As we struggled forward with all this, one morning Paula helped me face the reality that I was acting like you Christians, pushing McKee away in my own way.
“It looks like we missed something big,” she said.
“How big?” I asked.
“Not sure it could be bigger,” she said. “But we missed it.”
I felt anxiety when she said that, and she could see it.
“Keep going,” I said. “We need to put this on the table and then deal with it.”
“Okay,” she smiled. “Because I am loyal to President Xi and his pursuit of our China Dream, I thought we did have a story. But here is the crazy thing, Comrade Chow. Our China Dream is a quest. It is a story. But, our version of the story we are in — the meta-story, or whatever you want to call it, is not a real story. We have a nonplot problem.”
And Paula explained there are two ways we can help you can see why our story is below the line of the story triangle.
If you take the simplest form of story, that every story has a beginning, middle, and end; and ask what those are in our version of the story, you can begin to see the problem.
Our version of the story begins from nothingness.
Our version ends in nothingness.
So, because our secular version of the story we are in begins and ends in nothingness, then here in the middle of the story, it’s all ultimately meaningless.
Modernity itself is regarded axiomatically as a positive value. It definitively casts old ideals aside but is not capable of establishing new ones, since the category of absolute value itself is deemed absurd.
As a result, we now inhabit a technocratic society that is radically irreligious: any thought of matters pertaining to the divine in man, to his interiority, is deemed meaningless – totally irrelevant.Understanding Our Secular Era, By Matthew Hanley, The Catholic Thing, JULY 26, 2018
Modernity is only a story: it is a narrative disguised as history. The emptiness and pointlessness of the modern narrative begs for questions.The ‘Story’ That Replaced Christianity Is Collapsing, BY DANIEL LATTIER, Fixed Point Foundation, May 2, 2018
And remember this quote Paula discovered from the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft?
If we came ultimately from nothing and die ultimately into nothing, we are ultimately nothing.Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity
But that haunting reality creates even more anxiety as our team considers this…
Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.Does God Exist?, By William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith
So, you can see why we agree with this famous guy…
Nothingness haunts being.Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
So, in the end, it’s a lot like this, which the Party can embrace…
Secular humanist morality is no less illusory than any other kind, and the consistent atheist ought to be a nihilist, though a “nice” one. This much is familiar enough atheist boilerplate, even if there are atheists who resist some of it.
But Rosenberg is just getting started. Since what is real is only what is reducible to physics, there are no meanings, purposes, designs, or plans of any sort, not even at the level of the human mind. Our thoughts only seem to be “about” things. And if they have no meaning, we cannot really have any plans and purposes at all. Indeed, the self that appears to think meaningful thoughts, to form plans, and to persist through the continual rewiring of the neural circuitry of the brain is also an illusion.SCIENTIA AD ABSURDUM: A REVIEW OF The Atheist’s Guide to Reality BY ALEX ROSENBERG, by Edward Feser, First Things, November 2011
A second way of seeing it is to focus on what McKee says about change. Look again at how he describes the Nonplot…
Above the line drawn between Miniplot and Antiplot are stories in which life clearly changes.
Below this line stories remain in stasis and do not arc. The value-charged condition of the character’s life at the end of the film is virtually identical to that at the opening. Story dissolves into portraiture, either a portrait of verisimilitude or one of absurdity. I term these films Nonplot. Although they inform us, touch us, and have their own rhetorical or formal structures, they do not tell story. Therefore, they fall outside the story triangle and into a realm that would include everything that could be loosely called “narrative.”Robert McKee, Story
And again, here is some of what McKee says about change being essential to story…
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
So what is a story? Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes.Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003
Since the evolution of human consciousness, all stories in all genres of all cultures have expressed one grand truth: How and why life changes. Fact is what is, but Truth is how and why what is is. As a story expresses its hows and whys of change, the listener’s mind fills with understanding. As a story’s events change a character’s life from positive to negative, or negative to positive, the listener’s emotions ignite.WHITE PAPER STORY-IN-BUSINESS: Why Story Works, Overcoming Negaphobia, and Authoring the Future, BY ROBERT MCKEE
And remember, Coyne agrees…
This is the first thing I always say whenever I talk about story. Stories are about change.Shawn Coyne, Q&A with Shawn – Part 1
But keep in mind too, that the change has to be meaningful…
A story is not an accumulation of information strung into a narrative, but a design of events to carry us to a meaningful climax.Robert McKee, Story
“Event” means change. If the streets outside your window are dry, but after a nap you see they’re wet, you assume an event has taken place, called rain. …. You cannot, however, build a film out of nothing but changes…. Story Events are meaningful, not trivial. To make change meaningful it must, to begin with, happen to a character.Robert McKee, Story
And since in our version of the story, everything is ultimately meaningless, you can see the problem we have. Are you getting the picture of the fix your opponents are in?
