Welcome to the “Theatre of the Absurd”
As a drama major in college, I learned enough about the “Theatre of the Absurd” to know it wasn’t a stage on which I wanted to play.
Theater of the Absurd assumed that human existence has no inherent meaning. As a result, “communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech.”
We get a hint of the absurdity in Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Playing President in the Theater of the Absurd
I feel like we’re living in the Theater of the Absurd when I see the relentless Tweets from the President, watch his latest rant on the White House lawn, catch a glimpse of his fact-free harangues in his ego-boosting rallies, or see the way his staff and the Fox news propaganda team try to make sense of his off-the-cuff distractions, like his suggestion that the U.S. buy Greenland. Denmark’s Prime Minister got it right when she called this “absurd,” which, of course, threw the President into a tantrum in which he canceled a state visit (not a small or inexpensive thing!) like a self-absorbed child throwing away the toy he didn’t like.
For our President, words mean whatever he wants them to mean. He seems to lack any inner awareness that what he says either can be or has already been proven to be false. Attempts to make sense of what this President says lands us center stage in the Theater of the Absurd.
Things moved from absurd toward heretical when the President Tweeted his approval of the words of a radio host who called Trump “the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.” Within 24 hours, he looked up to the sky and declared, “I am the chosen one!”
The problem is that Trump isn’t playing President on a theater stage or in a “reality” TV show. Words matter. What the President says makes a real difference, as evidenced by the roller coaster ride of the stock market last week. What the President says is resulting in children being isolated from their parents in detention (i.e. concentration) camps, the KKK and white supremist groups rising, endangered species facing quicker extinction, former allies being treated as enemies and present enemies being treated as friends, FEMA funds being diverted to the border at the beginning of hurricane season, and the framework of democracy defined by our Constitution being undermined or shredded for the sake of an autocratic leader.
In 1765, Voltaire, one of the Enlightenment thinkers who helped lay the philosophical foundation for our democracy, declared:
Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.
He went on to warn:
If you do not use the intelligence with which God endowed your mind to resist believing impossibilities, you will not be able to use the sense of injustice which God planted in your heart to resist a command to do evil…This has been the cause of all the religious crimes that have flooded the earth.
Christians in the Theater of the Absurd
As a follower of Christ who was ordained to proclaim the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32 ), my deepest concern is not only the damage that Trumpian absurdity is doing to our nation and our world, but the deeper and perhaps irreparable damage it is doing to the witness of the Christian faith.
The absurdity is the way supposedly Christian leaders have been willing to compromise the truth of the gospel for the sake of political power. That’s exactly the temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-7). But Jesus resisted the temptation by speaking the truth, while folks like Franklin Graham have taken the bait and sacrificed the truth of Jesus’ words on the altar of political power.
Speaking the Truth That Makes a Difference
Fifty-six years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke truth that was rooted squarely in both scripture and our history. Along with all the unnamed heroes of the Civil Rights movement, he lifted before the nation the Founders’ vision of who we are yet to become.
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., often said, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.” I dare to believe that words of truth and love will still lead us out of the theater of the absurd, into the light and hope of a new and better day.
Grace and peace,