Dan's Real Life is A Lie

One strange cultural passion is getting advice.  This is not the same as taking advice, mind you.  As a culture we seem to love to be told, “the right thing,” or, “what I should do,” even if we don’t generally follow through.  The success of Oprah is a great example, but despite her massive empire she is just the tip of the iceberg.    Thousands of radio shows, newspapers, and websites hire people whose ENTIRE job is to give others advice on how to live.  When we watch a movie like Dan in Real Life, nobody questions the fact that his job includes helping a high school kid to better understand his parents.

A fun exercise is to take several of these advice columnists and the problems they deal with, and then compare their answers to the answers a famous philosopher might give.  A question about whether to confess infidelity would receive a much more interesting answer if Ayn Rand were the advisor rather than Dear Prudence!

Do this exercise several times, and you begin to see a consistent pattern.  Advice columnists, for the most part, do not have a consistent and well-articulated worldview (whereas a philosopher, though they can be just as wrong, usually tries to be more consistent).  In other words, they practice (and preach, as an occupation!) a morality that does not square with their beliefs and basic assumptions about the world.  This inconsistency is, I think, descriptive of our culture as a whole.  We tell ourselves that the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism we grew up on is rational, but really it is lazy.

In terms of a Christian response, let me get a little aggressive here.  I do sometimes listen to or read secular advice-givers, because I am interested in expanding my understanding of the pain and loneliness in our country.  However, I think it is dangerous and very close to being wrong for a Christian to consistently heed the, “wisdom,” of a non-Christian adviser, even if that adviser seems to have a conservative philosophy (in other words, do NOT let Dr. Phil tell you how to live!).  It is submission to worldly wisdom rather than godly wisdom, and it subtly alters your morality from the joyful obedience of the Christian to the lazy humanism of the American public.

When you come to an important moral decision, will Christ guide your footsteps, or will Oprah whisper in your ear?  Will you worry more about your child receiving right guidance through discipline, or self-esteem through constant affirmation?  Will you confess sin, or share how your mother ruined your life?  Do your kids need a friend or a father?  Will you honor godly leaders or will you join a church that makes you feel more at home and less judged?

Christian, don’t listen to secular advisers in the area of morality.  Don’t hold them up as examples for your kids.  Don’t share their pseudo-psychology, however philosophically conservative, if it isn’t based on the truth of the Gospel.  Don’t treat those whose goals are different as though they are close allies.

We as Christians must reject false advisers if we desire to proclaim the separate uniqueness of a Gospel-centered worldview to a culture too lazy to know the difference.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • http://engagingculture.com Logan Mauldin

    So Ben, aside from the advice not to listen to pop psychology over scripture, is there any thing else you have to say about the movie?

    What about the affirmation that, “Love is not a feeling… It’s an ability.”? Is that true? Is love a talent you can pick up like juggling?

    ***SPOILER***

    Is there a reason that the movie ended with the wedding? Was it because the writers had no idea how to show their love working in “real life?” Will there be a sequel called “Divorce in Real Life”?

    ***END SPOILER***

    And what about that family? I loved it! I’m not really into family gatherings and what not, but that film had me wanting to be a part of a huge family that could (and would want to) do all kinds of fun activities together. I think the real love was shown between Dan and his parents.

    Overall, I thought the movie was funny with some touching moments. Steve Carell continues to impress me with his acting ability, while Dane Cook, though funny, disappoints with his melodrama. I would recommend it. Just watch out that you don’t get swept up in the syrupy sweetness that you swallow some bitter ideologies by accident.

    Logan Mauldin’s last blog post..Best Bet: Smart People

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Hey Logan,

    Thanks for asking!

    Actually, I really enjoyed the movie in a lot of ways. If I get the chance, maybe I’ll do a review. But you’re certainly right that its worldview is by no means a Christian one. That said, there is a lot to learn about hypocrisy, family, love, etc.

    In this case, though, I was merely using the movie to highlight the cultural comfort with the profession, where we spend all kinds of time listening to people whose worldviews are often highly inconsistent, and are certainly inconsistent with Christian faith.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Healthy Interaction About Obama

  • Mike

    Ben,
    Likewise appreciate the sentiments of your “commentary”. As a pastor it used to be easy to point out false teachers but now with people like Dr. Phil, Oprah and Rush there seems to be a “rush” (pun intended) to listen to these successful people because they must have figured it all out..after all they are successful. But we don’t look behind the camera. We only see what we want to see…because what they have is what we want.

    As I said, it is harder today to “bash” these false teachers since there is just enough truth to sound as if there is a lot of truth (in the case of Rush Limbaugh at least he isn’t making any pretense about faith or morality in his discussions beyond common sense) and with so much relativism floating around a little is better than none. But then I mess up and ask, Why does that have to be all we expect? So what I have been doing knowing that many do listen to these folks…rather than calling them out I compare what they have said with specific biblical doctrine/passages and I get a real quizzical look from those who are actually sincere in their walk with Christ. To the point that they begin to wonder..rather than slapping at thier heros… let’s compare specifics since no one wants generalities anymore… and that often does the trick to at least get them thinking. It is interesting that God’s Word is in competition with the world’s wisdom but obviously that is the way it has been since the Fall or God wouldn’t spend so much time talking about it in His Word.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article and further explanation with Logan.

  • http://wyszukuj.wpaski.com/bestblogs/bloggif.html Elisha Fournier

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