So I suggest thatan atheist is anyone with no use for the idea of a divine mind that has fashioned the world. In this sense atheism does not amount to very much. It is simply the absence of the idea of a creator-god.John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism
If you understood that, you would see the relevance of this…
The lie is exposed by simply asking, “Who told you the story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you have no story?” Why should you let that story determine your life?Preaching As Though We Had Enemies, by Stanley Hauerwas, First Things, May 1995
Because American Christians don’t give much thought to the possibility that, if Christianity is the story we are in, your God is the Great Storyteller who has designed story to be powerful with human beings… you have trouble seeing something…
You are in a story war in America.
We covered this in another part of this web site, but to review, America’s divide is about two competing stories — the secular story, and the Christian story.
But as you can see from our evaluation of our secular story—
You have the advantage in the war.
But you don’t know it.
And because you don’t recognize this, you have trouble recognizing how you could use your advantage to engage, which by the way, is the very thing your God wants from you. Remember, he said “Go”?
Now, in every war, there are strategies in play. And your culture war, which we think could be more tellingly called a Story War, is no exception. You are fighting a war, and there are strategies you could use. Your God is all about this…just check out the book of Joshua, for instance.
And this brings us to the concept of an undefended space.
The noted American military historian Bevin Alexander, who admires Sun Tzu like we do, provides a useful explanation of what is meant by this idea…
Sun Tzu’s axioms can be employed in any military context in any war. His most profound principle is that “the way to avoid what is strong is to strike what is weak.” He writes this same principle in a different way: as water seeks the easiest path to the sea, so armies should avoid obstacles and seek avenues of least resistance. The general should find a way to achieve his goals indirectly, not by direct confrontation.
A related Sun Tzu admonition is to “strike into vacuities,” that is, to move into undefended space, and to “attack objectives the enemy must rescue.” One should move around the enemy to cut him off from retreat or succor, or to attack some point that he cannot afford to lose.
Sun Tzu’s maxims are disarming because, once pointed out, they appear to be the obvious, most sensible thing to do. But all great ideas are simple. The trick is to see them and act on them.Bevin Alexander, Sun Tzu at Gettysburg
And by the way, Bevin Alexander helped us to see a profound parallel between Robert McKee and Sun Tzu…
We have only one masterwork on the conduct of war. It was produced 2,400 years ago by a Chinese sage named Sun Tzu. His small book, The Art of War, spells out universal principles that describe the nature of war, and these principles are still valid today.
Sun Tzu’s principles can be applied to any military problem, from the smallest engagement to the largest campaign. Other leaders in other times discovered a number of these principles, but only Sun Tzu put together a comprehensive summary of the essential elements that make warfare succeed.Bevin Alexander, Sun Tzu at Gettysburg
That really caught our attention.
Robert McKee may be the modern Sun Tzu of story.
No wonder Shih Tzu hates Robert McKee!
But Shih Tzu does understand the risk we are taking by showing you the undefended space of our secular story allies.
Because it’s not just our story allies in America who are in danger.
Since we share the same version of the story, the Party has the same undefended space as they do.
And because of the nonplot nature of our version of the story, that undefended space is not going away.
Was Stephen Hawking’s Life Ultimately Meaningless?
All this is very depressing for us. In our story there is no meaning. Yet it’s the deepest desire of our hearts.
So, I gave my team a break one day to watch the movie about Stephen Hawking’s life which is titled The Theory of Everything.
What an astonishing story of an astonishingly gifted person.
