In this episode, I want to take a look at a movie character, an actor, and the book of Ecclesiastes in order to flesh out a problem about how many of us view ourselves today - how secularist address the problem - and how Christians can navigate their lives in light of this problem. It’s a tightly wound but manageable knot we’re about to unwind but I have full confidence we’ll be able to get through it and shed some light on some very important lessons.
This is episode number four of the Reasonable podcast and I’m ready to get started. Hang tight, we’re about to jump in.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable.
Charles Foster Kane
Charles Foster Kane was the protagonist in the critically acclaimed 1940’s film “Citizen Kane”. Hailed as possibly the greatest film ever recorded, it tells the tale of a young but wealthy newspaper owner who rises to the hight of his profession and later runs for political office, only to have his chances dashed when caught in a scandal involving a young singer. Portrayed by Orson Welles, who also produced and directed the film, Kane commands the respect of everyone around him and is depicted as a larger than life figure from his imposing frame , witty yet profound lines, and his careful placement on screen. Accustomed to receiving whatever he desires, Kane never seems truly satisfied with his life and grows what could only described as bored, all the while grasping at possessions, various endeavors, as well as people in hopes they’ll make him more content or somehow push him over that imaginary edge into a nonexistent realm of happiness.
The film actually begins with the death of Kane and we, the viewers, are then taken back to his earlier years, guided by a few individuals studying his life to figure out the meaning of his final utterance before death… “Rosebud”. As we’re taken scene by scene from his early years, we can see how Kane’s stated intentions - intentions he actually believed himself; intentions courageously drummed up in the heart of a wealthy young man with a chance to speak for the unspoken for fade and become thinner and thinner - and both Kane and all the viewers begin to see the unadulterated core, the true center, the unmasked heart driving the man we all but fell for in the first act.
CLIP: Kane explaining how he's going to speak for those with no voice, using his paper.
Christians know all about this. We believe every human is unique and in a way which gives us incalculable worth, we are created in the image of the one and only God. At the same time, we have a heart, or a core reasoning faculty, an inner chamber from which all our actions spring. Our capacity for reasoning and intellection is very strong but it does not tend toward good, but rather evil.
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
The answer to that rhetorical question is as follows – only the One who created us. Sadly we cannot tame our hearts - and whether Wells meant for him to or not, Kane the character, the man, spells that out for us plainly.
Writing over at thegospelcoalition.org, Kenneth Morefield writes an article entitled ‘Citizen Kane’ as Ecclesiastes on Film. Morefield in his article makes a number of great points which force us to stare into the similarities between Charles Foster Kane and Solomon, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes.
Morefield points out: “Welles’s masterpiece isn’t a particularly Christian film, but it illustrates the God-shaped emptiness at the core of those who look for meaning and fulfillment in money, sex, success, and power, only to find the pursuit of those things as meaningless as chasing after the wind.”
It seems here Morefield might have had in mind the opening of Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
That God-shaped emptiness Morefield writes about comes through the screen as plain as day for Christians watching the film. Even, later in life, Kane knows full well there’s something wrong with the way he’s become
CLIP: "You know Mr. Bernstein, if i hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man"
We know, though, that it was not his economic status which made him the way he uncomfortably ended up. Kane’s money only amplified his condition in a way so public and spectacular, it made for a groundbreaking story although it was a fictional one. The poor and the rich alike can be both be wicked or pious. This sickness that makes us restless even a few days after finishing even our most coveted accomplishment runs deep - and we’d better believe it’s inside all of us.
Morefield, in his article puts it well when he writes, “the idealism of Charles Foster Kane erodes beneath the bonds of habit and a lifetime of selfishness, I can’t help but mourn the unrealized potential that lies in so many of us who have been given so much.” A warning which will hopefully sober us to the fact that even our best intentions are still OUR intentions, and we can’t trick ourselves into believing even our best works can’t be hijacked by our own selves.
Kane started out believing he could help with what he had at his disposal, and he ended believing it wasn’t so much what he had at his disposal which was to cure the city’s ailment, but rather that it was he himself.
CLIP: Kane speaking at the political rally
It’s seldom as obvious as it was for Kane on screen, but in our lives we need to continue to check our intentions. When we find what is self serving, or vindictive, or underhanded we’d do well to readjust our trajectory lest we become frustrated at the fact that we’ve reached yet another hill which looks too much like the last one we climbed. Continuing down that slope, we’ll end up like Kane, with less and less strength as we get older, calibrating and re-calibrating our lives in order to satisfy the craving only God can satisfy - because He put it there in the first place.
