Imaginary Meaning: How the Law Drives Us to Virtual Significance

I recently finished reading a super book titled, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to […]

JMG / 6.7.13

life-in-the-trinityI recently finished reading a super book titled, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology With the Help of the Church Fathers by Donald Fairbairn. As the title indicates, the main concern of the book is an examination of the doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and their significance for Christians and creation at large.

While I enjoyed the entire thing, one section called, “Significance in a Different Guise” caught my attention. Fairbairn posits something we at Mockingbird know to be true, one of the most basic human needs is a sense of significance. This need produces all sorts of self-justification as we posture for our best possible offering of ourselves. He continues the thought by saying, “One of the ways modern Western society has sapped people’s sense of significance is that it tied that significance to things that are generally out of reach” (65).

The carrot or brass ring we can’t quite reach (at least most of us can’t) is that of celebrity. Fairbairn, In my opinion, is right on the money with his assessment of our celebrity worship. And while this is not new news for us, he clarified some things about it that tie into the false notion of the Law producing promised rewards of significance.

We fawn over movie stars, athletes, and self-made women and men who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, gained fame and fortune, and are now determined to show the rest of us that they are every bit as important as we seem to think they are. For that matter, we also fawn over people who have not pulled themselves up by their bootstraps but who were born with celebrity status.

Fairbairn draws out some of the cult of celebrity ramifications, namely that it completely distorts our sense of proportion. That is, we attach incredible significance to a famous actress’s break-up and relegate our own or our roommate’s relational disaster as routine and seemingly less tragic. This sends us the constant, subliminal message that we are not really important.

Awy_owKCIAAZ5EI.jpg-largeThe vast majority of us will never be featured in People magazine….Most of us will not get our names in the paper more than a small handful of times, and even then it will not be in Parade. Most of us are not going to see a million dollars at one time, get a tickertape parade, bask away our lives on the shore of a tropical beach or in the best suite on a cruise ship…. And our society sends us a regular text message that says, ‘You’re not as significant as the people who get to do those things.’

And here is the kicker, according to Fairbairn. Since we cannot do what it would take to become celebrities, we try to attach ourselves to them. These imaginary connections are our determined efforts to become virtually important, to pretend that we somehow have a connection with people deemed significant and thus become significant ourselves.

So even when The Law crushes us initially in our ordinariness, we then fastidiously work to virtually connect with those in whom we believe we’ll find meaning. (Think of the “Hollywood Fast Life of Stalker Sarah” for a quick exemplar.) And of course, the rungs of the ladder extend out of sight – first an autograph, then buying the person’s entire collection of artistic production, to VIP passes for backstage introductions…. The sense of significance is short lived and never enough, so we soldier on for the next, greatest connection.

He concludes the section by rightly stating:

What makes people significant in their own right is something that is out of reach to most of us. So for most of us, the only way to be significant is to be connected to someone else who is significant. And even though the way we express this idea is thoroughly skewed, the fundamental intuition lying beneath it is exactly right. Christianity teaches us that our significance does not ultimately lie in what we accomplish or what we do; it lies in the one to whom we belong. 



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