And one of our team members showed us a list of some of the awards he has been given. It’s really amazing…
- Adams Prize (1966)
- FRS (1974)
- Eddington Medal (1975)
- Maxwell Medal and Prize (1976)
- Heineman Prize (1976)
- Hughes Medal (1976)
- Albert Einstein Award (1978)
- CBE (1982)
- RAS Gold Medal (1985)
- Dirac Medal (1987)
- Wolf Prize (1988)
- CH (1989)
- Prince of Asturias Award (1989)
- Andrew Gemant Award (1998)
- Naylor Prize and Lectureship (1999)
- Lilienfeld Prize (1999)
- Albert Medal (Royal Society of Arts) (1999)
- Copley Medal (2006)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009)
- Fundamental Physics Prize (2012)
But as we looked around some more about Hawking’s life, we came across the following comment from him about who we are, here in the story…
We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.Stephen Hawking, Der Spiegel, 17 October 1988
And Hawking doesn’t stop there with his contempt…
The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.Stephen Hawking, interview with Ken Campbell on the 1995 show Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken
It’s so depressing! Here I was trying to give my team a break, and it made everyone more depressed.
And since we’ve been studying Robert McKee and looking at our lives through the lens of story, we can’t escape it now. It’s on the table…in our face all the time!
You see, since our version of the story begins and ends in nothingness, it means that here in the middle of our story… it’s all ultimately meaningless.
But the same goes for Stephen Hawking.
So, that quote from Kreeft continues to haunt me…
If a thing makes no difference, it is a waste of time to think about it.What Difference Does Heaven Make?, By Peter Kreeft
All those amazing accomplishments of Stephen Hawking were ultimately without any meaning.
But it’s clear Hawking hadn’t fully come to grips with the tension in his story.
Look at how his wife describes his life in the following article.
It’s clear Hawking actually thought he was special…
The former wife of Stephen Hawking has described how she and their three children were “left behind” after the cosmologist was surrounded by “sycophantic” admirers following publication of his landmark work A Brief History of Time.
She wrote her memoir Travelling to Infinity (from which “The Theory of Everything” draws) because she feared being written out of her husband’s story. “I felt that Stephen had become such a significant figure, a scientist of such international renown, that at some future date someone would be sure to attempt an inaccurate, sensationalised biography, possibly including me, possibly writing me out of the script.”
She met Hawking on a railway platform when she was a teenager and he was yet to be diagnosed with his debilitating disease. They married young – “because we didn’t know how long Stephen was going to live” – and she became used to him being lost in thought. “The goddess Physics was Stephen’s idol. I was not jealous of her but she did give me some cause for concern. Sometimes Stephen would spend a whole weekend in his wheelchair, elbow resting on his knee like Rodin’s Thinker. He wouldn’t take any notice of the children, or of me, and I would become very worried. Was he uncomfortable or ill, or had I upset him in some way? Then, on the Monday morning, he would look up and smile and say, “I’ve solved that equation!”Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: ‘The family were left behind’, by Ian Burrell, Independent, December 30, 2014
He was special. So this quote Paula Wong showed us from Pascal seems to fit more with the life of Stephen Hawking…
What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sewer of uncertainty and error, the glory and the scum of the universe.Blaise Pascal, Pensées
There we are, freaks in the narrative. Special, yet having nothing special at all!
Because, if our version of the story is the story we are in, Hawking was ultimately no more special than any other “chemical scum.”
And now Stephen says we have reached our point of no return…
“I believe we have reached the point of no return. Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing.”Humanity’s days are NUMBERED and AI will cause mass extinction, warns Stephen Hawking, By SEAN MARTIN, Express, November 3, 2017
So, I turned off the TV, and asked my team, “Does this mean humanity is now facing it’s all is lost moment?”
But Paula got up. “Chow,” she said, “we have an assignment. I know you hate it at times, but we’ve got to face it square. If this is humanity’s all is lost moment, we can’t run away from it. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and find a way forward.”
And she turned the TV back on, pulling up a video clip of an interview with Woody Allen. This should give you a sense of our ongoing struggle and what a weak position we secularists are in…
Here is the transcript …
Q: Let’s talk about the MacBeth sentence, that sentence, “It’s all fury and substance signifying nothing.” Are we all dance? When did you get conscious about this fact?
