Thursday, October 30, 2008
Stranger than (Science) Fiction
Seventy years ago tonight, on October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Radio Theatre on the Air presented their infamous broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Whereas Wells’ 1898 story about a Martian invasion of Earth was set in England, the radio broadcast had the events of the invasion occur at Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
The format of the radio presentation featured fictional news bulletins detailing the events of the invasion. Some people upon tuning in to the broadcast and not realizing it was a radio drama thought that a real invasion had taken place. A considerable amount of panic ensued. In 1975 I watched a made for television film about those events entitled The Night that Panicked America that depicted a pretty severe panic.
The Orson Welles broadcast also figured into the plot of one of the greatest and most under-appreciated movies ever made, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension. That 1984 film, which stars Peter Weller as brain surgeon/scientist/adventurer/rock & roller Buckaroo Banzai (if he were a preacher he’d be everything I’ve ever wanted to be!), asserts that aliens did in fact come to Grovers Mill in 1938 and that they brainwashed Orson Welles into presenting the radio broadcast so that people would think it was all a hoax. Like I said, it’s a great movie.
I don’t know how widespread the 1938 panic really was but it doesn’t surprise me that people did indeed become frightened. Some have speculated that people’s anxieties over the rising Nazi threat of that era fed into the fear that burst forth upon hearing the broadcast and that may be so. Even without the Nazi threat in the background, though, hearing a very legitimate sounding radio broadcast about an alien invasion or other threat would panic folks even today. Some similar panic was reported as recently as 1983 when NBC aired the television film Special Bulletin, which looked very much like a real newscast of a terrorist threat to explode a nuclear bomb in Charleston harbor, even though continual alerts were given that the movie was a dramatization. We were still in the midst of the Cold War so there were contextual fears in the background then, too.
Any way you look at it, though, the panic over the 1938 War of the Worlds radio show was irrational.
It is no more irrational, though, than some of the fears that people are feeling and expressing as we approach next Tuesday’s presidential election. Now, don’t misunderstand me—there are clear differences between the policies and approaches of the two candidates and so which candidate wins the election will certainly make a difference. I understand that someone can be so sure that a particular candidate or party represents her views about what America is and should be that she can’t help but be troubled to think of the other candidate winning and then leading in ways with which she will not agree.
What I cannot understand is a person giving in to panic over the thought of the “other” candidate winning, especially if the person giving in to that panic is a Christian who claims to trust in the Lord.
I have enough trouble grasping how any American who pays attention to the way this country operates could be overwhelmed by anxiety as they think about the upcoming election. While one person, particularly when that person is President, certainly can make a huge difference, we have considerable checks and balances, not the least of which is our ability to vote our leaders out if we believe they are leading us down a wrong path. I myself confess to having some concern about the divisions that are present in our country and I have been troubled at the ways in which this campaign has accentuated and played to those divisions. Still, I am always heartened when I remember how the vast majority of our citizens accepted President Bush as the legitimate President following the contested election of 2000. Let’s face it—many countries would have had blood in the streets under such circumstances. I have great faith in the resiliency of America.
But more to the point—I have even greater faith in God. We Christians are not supposed to put our ultimate trust in rulers or in countries or in governments or in economies or in armies or in missiles or in policies or in anything else of the earth. We are supposed to put our ultimate trust in the Ultimate One—in God Almighty. And God Almighty has revealed God’s self most fully in God’s Son Jesus Christ who exemplified God’s ways for us.
So…we who are Christians should live in these days as in all days—with great trust in God that shows itself in Christ-like lives, attitudes, words, and actions. We should have such great faith that we can exhibit grace, love, and hope in any and all circumstances. After all, to trust in less than God is idolatry and thus is sin.
For a Christian to panic in the face of something as fleeting as an election is to me something much stranger than (science) fiction. We should instead live in constant grace, love, and hope. After all, whether McCain or Obama ends up sitting in the Oval Office, what really matters is that God is still on the throne.