The Stephen King Method

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Photo of Stephen King by PinguinoI was just watching the documentary "A Night at the Movies" where Stephen King reviewed horror movies from several decades. Somewhere about halfway through, King told of a phone conversation with Stanley Kubrick who was producing a movie based on one of his books. "Stephen!" he said. "I've always thought that ghost stories were rather optimistic." "How so?" King asked. "Well, the idea of a ghost suggests that we survive death. Don't you find that optimistic?" "But what about hell?" King asked. King said there was a long silence, followed by (King imitated a clipped voice) "I don't believe in hell." King answered this with "Some of us do..."

This exchange is fascinating. American Christianity has generations of revivalism followed by generations of marketing to the point where people could with little compunction speak of "closing the sale." I know that a generation ago, language like that would be used openly. I don't know how it is now. I suspect that for marketing reasons, that language has probably been put under wraps.

But what I like about the above conversation is that it was real and natural. King has some kind of belief in God, but was probably under no inner compulsion to do anything we would term evangelism. But his asking of a question led to a possible new turn in someone's thinking. There is something to be learned from this.

Many of us have areas where we don't like the idea of having the burden of defending the faith at all points. While the faith as a whole seems compelling to us and very defensible, other parts really do feel like articles of faith, where our overall trust overrides whatever trouble we sense in that area.

This was something I struggled with as the youngest by many years in my family. As a youngster, I hated being caught not knowing things. It made me strive to understand as much as I could so that I wouldn't again be caught in that position. I was helped out of that when someone I admired said there was too much pretended omniscience in the culture. It might actually be advantageous NOT to have to act like one knew everything.

In the years since, apologetics ministries that aspire to having an answer for EVERYTHING have started to look sad to me. I would prefer a few quality answers given with an "I don't know" on the rest. And perhaps a reference about whom they can check with for more. I think this is a broader cultural problem that these apologists haven't created whole cloth. They are responding to an environment they have never been outside. I just find it exhausting.

I think perhaps we need to think of this like we do spiritual gifts. Not all of us are going to be the defenders of the whole castle. We are better equipped for some things than others. Not every archer knows how to wield a sword. And not every swordsman knows how to raise and lower the drawbridge. Stephen King has a sense of the afterlife that makes it easy for him to bring it up. Those who share that sense might be good at doing the same, however strong or weak they are on other points.

King's response to Kubrick reminds me of how much one conversation might do. And this is the kind of conversation I think many of us might find ourselves in. I like this one because this is one where my own convictions match the conversation. What if we are immortal? Is that a good thing in a moral universe? What may be the drawbacks?

C.S. Lewis pursued this line of thought in That Hideous Strength, where an organization that thought it could conquer death through natural means considered how it might have to punish enemies who had this technology with eternal punishment. This suggests why eternal life is a bad idea to give to fallen people. It is merciful to withhold it.

Forget closing the sale. Focus on opening the mind. Then let it go.