Woody Allen: I got conscious at a very young age. But it becomes increasingly more evident as you get older. Uhm, you know, that you start to think when you are younger how important everything is and how things have to go right. Your job, your career, your life, and your choices and all that. And then after a while you start to realize that – I’m taking the big picture here – that eventually you die, and eventually the sun burns out and the earth is gone and eventually all the stars and all the planets, the entire universe, goes, disappears, and nothing is left at all. Nothing Shakespeare or Beethoven, you know, all gone, Michelangelo, gone. And you think to yourself, it is a lot of noise and sound and fury and where is it going? Not going anyplace.
It’s going, you know, look, everybody is in the world now, and we’re all United States and Afghanistan and Israel and Arabs and this president, the economy and someone else is saying “I hope my movie is good at Cannes” and my wife is saying “I hope they send my dress back from the cleaners in time when I go to the theater” and then every hundred years somebody presses a button and a big toilet flushes and everybody on the earth changes. Everybody. All the Muslims are gone, all the Afghans, all the Americans, everybody in the planet is gone, and a new set comes in. And they are full of worry and anxious and they are doing everything and then the button. They are all gone. And every hundred years it’s like the whole planet, it’s washed clean with everybody on it, all these people that are making your life miserable, your next door neighbors, people that are robbing you in the street, you know, all gone. The president and the bank robber, all out. So, you know, it just seems like a big meaningless thing.
Woody Allen about meaning and truth of life on Earth
Now you can’t actually live your life like that, because if you do you just sit there and why do anything? Why get up in the morning and do anything? So I think it’s the job of the artist to try and figure out why, given this terrible fact, why do you wanna’ go on living? Why do you care about anything? If this terrible truth, this meaningless end of everything – and you have to try to figure out, knowing that it’s true, not giving yourself a fake heaven and hell and nonsense – but knowing the worst. Figure it out even knowing the worst — why it’s still worthwhile. That’s a tough assignment to explain to somebody why it’s so terrible and why it’s still important to go on. And this is a challenge for artists all the time to try and figure it out.
Then she showed us this…
As with Nietzsche and Heidegger, Sartre’s political commitments were not logically rigorous deductions from his philosophy (not that existentialists cared much about logic, anyway, ‘since they opposed rationalism). However, his appalling lack of concern for multitudes of his fellow humans was rooted in his worldview. Sartre is well-known for portraying life as absurd, both in his philosophical work and his literary productions. For him, “Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position.” Without God there is nothing to provide life with meaning or significance, so we should just face up to reality and learn to live without any transcendent purpose.
Sartre saw this as liberating, opening up a magnificent opportunity for us to create our own purpose in an ultimately meaningless world. He posed the important question, “Meaning has to be created by each of us, but since we are meaningless, how can we create meaning?” Sartre fashioned his meaning through activism, all the while acknowledging that his deeds had no objective meaning in an absurd world: “My activism gave me a sense of purpose, true. But my depression, caused by my awareness that my existence, like all of ours, was totally absurd, made me realize that I, we, are doomed to nauseating insignificance. . .. I was not, and never would be, significant, nor would anyone else.””
Tragically, Sartre denied that human life–including his own-had any importance or meaning. His activism might have been exhilarating, but it was ultimately pointless.Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life
We were as down as we’ve ever been. This can be soooo depressing. Stephen Hawking, where are you?
The Elephant in Our Room: Our Deep Desire for Meaning
In fact, this is our secular Achilles heel. We’re all human. And we all share a deep abiding desire for meaning. It’s powerful stuff. And as Christians, not tapping into this power in your effort to engage your enemies is mind boggling to us.
If religion was once the default path to meaning, today it is one path among many, a cultural transformation that has left many people adrift. For millions both with and without faith, the search for meaning here on earth has become incredibly urgent-yet ever more elusive.Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning
The ebbing of religion, however, does not mean the end of a search for meaning. Among the rising tide of “nones,” or the unaffiliated, now the largest part of the Democratic Party, new forms of spiritual belief increasingly define their moral universe and world-view. Millennials and progressives may be less religious, but almost half admit to embracing a strong spiritual sense of well-being and wonder at the universe.Is the end near for religion?, By Joel Kotkin, Orange County Register, December 23, 2017
As we’ve shown elsewhere on this web site, we are thinking about both the gray rhino – and, the elephant in the room…
A gray rhino is the big, scary thing that’s right in front of you with the big horn that’s coming at you—very hard to ignore—but somehow we manage to ignore anyway. It’s related to the elephant in the room, but the elephant in the room stands still and we all take for granted that the elephant in the room is not gonna get attention, nobody’s going to say anything, nobody’s going to do anything. We felt that the language needed a more active concept, so the gray rhino’s coming at you… The gray rhino gives you a choice: you can either stand there and get flattened, or you can get out of the way, and ideally not just get out of the way but use the gray rhino to use the opportunity to see whatever the next steps are in your business, in your life, in your policy.
