The Phantom Hype

  Last Wednesday a young man named Lincoln Gaskin of Melbourne, Australia, became the first person to buy what is undoubtedly the hottest ticket in the world: tonight's opening-night seats for The Phantom Menace, the new Star Wars film. What makes this story even more remarkable is that this Australian has been waiting in line for tickets since April 7. Yes, he was camped out on the sidewalk at Mann's Chinese Theater for 36 days! While it's hard for even die-hard Star Wars fans to understand the mania associated with this film, it's not so hard to understand what lies behind the phenomenon: a cultural hunger for great and engaging stories. Only this hunger explains why it has become almost impossible to avoid the Star Wars hype. Everywhere toy stores, supermarkets, and fast-food outlets are filled with Star Wars merchandise. Of course, part of this is the result of clever marketing. But the Star Wars mania goes further than that. It has its origins in our need for stories that feed the imagination and give us models to emulate. For thousands of years, stories and narratives were the primary vehicle for the transmission of beliefs and values. Think of the ancient Greeks, who derived their understanding of virtue and vice from Homer's Odyssey and The Iliad. The same was also true of the great biblical faiths: Judaism and Christianity. What we know about the God we worship—His love, faithfulness, and compassion—primarily comes to us through the biblical narratives—stories about Adam and Eve, about David and Goliath, about Jesus feeding the 5,000. Then came the rise of modern science. Its remarkable success led some philosophers to say that the only way we can "know" anything is through direct observation. Narrative and stories, which by definition cannot be directly observed, were pushed aside in favor of a more "scientific" way of explaining the world around us by testable propositions and hypotheses. Even the Church was affected by the new mentality. More and more, belief was reduced to subscribing to certain propositions about God rather than seeing our lives in the context of a great, unfolding drama—the drama of salvation that spans the whole of human history. But as the mania over Star Wars shows us, people still hunger for rich, evocative stories. And if Christianity is not presented to them as an engaging story, they will turn elsewhere—to stories on celluloid that reflect a sub-Christian view of reality. We need to rediscover what Christian novelist Dorothy Sayers once said: that in Christianity, "the dogma is the drama.” She meant that the biblical account of salvation has all the elements of a great drama. There is no greater cosmic drama than the story of God's dealing with humanity, which culminated in the incarnation, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ—a story which, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, has the advantage of being true. So in the midst of all the hype and mania associated with The Phantom Menace, why not tell your neighbors about an even better story—one that has all of the drama of Star Wars and more. But it's one you don't have to line up for, or travel to a foreign country to see—for a loving God graciously gives everyone a free ticket.


Chuck Colson


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