There is such a thing as discontentment brought on by prolonged contentment. Think of the way we picture ourselves. Most of us see ourselves as people who only have a little or - at very best - not as much as we think we should. We run our circuits on the way to what we would ultimately like, until we crave more. This is the exactly thing Kane experienced, only on a more opulent level.
Keeping along this same theme, I want to take a look at an individual who’s been resurfaced as of late having gone under a sort of reinvention of himself. For many of us, he has been frozen in time, as it were, as the high energy slapstick comedian who made us all laugh with his portrayals of a number of characters which all seem to bear a certain quality that can only be summed up in the name, Jim Carrey.
Appearing at a fashion event some time ago, Carrey was interviewed beforehand on the red carpet :
CLIP: Jim Carrey interviewed outside fashion event
Let’s pause this right here and examine whats going on grammatically.
Carrey has just used the word “I” at least 8 times. He used the word “You” at least 3 times. And he’s going to keep using these words as he tries to explain how none of us exist and how everything’s meaningless.
Now, we need to be aware of the fact that there was a film that was to be released around the time of this interview. The film was a documentary following his transformation into the late actor Andy Kaufman during the filming of the film Carrey starred in, Man On the Moon. Let’s leave a little room for at least some of what’s coming from Carrey as being possibly, in part, promotional behavior. We need to also be aware of the fact that, although those of us who lived though the 90s loved his acting, there’s a whole new generation coming up and a lot of what we see today with older actors is actually an intentional rebranding undertaken in order to stay relevant in a very bizarre and cluttered entertainment arena.
Even still, these interviews expose something Carrey is at least comfortable with - and these interviewers have no idea whats going on. They’re just barely sliding through, dodging the nonsensical turns Carrey throws at them in order to save the interview from breaking down. Let’s push back with a bit of reason and not be as malleable as they were.
CLIP: Jim Carrey - “we don't matter, we don't matter"
He may not know that he’s doing this, but Carrey is walking much the same line as we see being laid out in Ecclesiastes. It’s clear Carrey has adopted, to some measure, an atheistic worldview which, he says, leaves us without purpose. Now, Ecclesiastes is written from a theistic point of view, but the similarities come in the form of a sense of restlessness about the regular working out of daily humanity. Watch the clip and listen to the deflecting Carrey does from detail or objective questions which demand a cogent response in favor of downward, dark, dismal, statements about our supposed state - but delivered in a nice way.
What happened to make Jim Carrey this way? Well, maybe he was this way all along, but we can glean a little context from another interview he gave about his acting as Andy Kaufman:
CLIP: Jim talks about losing himself in the character and realizing Jim Carrey was a character too and he was tired of playing it.
It seems Carrey has struggled with his true identity and it’s pretty obvious he’s having trouble settling into whatever he defines himself as now - all the while promoting a film based on his portrayal of a performance artist who made his audiences question the line between his life and his performances - which is kind of ironic. We can be sure he will find no home for his emotions, no bedrock to his reasoning until he comes to terms with the fact that we were created with intention and our lives are full of meaning and responsibility.
Ecc. 12:1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
Listen to the working out of this verse in real time. It’s unbelievable how clearly this verse shows itself in the life of Carrey. The 55 year old actor seems to have reached a point somewhere along his life where he realized he has no particular pleasure over what goes on around him.
Whether some sort of defense mechanism, trying to mask his natural reaction to the awkwardness of the interview, or what he truly believes, that parting statement should sound an alarm.
A Christian Response to Celebrity Apathy
Most secularists seem to fall pretty often under the self professed category of atheist and therefore have little hope when it comes to what happens have after we die. This means that, unlike the Christian, there is no hope for an eventual victorious future. There is a very real possibility of a coming dystopian existence - and given the trends found in human behavior, that possibility must seem more like a probability.
This must bring about a sense of helplessness and powerlessness - feeling as if we each have only about 80 years or so to see whatever dreams we have come true. Along with that and the gnawing feeling that most justice will never be carried out, most secularists believe the key to overcoming pending disaster lies in the state.
