Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Are Good People Boring?

We got season 5 of the show House for Christmas. One plot line has Dr House finding out embarrassing details of the various character's lives by hiring a private detective. There is one character, Foreman, he can't find any dirt on. House dismisses him as boring. Then they have a follow-up conversation reenforcing that comment that this Foreman character, who is the only moral character on the show, is boring.

Now in thinking about this post I am reminded of some debates about World Cup Soccer. I have pointed out that if you have to argue something is not boring then you are already in a lot of trouble. So I don't want to go there. I do think we often find good people less superficially attractive. There are a bunch of reasons for it. One is because we like to sin vicariously. We don't want to do drugs but we like to hear about any excitement generated by them in someone else's life. We don't cheat on our spouse but we want all the details when someone else does. It is an affection for sin. It can rob us of our spiritual joy. That can make us boring people.

The other problem is we are scared to look too close at good people. Certainly fiction will dig endlessly into the depths of evil. We love Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet because of their tragic flaws. Hollywood has endless attempts to plumb the depths of drug addiction and sex addiction and whatever else. But what about what makes a good person tick? When you explore goodness humans feel pressured to respond. They feel like you are preaching at them. When you show the source of a character's goodness you issue an implicit demand that everyone pursue that source too. That is the nature of goodness. If we fail to pursue it we are failing as human beings.

I was at a hockey banquet last night. There were a couple of inspirational speakers there. I found they suffered from this as well. They had their lives changed by coming into contact with something good. But they refused to explore that good thing in any depth. Why not? Because when you do you are talking about religion. When you do that it demands a response. Often these stories are Christian stories with the God talk removed. Someone suffered terribly and through their faith in Jesus they were able to move from being an angry person to being a joyful person. People hear that and think it it is an incredible story of the human spirit. That the God stuff is just an aside. But it is not off to the side. It is the foundation. Why was this person OK with a life that was very different and in some ways much less than the one he had dreamed of? Because he believes God meant him to be what he is and not what he dreamed. Once he gets that the envy and anger can melt away he can be truly joyful. But if he believed it was just bad luck that took away his dreams then why should he not be angry at life and envious of those who get to live the life he dreamed of?

So how could the House writers make Foreman more interesting? Give him a compelling reason to be good. Don't just take away the sin and replace it with nothing. Certainly don't take away the difficulties in life. Good people have challenges. Most of the suffering on the show is self-inflicted so Foreman has none. That is not real. You still suffer. Your suffering just does good. Love does amazing good but it opens us up to suffering. It is not boring.

Thinking about it makes me wonder how much contraception has played a role here. Certainly contraception makes marriage boring. The protestant endorsement of contraception is really a big embrace of boredom. God wants to make you fruitful but you can be safe instead. You can have a sterile Christianity where you don't do anything good or bad. God wants our cup to run over and we just want to turn it off. Half full is fine ... and water please because wine is to dangerous!

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