So really the important part of the gray rhino is that you recognize it, and once you’ve done that you can ask the kind of questions that will help you get out of the mess. Just recognizing the gray rhino isn’t enough to solve the problem but if you don’t recognize it, and if don’t start asking these questions, it’s pretty darn sure that you’re not going to get out of the way.Into the Wild: This Author Can Help Your Company Avoid the Elephant in the Room, By Parker Richards, Observer, April 2, 2016
By definition, nobody does anything about the elephant in the room, just standing there. Also by definition, black swans – those “rare bird” unpredictable, random or unforeseen events that have extreme consequences – occur outside of our ability to anticipate them, despite the emergence of a cottage industry of self-styled black swan spotters.
Now meet the gray rhino: a highly probable, high impact threat that is neglected or outright ignored despite–or sometimes because of–its size. Far easier to spot than the black swan, faster moving and more dangerous than the elephant in the room, gray rhinos are the biggest problems facing companies.How to Make Sure Your Startup Can Thrive With Change, By Michele Wucker, INC., May 23, 2016
So, look what Paula showed us…
I am a secularly-minded philosopher. Faith is not a virtue I hold. In particular, I disbelieve claims to knowledge about God’s existence or will. As an atheist and a Humanist, my approach to life has been grounded on rational thought and empirical evidence. I consider death to be the end of our conscious existence, and that any meaning that life may have resides with man.
Philosophers are often caricatured as dealing with the big questions, particularly the meaning of life, but I have rarely observed this to be a matter of concern among professional philosophers, other than fleetingly in conversation with colleagues after some beers. Few thinkers of a non-religious bent have tried to address the question of meaning head-on. Perhaps as independent thinkers philosophers nowadays have a tacit understanding that life’s meaning or value is a personal journey; but most philosophers I know don’t seem to spend much time pondering the meaning of their own lives either. And if the philosophers among us are not doing it, who is? It’s the elephant in the room of secular thought.Atheist In A Foxhole, by David Rönnegard, Philosophy Now, Issue 105
The deep human desire for meaning is the elephant in our room.
And look what Paula found from your famed philosopher, Charles Taylor…
[T]he issue about meaning is a central preoccupation of our age, and its threatened lack fragilizes all the narratives of modernity by which we live.Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
It’s the raw nerve in our version of the story we are in, because McKee is right…
Humans always struggle to make meaning out of their little piece of reality, and the way they shape that meaning or try to live that meaning is story.THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT MCKEE, BY SHEILA HETI, The Rumpus, November 17th, 2009
The most important limitation in the modern world is the dissatisfaction with meaning.Do Writers Need Conflict In Their Lives In Order To Be Creative?, By Robert McKee, McKee Story, October 1, 2018
And here is someone else who agrees…
“Life is incredibly complex, there are lots of things going on in our environment and in our lives at all times, and in order to hold onto our experience, we need to make meaning out of it,” Adler says. “The way we do that is by structuring our lives into stories.”Life’s Stories, by Julie Beck, The Atlantic, August 10, 2015
So, if our version of the story is a boring, meaningless nonplot, can you see our problem?
And as you’ll see among the following, meaning is on the minds of both people who embrace your version of the story we are in… and those who embrace ours…
There is no topic in philosophy that has received more attention than meaning, in its multifarious manifestations. At the grand end of the spectrum, philosophers of all schools have grappled with the ultimate question of the meaning of life (and whether or not this question has any meaning).Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
The truth comes initially to the human being as a question: Does life have a meaning? Where is it going?John Paul II, Fides et ratio: To the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the relationship between Faith and Reason, 1998.09.14
All of us, in our different ways, are personally engaged in a journey that grants an answer to the most important question of all — the question concerning the ultimate meaning of our human existence.Pope Benedict XVI, “Meeting with Representatives of Other Religions”, September 22, 2010
But there is a second answer to the question of why greatness, one that is at the very heart of what motivated us to undertake this huge project in the first place: the search for meaning, or more precisely, the search for meaningful work.