This is why it comes as no surprise that both of our persons of interest in this episode placed their confidence more in themselves and politics than God or anything else. Charles Foster Kane originally sought to effect the type of change he wanted to see through his newspaper circulation, and later, by way of topping the existing political leader in his city, Boss Jim Getty’s. Carrey, much a part of the political left like most other celebrities, uses what is left of his public platform to push leftist politicians and socialism here in the United States. He’s also taken to politically motivated paintings which make their rounds online.
Violence as consequence of apathy
I predict, though, that this interest in politics as a means to an end is only temporary. Increasingly, as these political plans and aspirations are thwarted and undermined, more drastic means will need to be employed. It’s only that we are in an age of passivism and industrial progress that we aren’t so prone to less civil means of seeking to change society. If you’re having a hard time envisioning this, take some time to look into what’s happening in the city of Portland Oregon with ANTIFA and ancillary organizations taking to the streets in violent protest, re-routing traffic, blocking off certain sections of the city with little to know regard to law enforcement which seems to let them do whatever they’d like to do. If you’re still having a hard time picturing a United States in the throws of more violent means of coercion, think back to the riots which developed after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO. Take into consideration the amount of property damage and injuries which occurred over something even the residents who witnessed the incident admitted clearly didn’t happen.
Now, if the left gains significant political power in the near future, this will prevent to a degree this uptick in physical intimidation coming from that side. However, whether violence spikes or not, Christians will be faced with intimidation in the form of policy and social pressure.
How we can push back
Our hope is unshakable because the object of our hope is unshakable. We cannot do anything, as Christians, in an un-Christian way. We work and play as Christians. We eat and we build our communities as Christians. This needs to be obvious and very distinct from what secularists have to offer. In a society which prizes being loud and unique, we too often believe the lie that we should avoid explicitly Christian expressions in our lives. This means our businesses, our neighborhoods, our events, our dress, our leisure, our art.
Likewise, It is impossible to be a secularist and not have it permeate your lifestyle. Just look at the examples we visited in this episode, look at the art of Jim Carrey, look at his interviews, his speeches (one in particular which I’ll link to in the website post for this episode). Look at the example of Charles Foster Kane - he used his business and all of his possessions to meet a goal he was chasing.
How are we doing? Are you locked into a church? Do you know people in the church that you attend? Do you seek out and support Christian business? Do you donate to Christian causes? What Christian institutions do you plan to send your children to?
Author Rod Dreher recently authored a book which I highly recommend called “The Benedict Option”. In it he touches on this very subject. How are we to live together as Christians in a post Christian culture?
Realize that our institutions are secularizing and dying and it is our responsibility, as Christians, to make sure we supply the next generations of Christians with the resources they need. The kingdom of God is not brought about by random acts of kindness. It is not brought about by staying in our own Christian lanes. The ancients knew this, the reformers knew this, and so did Christians just a few hundred years ago. Consider the fact that many of the universities we hold in high esteem now were founded by Christians as Bible believing institutions. Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Oxford, just to name a few. Also take a second to check your favorite maps application for the hospitals nearest you; take note of their names. How many saint’s names do you find? Do you think secular people started those endeavors? Look even into the history of your own church, ask around with the older folks in your church and see how hard the founders worked in order to keep things going, to buy the property, to weather various financial crises and setbacks.
Are we building pillars for the kingdom of God today or are we building onto another kingdom altogether? Are we getting ready for a completely renewed Christian future or are we letting the secular institutions take over what used to be ours?
If your treading water in this world, you’re drifting. There’s a current which leads in a way opposite God’s eternity and we’d really better be swimming for our lives and the lives of Christians years down the line.
Finally, I don’t want to give the impression that each of us should go out and start Christian schools. That would be counterintuitive. What we should be doing is getting to know and supporting these institutions and other Christian initiatives.
Living simple and well thought out lives, always evangelizing, always huddling inward to support our fellow Christians. We’re entering an era where the prevailing worldview is secular humanism. It might be hard sometimes to distinguish which efforts are worth joining and which efforts wont be worth it in the long run, but look at it this way - every single thing that is not explicitly God glorifying, will not make it into the new creation. Don’t make the mistakes of our two subjects here in this episode. Don’t turn to self glorification or apathy, like the world does. Instead, let’s lead the world into a new age which has God as its center - otherwise known as the Kingdom of God.
Thanks for listening. If you benefitted from this podcast, consider subscribing. You can contact me online at twitter.com/imdonaldjohn or at my website www.donaldjohn.com where you can find my email address as well as links to my other social media accounts. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable.