Thursday, November 4, 2010

Freely Choosing the Divinely Predetermined: More From "The Truman Show"

Christoff: “I have given Truman a chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.”
Sylvia: “He’s not a performer; he’s a prisoner. Look at him! Look at what you’ve done to him!”
Christoff: “HE CAN LEAVE AT ANY TIME. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you, caller, is that ultimately, TRUMAN PREFERS HIS CELL.”
My last post introduced “The Truman Show” to many who may not have ever considered watching the movie. I had never watched the movie until last week; and once I watched it, I couldn’t stop watching it. In fact, I’m dying to see the movie again. To you, my readership, I recommend the movie. Please watch it, buy it, show it to those who may never watch it otherwise. I think that the movie itself poses some serious questions about God and theology (the study of God) to us who believe.
The above quote is a small portion of the telephone conversation between Sylvia and Christoff on “The Truman Show.” Sylvia, one who played on the “cast” of the show itself calls in to confront Christoff about what he’s doing to Truman---how Truman has no idea that his entire life’s been on a manufactured stage. For those who have never watched, let’s just say that Sylvia tried to warn Truman earlier in the movie that everything happening around him was “part of the script.” She told Truman to run, escape, try to get away. Instead, Truman just stuck around and merely accepted the life he had been given, marrying and settling in Seahaven.
Christoff responds by saying that his invented world, however manufactured it may be, is better than Sylvia’s world: “The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.”
Now, before I go any further, let me just say that the movie seems rather Open Theistic in its outlook: after all, the “God” character, Christoff, attempts to shelter Truman from the real world, creating a seemingly “perfect” world where no evil and tragedies occur. God Himself attempts to prevent Truman from experiencing sorrow, pain, suffering, tragedy, etc. The God of Classical Theism does not do this; rather, He allows both the just and unjust to suffer in this world because God designed the world to include choices. The fact that Christoff wants to “cage in” Truman from living a life that involves tragedy shows a commitment to sparing Truman from evil. But to do this also means that God would prevent us from choice and decision. You cannot have one without the other. Secondly, Christoff has to create another world because the real world is so different than what he thinks it should be. Christoff (the “God” character) creates a second world for Truman’s dwelling, showing that God has somehow given up hope on the actual world He made. Does God lack in power and sovereignty, so much so that He is forced to retire from the real world (because evil is beyond His control)? I think not. As I said, the movie itself seems to be rather Open Theist in its outlook.
However, the movie takes a turn for a more Molinist position when Sylvia tells Christoff that Truman is a prisoner in Christoff’s cell. Christoff responds:
“He can leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you caller, is that ultimately, TRUMAN PREFERS HIS CELL.”

Now, these are interesting words indeed. But before we tackle Christoff’s response, let’s look at the history of the Truman show.
First, in Christoff’s interview, he gives details about how the show started. One viewer, supposedly from “Charlotte, North Carolina,” called in and asked Christoff about how many cameras were guarding Truman. Christoff answered that five-thousand cameras were guarding Truman, “although we started with just one.” The camera then showed a picture of Truman when he was still in the womb, still to be born. Christoff responds that Truman was a candidate (along with five unwanted, unborn children) for the show itself; Truman’s birth “just happened” to be on the air he was the lucky one. The interviewer said to Christoff, “He was elected,” to which Christoff responded “yes. His birth, premature by two weeks is what made him elected for the script.” More pictures are then shown of Truman as a little boy, one of the first being in his crib, with a camera above his head (he looking up at it in wonder).
Cameras have surrounded Truman all his life. But, even though the world has always had insight into Truman’s life, he has never been given a glimpse of the true nature of reality (i.e., the world outside of Seahaven).
And yet, despite his enclosure in this manufactured world ruled by Christoff’s every arbitrary decision, Christoff could tell Sylvia, “He can leave at any time. If his was more than a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.” Is this true? Did Truman really have a choice?
Molinists would say that Truman did. Ken Keathley writes,
“...God predestines all events, yet not in such a way that violates genuine human freedom and choice. God meticulously ‘sets the table’ so that humans freely choose what He had predetermined” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 152).
William Lane Craig writes:
“It might seem that foreknowledge, explained in this way, smacks of a divine ‘sting operation’---it could sound as though God manipulates people by leading them into situations in which they are induced to act in a certain way, even if the circumstances in which people find themselves, they are genuinely free to choose opposite courses of action. That God knows what they will do in any set of circumstances does not mean that they are compelled by the circumstances to do what they do. God does not determine their choice; they can choose freely between alternative courses of action. It is God’s will and desire, moreover, that they always choose for the good” (William Lane Craig, “The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom.” Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2000, page 134).
Craig’s beginning words are right: If God chooses a certain world, and an individual could choose either good or evil in all possible worlds, then God determines the choices of individuals. He determines, for example, whether someone will receive Christ or not (whether someone will be elect or reprobate). How could the person choose differently if God has determined what choice will actualize in time? As Ken Keathley writes, “God sets the table” for us so that He has picked the exact choice you and I will make in every choice that lies before us. As I just mentioned, salvation falls into this discussion: God has predestined by selecting the world that you and I would be saved...but He has also consequently selected a world where Joe will be an unbeliever. And God puts us in circumstances where we are the ones who choose it (in time). But how does this get God off the hook? Is God not the one leading individuals into sin? But does He not “lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name sake” (Psalm 23:3)?
The movie seems to assert that we can “freely choose” the divinely predetermined. In Truman’s case, even though he was shut off from the real world all his life, he could choose to walk away at any time: “If his were more than a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.” But how can one act upon a choice one never knew he had? How can one act upon something in sheer ignorance? It is simply not possible. In my next post, I will further detail other factors of Truman’s life that Christoff controls. Stick around for more Molinism discussion.

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