"The greatest truths are revealed, in the silence of the mind." - Me

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Buddhists, The New Testament, and The Beatles - My final response to Dick Van Dyke's Memior

I've made no secret that Dick Van Dyke's Memior My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business has impacted me. It has caused me to struggle through mostly existential thoughts brought on by the fact that I relate to Van Dyke (and have since childhood) in a very deep way. In many ways, I feel we are cut from the same cloth.

A couple days ago I recounted how I was struck by Van Dyke's dismissal of Christ while holding to a "good morality." In the pages that represent the rest of his work, I am still left with the same problem/question... how can a man who was an elder in at least two churches, who wrote a book on the humor he found in being a Sunday School teacher for many years, and who has admitted to reading the Bible at least once through, dismiss Christ?

The answer, though, is found later in his memoir, near the end of the book. Entrenched near his closing remarks about never leaving showbiz (which is exciting for a long time fan like me), Van Dyke comes back to a theme that he both subtly and directly weaves throughout the tapestry of the book: That it really is all about love. It is in this place where he states that he feels the Buddhists get it right, when broken down to their "big 3 things, as well as Carl Reiner, The New Testament, and the Beatles.

Van Dyke displays a classical case of syncretism, the religion of the modern world. If "traditional" religion were to be compared to ordering one specific dish off of a restaurant menu (I'll take Christianity with a small side of Judiasm, hold the hypocrisy, please), then syncretism would be more like eating at a buffet. The syncretist is not necessarily one who calls himself a "religious man." He may more likely call himself "spiritual" to some degree or another. But, in the end, what this philosophical/theological term describes is akin to someone who peruses through a buffet of choices and selects from them only the pieces he believes fit on his plate.

In so many ways, syncretism is the rule, not the exception in modern day society. This is the reason why a man who has been an elder and Sunday School teacher for so many years can, without quibble, find "what he feels is right" in such diametrically opposed sources as the New Testament (notice he did not say "The Bible," which, if intentional speaks volumes in his omission of the Old Testament) and the Beatles. The Beatles, though this is a discussion for another day, were ardent followers of Alestor Crowley, the "father of modern satanism," and hardly fit in the same category as the New Testament.

Which all boils down to the real question that Mr. Van Dyke has brought up in his book (though as a subtext); Is there really only one way? This question, as I noted on days ago, is one that he answers in his work, asking that very question and then answering with, "No. Not as far as I could tell..."

This is perhaps why he refers often to God and never to Christ (whom he was fond of calling "Our Lord" in his Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, and not at all afraid in that work to mention by Name). You cannot deny that there is only one way and also refer back to Christ. Jesus, as it were, took Himself off the buffet when He pointedly stated that there was only ONE way to the Father, and it is through Him (John 14:6).

And, truly, this is the part of Jesus' message and person that so many are prone to reject today. Like Thomas Jefferson who famously (and quite literally) tore out sections of the Bible that he did not agree with (leaving mostly the history, and parts of the Letters of Paul), post-modern man accepts Jesus as a good moral teacher, a true embodiment of love, a radical feminist (before it was popular to be one), and so many other things, but they do not accept the polarizing statements that Christ made about being the ONLY way by which man can be saved.

Really, this is nothing new. The world has been hammering away at that nail since the day Christ ascended. This is why C. S. Lewis made famous the statement that Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. In all true and proper understandings of the words, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord did NOT leave his inclusion on the buffet menu an option. His claim to be the only unique (Homoousios) Son of God, the way, truth, and life, and the ONLY name under heaven by which man can be saved eliminated that option.

That is why C. S. Lewis famously said that He is either liar, lunatic, or exactly who He said He was. Jesus Christ cannot ever be considered to be "just a good teacher," or even "the perfect prophet" (as Islam is apt to call Him) and make the claims that He did. If he claimed to be God in the flesh (a more shocking claim than we allow for in our own pondering) and He was wrong... he cannot be a good teacher, for He would have to be a liar (eliminating anything "good" from Him), a lunatic, on par with the man who thinks that he is a glass of orange juice (which, also, eliminates Him from being a very good buffet item, despite the tasty sound the OJ reference has to it), or He was exactly who He said He was.

And don't misunderstand, no matter how many times Christ implored people not to tell others about Him, He did not shy away from blocking off ALL other options. He did not shy away from stepping on toes and letting people know that there is, was, and can only be ONE way to heaven... and it is not through good works, or even plain and simple love.

But here we come to the final point. The thing that Dick Van Dyke claims that the Buddhists, The New Testament, and the Beatles got right was "Love." He goes on, apparently through Buddhist vernacular, to describe that as, in essence, a feeling. Love boils down to feeling love from others, and making them feel loved. This reminds me very much of Rob Bell's extremely heretical Love Wins arguments in which he paints a picture of Jesus as only love and little else, thereby creating a new form of Jesus that has little to do with the Biblical revelation, despite focusing on one of its/His key elements.

Of course... Jesus is Love. And all real and true love is borrowed by humans from Him. The Bible says that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). It does not say that He has love... it says that He is love, which may imply that ALL things that are really love are, in reality, Him. But God is not a feeling. And neither is love. You see, just like poor heretical Rob, it seems that Dick Van Dyke misses the rest of the equation.

God is not silent to man about what His character is. He is love, in its true embodiment... but He is also truth, Light, and Holy. In fact, the only time the Bible uses the Hebrew emphatic form of perfection when it is ascribing something to God is when it is said that "God is holy, holy, holy..." (Rev. 4:8). To say that God is love is absolute truth, but you have to be careful to define what love really is.

Van Dyke is also quick to side with justice and hate injustice, which is another aspect of God's heart. In fact, I think that Dick was more correct in leaving his home church all those years ago over them being a bunch of racists than he was wrong... I just wish he would have sought out a group of believers that had a better handle on things, rather than leaving "organized religion" altogether. However he does not stop to ponder (at least in this work) why justice is important or what kind of God calls us to fight against injustice.

In the end, Dick Van Dyke, one of my heroes from childhood to today, falls into the trap of following (and teaching subtly) syncretism through his memoir. And, like Rob Bell, only seems to glimpse a small part of God's true nature, misinterpreting the part that he does get right as something having more to do with feelings than the God Who Is.

My prayer, now, is that Mr. Van Dyke, who admits himself that he is not long for this world, does what he claims to love to do most, and ponders over the true nature of Christ, and His bold claims to exclusivity (which are inclusively offered to all). Of course, it is one thing to read a book, even one so touching and well written as Mr. Van Dyke's and truly get a sense for who that person really is, and where they truly stand before a Holy God of Love.

As Mr. Van Dyke's most famous character, Rob Petrie, once said, "You can draw a heart on a piece of paper, but you can't measure one."

And my heart sends out a prayer for one of my great heroes, that the light of Christ would challenge him to think, before he goes into the everlasting, what it means for Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life... where no man comes to the Father except through Him.

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