When all these pieces come together, not only does your work move towards greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.Jim Collins, Good To Great
There it is. Our raw nerve in our story is the elephant in our room.
Meaning & Love
Love, of course, is at the center of the meaningful life.
The act of love begins with the very definition of meaning: it begins by stepping outside of the self to connect with and contribute to something bigger. “Being human,” Frankl wrote, “always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself-be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself-by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love “the more human he is.”Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning
That’s the power of meaning.
Love and Meaning.
That’s our secular Achilles heel.
When we began this assignment and came to see that your divided house may be the great danger America is facing, it was eye opening. The power of story to divide a nation was something I had never understood before.
That experience changed my life, because Paula and I began skipping together as we plunged into our study of story. We bonded like never before.
And we began to see our lives as a story.
Robert McKee was the one who got us onto this….and it continues to haunt us…
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?
That advice just keeps creating story tension for us.
We know our story is ultimately, intrinsically meaningless.
But, at the same time, here on the ground, living out our stories, we actually do experience things we find incredibly meaningful.
All sorts of things. Love. Laughter. Relationships. Sex. Beauty. Nature. Learning. Art. Music. Food. Work. Stories. Travel. Sports. And on and on.
We want all those wonderful things. Desperately.
But the more we follow Robert McKee’s wonderful advice and intensely pursue them, the more intense our story tension becomes...
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…. I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
And the more painful the meaninglessness becomes…
Imagine a ride that has all the inconveniences of a bad journey – frenetic pace, confusion, dislocation, loss – and none of the consolations: no end of the journey, nothing but death, which is not now like arriving at a destination, but is instead like being at last tossed out of the car.
It is a horrible life, an inhuman race from nowhere to nowhere.Progressive Inhumanity, Part Three: Hatred of the Past, By ANTHONY ESOLEN, Crisis Magazine, MARCH 29, 2012
And then if you add into the mix something else McKee wrote in his book, Story, well, give this some consideration…
What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants? More specifically, what’s the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire?
If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way, the story is misconceived at its core. For example, if the answer is: “Should the protagonist fail, life would go back to normal,” this story is not worth telling.
What the protagonist wants is of no real value, and a story of someone pursuing something of little or no value is the definition of boredom.
Life teaches that the measure of the value of any human desire is in direct proportion to the risk involved in its pursuit. The higher the value, the higher the risk. We give the ultimate values to those things that demand the ultimate risks – our freedom, our lives, our souls.
This imperative of risk, however, is far more than an aesthetic principle, it’s rooted in the deepest source of our art. For we not only create stories as metaphors for life, we create them as metaphors for meaningful life – and to live meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.Robert McKee, Story
You see our problem, right?
But, at the same time, this insight about the book of Ecclesiastes, from the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, touches our raw nerve…
It asks the great question of modern man: Does my existence here have any meaning at all? Previous ages disputed about what the meaning of human existence was. Ecclesiastes, alone among premodern books, dares to ask the question: Suppose it has none at all? Its question is not the essence but the existence of the meaning of life.
Second, it shows modernity’s greatest fear, which is not so much the fear of death (that was ancient man’s deepest fear), or the fear of sin or guilt or Hell (that was medieval man’s deepest fear), but the fear of meaninglessness, of “vanity”, of “the existential vacuum”, the fear of Nothingness.Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life
I then began to wonder even more about my desire for Paula. I love her. Desperately. But is our love relationship intrinsically meaningless?
That’s a painful idea, because since we came to America, this has become one of my favorite songs…
So Paula and I began to talk about this. And she showed me this…
Our knowledge of what followed in the century after Forster’s writing—two world wars and rampant politicization of life’s every little conflict—might seem to render the life-as-romance worldview blissfully naïve. But perhaps he really was onto something, and perhaps we owe it to ourselves to step outside of ourselves and think more carefully about what it truly means to live and to love. Han, to his credit, acknowledges that to love is to open oneself up to mysteries beyond the realm of cognition.To Love Another, By Tim Markatos, Weekly Standard, August 4, 2017
And one day Paula suggested we consider exploring the possibility that looking together through the lens of story could help us see the options.
