Educational Reflection: Tru-Religion

by Joel Lurie Grishaver

It amazes me that no one has gotten it! Everyone has been talking about The Truman Show. It is the topic du jour, but no one has figured out that: (1) it is a movie about God, (2) it is really dealing with new age issues like “healing services,” and (3) it is a profoundly Christian movie. It is Christian in the sense that it is a movie deeply rooted in Christian mythology, not that it is trying to get you to jump in the river and declare that you are saved.

The essential problem with believing in a personal, loving God is that of personal freedom. The more often we are “touched by an angel,” the more often God intervenes in our life with “little miracles,” the more often God speaks to us—and cues us and warns us—the less we get to be “us.” I once asked Scott, a sixteen-year-old, what he would do if his mother were in the back seat every time he went out on a date. His answer was, “I would not go out on any more dates.” I then asked him what he would do if his mother wasn’t around any more. His response was, “I don’t know how I would go on.”

When God is “up-close-and-personal” (a mother in the back seat), theologians talk about imminence. The more imminent God is, the less room we have for autonomy. That is the Truman problem. He is well fed and clothed. He is protected from harm. He has all of the stuff we ask God to give us—and yet knowing he is watched and controlled, he needs to run. “Christ-off,” his Creator, is too close. When God is distant and more universal—when God takes care of everyone and not just us—the theological language we use is transcendent. When “Christ-off” gives Truman the choice to walk off the set, God moves from too imminent to very remote. What remains is the story.

This is the story of Truman. A child is born. The whole world revolves around him. He is protected. Everyone is there to watch and serve him—everyone also spends their lives watching his story. Eventually, the child becomes self-aware. He tries to flee and the Creator tries to reign him in, to fool him into remaining in the dome. Eventually, the child overcomes all obstacles—he outwits the parent. At the last minute, with the child almost free, the parent gives a final test. The child almost dies. Having overcome all of the parent’s obstacles, Truman is truly free when he walks out of the door.

From Truman’s point of view, it is the story of a child growing up. Truman finally gets his driver’s license and leaves home. What makes the story Christian is the audience perspective. His story gives their lives new meaning. Having watched him for product and pleasure, they get to see his death and resurrection. Truman is crucified on the boat, just like the old man in the sea, and then set free by a Creator who loves him enough to now back off of the imminence and grant freedom. It is “Father, Father, thank God you have forsaken me.” In an age where we are constantly demanding Divine intervention, the celebration of human freedom as a religious truth is a breath of fresh air.