CultureTheology & Spirituality

Heaven and Hollywood

The Bible is, among other things, a collection of ancient stories possessing continued relevance to the current human experience, which is to say, “the Bible acts as a mirror.” Jacques Lacan once proclaimed (rightly, I think), “All sorts of things in this world behave like mirrors.” When you look at a mirror, you see “you,” but the reflection isn’t you; only you are you. As we gaze upon our reflection, we often see what we want to see (this is likely also true for those experiencing body dysmorphia but for reasons I won’t get into here). Thus, when we read the Bible, we see what we want or, perhaps, need to see at that moment.

And what do we want to see?

Do you have an idea?

Are you searching your mind for the best answer?

Stop. You already found it.

This is because the answer exists within the pursuit of the answer itself: the Ideal. And the best place to discover our generation’s interpretation of the Ideal exists in two places: Heaven and Hollywood. Formed in the depths of a shared fear of nonexistence and the desire for both meaning and purpose, Heaven and Hollywood embody the collective psychosocial projections of our generation.

Humankind’s fear of nonexistence and desire for meaning and purpose are projected into our portrayal of the human experience in TV, film, and art, which—in turn—shapes our consumption. This creates a cyclical pattern of projection, creation, and consumption of a particular understanding of the world and our place in it. In this sense, Hollywood exists as little more than a placating propaganda machine; the downstream consequence of humankind’s (likely futile) pursuit of safety and satisfaction.

And it’s largely worked.

Hollywood’s oft-dramatic portrayal of death, for example, fails to communicate the inherent inconvenience of dying. Unlike Hollywood’s portrayal of death, in which the act itself often aims to provide a sense of fulfillment, dying is the ultimate obstacle to completing both short- and long-term personal goals. A seemingly innocuous burden, inconvenience—in the life of a terminal patient—can present itself as an inability to reconcile with an estranged family member or attend a child’s graduation or wedding. Death rarely, if ever, provides fulfillment in the life of the dying, yet we proclaim the opposite in film, art, literature, and TV.

Heaven is portrayed in an equally idyllic fashion. A product of, among other things, our desire for wholeness and completion, Heaven, not unlike Hollywood, acts as a mirror reflecting generations of human belief concerning the Ideal. Our ancestors—met with the impossibility of reuniting with passed loved ones or living eternally happy and free of pain—coped by proclaiming a continued, conscious, and perfect existence after death; met with the reality of inherent suffering, humankind sought Something they would later call Heaven.

When we engage certain concepts within the Bible, we encounter a reflection of the Ideal. Humankind has, for centuries, attempted to accurately describe this reflection yet has failed and will continue to fail. Recall that the reflection cannot be the Ideal; only the Ideal is the Ideal yet we can’t stop staring at the mirror.

Why do we stare? Why do we desire That which some call Heaven?

Perhaps we persist because the mirror’s reflection entices us with possibility. Perhaps we hope the mirror will one day lower its guard, exposing the Ineffable. Perhaps because, as CS Lewis once claimed, human desire is evidence of that which is desired.

Perhaps the Ideal exists; perhaps it always existed. And if so, the collective coping of humankind didn’t create Heaven; it only made it true. We just didn’t know what to call it.

Maybe, just maybe, Heaven is beyond Hollywood; beyond human conception. And maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing.

AJ Maynard

AJ Maynard

AJ serves at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a graduate of Liberty University and holds both a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology. He is an Army combat veteran, avid gamer, documentary geek, coffee connoisseur, and unabashed SJW. AJ is an ordained Baptist minister.

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