Look what she showed me…
Love Story is the structure that instructs us on how to discover the meaning of our existence, both as individuals and as flesh-and-blood particles that bump into one another in a complex action and reaction comprising the human collective unconscious.Pride and Prejudice: The Story Grid Edition, by Jane Austen (Author), Shawn Coyne (Introduction)
So, if your God is the Great Storyteller, you’d be game with that, right?
Because look what else Paula showed me…
Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, look how deep this goes…
Psychologists tell us that our deepest need is to be loved and to feel love. Theologians tell us that the Trinity is Christianity and that the best quest of the human being is to know God. To know God deeply and fully is to know him as Trinitarian. But to know him as the Trinity is to know him through his expression of love to us, through his willingness to send his Son to become man with us, to die in our place and to redeem us, and to bring us into fellowship with himself. It is also revealed through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit, allowing us to have personal, intimate, and regular communication with God.The Trinity and the Christian, by Kenneth Daughters, Emmaus Journal (Summer 2005)
So, think about it. Your God, the Great Storyteller, freely chose to create you – uh, us, uh, everybody.
Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Will you explore the power of story? Will you recognize our secular weak spot? Will you reopen the conversation?
Think about what you want here. Do you want to rescue me? Do you have a heart for my secular allies on the other side of your great divide?
Will you recognize the astonishing power of our desire for love and meaning, which is at the core of our shared human experience? Do you want to engage with me, with your enemies about these things?
We cry out in our human plight. Try looking at
Edvard Munches alarming painting, The Scream…
You feel me?
One more thought…
If the deepest human desires line up with the Core Value of the Christian Story—loyal love/betrayal, wouldn’t you think there would be a pattern in the most popular movies coming out of Hollywood? Wouldn’t these be the best movies, the best stories, the ones crowds flock to? And wouldn’t those stories be enduring, famous, award winning shows over a long period of time?
Well, for icing on our loyal love/betrayal archplot human desire cake, let me show you something Paula discovered, which blew me away.
It looks like the story in every one of the films which have won an Academy Award for Best Picture involves love, loyalty, and betrayal, in some significant way.
Here is a list of movies which have won the award since it began in 1927…
1928/29 The Broadway Melody
1929/30 All Quiet on the Western Front
1931/32 Grand Hotel
1935 Mutiny on the Bounty
1936 The Great Ziegfeld
1939 Gone with the Wind
1942 Mrs. Miniver
1944 Going My Way
1945 The Lost Weekend
1949 All the King’s Men
1950 All About Eve
1951 An American in Paris
1954 On the Waterfront
1960 The Apartment
1961 West Side Story
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Tom Jones
1964 My Fair Lady
1965 The Sound of Music
1969 Midnight Cowboy
1972 The Godfather
1973 The Sting
1977 Annie Hall
1978 The Deer Hunter
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 Ordinary People
1981 Chariots of Fire
1983 Terms of Endearment
1985 Out of Africa
1987 The Last Emperor
1988 Rain Man
1989 Driving Miss Daisy
1990 Dances with Wolves
1993 Schindler’s List
1994 Forrest Gump
1996 The English Patient
1998 Shakespeare in Love
1999 American Beauty
2001 A Beautiful Mind
2004 Million Dollar Baby
2006 The Departed
2008 Slumdog Millionaire
2009 The Hurt Locker
2010 The King’s Speech
2011 The Artist
2013 12 Years a Slave
2017 The Shape of Water
Loyal love/betrayal is there in every one of them.
That stunned us.
You see, our team is addicted to Korean dramas, so many of which are loyal love/betrayal stories.
But the movies which won the Academy Award for Best Picture?
That surprised us.
It looks like human beings are deeply connected to the core value of loyal love/betrayal.
This love, loyalty, betrayal stuff just seems like it doesn’t want to go away in our story.
Won’t you ask yourselves, “What’s going on?” and look into it?
We really want to know what you want.