So a few months ago I made the mistake of taking my brother’s advice and listening to the soundtrack for Hamilton, a broadway show about the life of Alexander Hamilton in case there’s anyone left on this earth that hasn’t heard of it by now.
It’s extremely catchy and I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since. I was listening to it at work so I’ve absorbed more of the tunes than the plot points, but as someone who’s all too nerdy and loves musicals I really should have known this would happen and forfeit the opportunity to complain any further.
That said, I saw an interesting piece of news back in November regarding the Hamilton “controversy” with Vice President-elect Mike Pence attending a Broadway performance, getting booed and being told by one of the actors to remember minorities when he heads to Washington.
In the days that followed the news was all over it, Trump was tweeting, there were #boycottHamilton hastags everywhere. Yet all I could think of is how I live in an age of manufactured drama. It was really not a newsworthy issue but it was written of repetitively, commented on endlessly, used as an example of the deep divides plaguing this country and no one wanted to be left out of the know so that they could provide an opinion when called upon.
The haste and sensationalism of the 24-hour news cycle combined with the interconnectivity to news sites and social media from Smartphones (which go everywhere with you) has done an interesting thing to our society, it has blurred the line between news and gossip and created a colossal venue to manufacture meaningless drama as it churns crisis after crisis. It turns molehills into mountains, it favors speed over accuracy, and perhaps most importantly it decides what gets talked about and what does not.
I point this out not to discuss the trend, which you have more than likely noticed, I point it out to discuss the far more interesting question that I got to wondering about this morning as I stumbled across yet another Hamilton article which is: why?
Why manufacture drama?
Well for one because it’s intensely profitable and people buy it. But why is it so especially lucrative in the United States? The answer that strikes me as closest to the truth is the decline of organized religion and I’m happy to make my case because I’m sure there are many of you who think that’s a serious stretch.
There are many secular “peace” lovers in this world who critique religion because in their minds it leads to nothing but violence and vehement disagreements between people of different religions. However, there is a huge gap in worldview between those who are purely secular and those who are religious that goes even beyond their belief/disbelief in God, and that is their view of the afterlife. In other words, whether or not you believe in God and the type of God you believe in shapes how you view what happens to you after you die. For example, one of the best things about being a Catholic is not my hazy belief in some vague paradise but my eager anticipation of being perfectly united with God Who is Love and this anticipation frames the way I view the world, the purpose of my existence, and plays a huge role in determining my actions (or at least how I desire to act!)
In the past different religions would differ on some of these questions (in no particular order):
- Who is the true God?
- What is the nature of the true God?
- What happens after death?
- What is the purpose of life?
- What should humans do with their lives/how should they act?
These questions matter and that is why disagreements on these questions were passionate because they carried with them eternal consequences. There is a lot of great theology from the eras of which I am speaking about.
The modern phenomenon is interesting because I don’t meet terribly many true atheists but I meet a lot of people who simply never ask themselves the above questions because they have been taught from an early age that the above questions don’t matter. They don’t matter either because they are explicitly told there is no afterlife or told that because nothing about the afterlife can be concretely proven using the scientific method it should not be believed in at all. It’s a clever component of the new atheism, the argument that avoids saying that God does not exist but instead purports that it does not matter whether God exists or not because the things in life that matter most are the concrete; what you can see, feel, touch, smell, and hear, what can be analyzed and proven “impartially” etc. In short, it confines existence to the purely material and since God is not purely material He is rendered inconsequential.
And while John Lennon may have dreamed of the day this would come I find I would rather die the death of a martyr to be with God than live in the prison of the material such a world creates. While you probably find that sentence more than a little dramatic (especially knowing as you do now of my penchant for musical theater) I am completely sincere. The world with no more religion is the world I was raised to live in. A world where you prepare as a child not to be a morally good person but for college in order to have a lucrative career to buy material goods, a world where your legacy and worth is tied to achievement alone rather than the inherent gift of existence granted by God, and a world especially of manufactured drama. A dull and idle existence that is rootless and tied to nothing and feels the need to create problems where there are none in order to foster the sense of purpose it lacks. A life of empty distractions, gossip and scandal, entertainment and material luxuries, lust over love, all designed to keep you from ever asking yourself the above questions or even wondering about them at all, because those questions are designed to lead you from the material to the eternal, to everlasting joy, true peace, and a love that satisfies beyond anything your material senses could ever comprehend.
And I confess that sometimes in this world of sleepy and comfortable materialism I find myself wanting to shout “wake up!” because these are the questions you were born to pursue, not the passing and idle gossip of the “news,” not the merely scientific and material. We each will only get so much time, why waste it on what does not last?