SCP Newsletter, AUTUMN 1998, Volume 23:1

Except for the engaging acting of Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come, this technology-driven fable is like eating a perfectly painted Styrofoam apple--it is without taste or nourishment, toxic to the last bite. But Dreams is valuable: it shows us what life--even life as we imagine it at its best--is like without God who is sovereign, personal, and present. Although intended for an opposite purpose by its New Age author and producer, Dreams has the side effect of being a pre-evangelistic catalyst at several points (much like The Devil's Advocate).

Dreams teaches us that even a prosperous, well educated, two-kids-and-a-dog life cannot prevent deadly accidents and suicide. The dog is "put to sleep," the children die in a car crash, the dad dies trying to save the victim of a speeding motorist, and mom finally succeeds in committing suicide.

Dreams portrays heaven as a prison consisting in cells of solitary (albeit perfect-for-me) confinement which are constructed by the ultimate extension of our earthly imaginations. Upon occasion we venture from our cells to a recreation yard consisting in the consensus of our imaginations; but ultimately, I prefer mine and you prefer yours. Those who we meet appear as we wish they were, not as they are: your daughter appears as the airline stewardess from Singapore Airlines because she knows that's what you always wanted her to be; your son appears as your professional mentor because your son knows you will listen to your mentor first (though the son was previously born as the mentor then the son). This is a place were you cannot trust what you see because what you see may be someone else's thought.

Dreams explains hell as another prison occupied by those who refuse to "own" the truth of their lives. Mom is in hell because she will not own the truth that she did not cause the death of her children and because she refuses to realize death doesn't mean the kids are dead. The damned damn themselves.

In Dreams the savior is one who forfeits his heaven to be with you in your hell. The damned save themselves by changing their minds, which they are motivated to do by the selfish intent to avoid another tragedy. Dad descends to hell to find mom who is wallowing in her self-deceit. Unable to restore her right-thinking, dad decides to join mom permanently in her hell. As mom sees dad forfeit his (optimistic, courageous, encouraging, playful) mind and succumb to her (defeated, self-absorbed, negative) mind, she shrieks in pain. (It is her pain for herself: she cannot tolerate yet another tragedy.) In the shrieking moment, an inexplicable, colorless, timeless chasm has been crossed: mom and dad are in their heaven.

Who and where is God in Dreams? God is "up there" and he is "loving us." But god (small "g") does not decide if we should be born (or born again), if hell or heaven are permanent, if behavior has consequences, or if consequences are real or imaginary. So what is god's "love"? It is the "love" of a god that abandons us before birth, who leaves us to our own devices, a god who is more concerned with something else. God is an absentee landlord and we are the tenants. Our relationship to god is the relationship of an orphan to a parent who has never written, never called, never visited, and never helped... like the child of a father whose career "is really going somewhere." God does his thing and we do ours. Of course it is the god of pantheism and has been all along.

In the end (or rather, in one of the infinite number of endings), mom and dad, the kids and the dog are reunited in a perfect Kodak moment: the leaping, spotted dog, mom holding her daughter to her breast, the son smiling with teary eyes, and dad looking on with deep gratitude. We should be delighted and relieved; rather, we are suspicious, and rightly so. Mom and dad decide to be born again, to go back and make smarter decisions.

And as the credits roll we realize these delightful children are at the mercy of their thoughts and destined for a timeless place which is out of control, being the figment of each inhabitant's imagination. This is Russian roulette of infinite and eternal proportions, the greatest mercy of which is to select the cylinder with the bullet.

The dream that will come is not a dream of justice or mercy, perfection or peace. The dream to come is not a dream of seeing God, of being free from deception, of right reigning. Rather the dream--and there is only one-- that will come is Hell: Hell as a coin: one side bright and the other blighted, but both are hell to be sure.

Vic Downing--an SCP friend and subscriber--is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz and an ex-New Ager from the 1960's baby boom generation. Now CEO of GlobalAdvantage, Vic advises high end corporations and is a resident of Berkeley. When he is not on his boat in the San Francisco Bay with his wife, Vic is culture watching.

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