambers, Witness

You can explore this more in a page on this web site: The Identity Fountain of American Freedom. You’ll see how, if Christianity is the story we are in, the human desire for freedom flows right out of our very identity.

So, as you’ll see, the simple story question, “Who are we, here in the story?” is so central to your unfolding drama in America.