MacGuffins, politics and God

Raiders of the Lost Ark © Paramount Pictures

Politics and God don’t mix, and the reason is because they have different MacGuffins. I never knew what a MacGuffin was until I read an article about how politics has become “MacGuffinized.” Unless you’re a film student, or a pedantic follower of Alfred Hitchcock, you’re probably as much in the dark as I was, so let me enlighten you.

A MacGuffin is a plot device used to motivate the characters in conflict; it’s something they both want. Hitchcock referred to it as something the audience doesn’t care about, but about which the characters care deeply. One example of a MacGuffin cited in the political article was the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You get the idea.

The “MacGuffinization” of politics means that the actual policies and principles of the politicians don’t matter to their supporters. It only matters that in the great struggle to obtain those policies, the heroes defeat the villains. It’s all about the narrative, the emotions, and what political consultants cynically call “the optics.”

For the last six and a half years (more if you count his 2008 campaign), President Obama has managed his optics to create maximum hero-worship by those who were most interested in him being a “good” president, using various MacGuffins like ending the Iraq war, health care reform, and now the Iran deal to create the needed conflict with his villains.

And now Donald Trump is running for president using his own MacGuffins: immigration being the foremost. Trump’s supporters see him as every ounce the hero that Obama fans espouse about their political savior.

Then I read Jonah Goldberg’s comments on political MacGuffins (if you have never read Mr. Goldberg, please, indulge yourself and find him at National Review—you’ll either love him or hate him, but either way your head may explode).

In an offhand remark, Goldberg wrote that he has a grievance about exceptions to the rule of MacGuffins (let me remind you that the rule is the audience doesn’t care what the MacGuffin is).

Sometimes you really do care about the MacGuffin, particularly when the MacGuffin is a baby. Imagine if you replaced the golden idol in the first scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark with a live infant.

‘Throw me the whip!’
‘Throw me the baby!’

Using children, puppies, or kittens as the MacGuffin tends to make the audience care more about their fate than the hero’s conflict, which can make for some very awkward (read: poor) movies.

Although Goldberg meant this as a humorous aside, he touched on a very central truth on why politics and God don’t mix. You can have Godly people in politics, and you can have policy discussions on how to accommodate God in the political realm, but you can’t have God and politics together.

And the reason is the MacGuffin.

God’s MacGuffin is us. You, me, your mother, your father, siblings, kids, grandkids, your whole family, and mine too. We are what God wants—what motivates Him. We don’t like being the MacGuffin; it’s sort of uncomfortable, isn’t it? We want to care about other things, like politics, but God cares about us.

So like an awkward movie, we lose the plot and start checking our iPhones in the theater, trying not to walk out too conspicuously. Being the MacGuffin hits way too close to home.

Politics has become a cage match between champions, whom we alternately cheer and boo, and to the victor goes the prize. The actual policies, programs, and government sausage-making don’t seem to change much no matter which hero occupies the Oval Office (or governor’s mansion, or congressional seat).

From God’s perspective, what happens to the MacGuffin is of supreme importance to us—and to Him, if you believe what the Bible says. Our fate is more than just a mere plot device, and God is more than just a hero in a story. No politician, no matter what he or she says, can possibly care more for you and your fate than you do.

And that’s why God isn’t a politician, and why politicians shouldn’t be worshipped as gods.

Published in the Houston Home Journal 9/16/15

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