What’s your “immortality formula”?

One of my major discoveries during the production of Hellbound? was the work of existential psychologist Ernest Becker. Tragically, he succumbed to lung cancer when he was just 50 years old. But thankfully he was afforded enough time on earth to write The Denial of Death, in which the following quote appears. Becker ranks as one of my top five meta-theorists, the others being Rene Girard, Charles Darwin, Joseph Campbell and Marshall McLuhan.

When we are young we are often puzzled by the fact that each person we admire seems to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a good man is, how to live, and so on. If we are especially sensitive it seems more than puzzling, it is disheartening. What most people usually do is to follow one person’s ideas and then another’s depending on who looms largest on one’s horizon at the time. The one with the deepest voice, the strongest appearance, the most authority and success, is usually the one who gets our momentary allegiance; and we try to pattern our ideals after him. But as life goes on we get a perspective on this and all these different versions of truth become a little pathetic. Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • David Nybakke

    “I know all this is more or less obvious, but it puts our discussion on the proper plane; it teaches us one great lesson — a pill that for modern man may be the bitterest of all to swallow — namely, that we seem to be unable to approach the problem of human evil from the side of psychology.” – Ernest Becker

    I know we all have a craving to wallow in the finger-pointing rhetoric that exploits our violence and our evil (and projecting onto others or God); and delight in playing the stumbling block (like posts of “DJesus Uncrossed” and waving Mark Driscoll quotes around). How do these effects of scandal help to create a safe place for serious dialogue? As Becker (and my mentor Girard) would claim, we must move beyond the evil, to then be able to embrace our complicity in it and to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

    • Kevin Miller

      That’s really the journey I’ve been on for some time now, David, though that doesn’t make it any less likely that I’ll lapse into finger-pointing at any given moment. Going back to my days studying family systems therapy, I realized that individuals who act out are typically manifesting community problems rather than individual dysfunction. Certain individuals just happen to be most susceptible to whatever stress is being experienced by the system. The solution then is not to scapegoat and punish individuals but rather to figure out what stressors are acting upon the system and how to deal with them more constructively so that negative energy doesn’t keep getting trapped within the system.

  • http://aramis3massketeers.blogspot.com/ David Nybakke

    The solution then is not to scapegoat and punish individuals but rather to figure out what stressors are acting upon the system and how to deal with them more constructively so that negative energy doesn’t keep getting trapped within the system.

    Right. Is this something that plays out in what you do today? Your film projects? I ask this not so much about you as much as I ask myself these things. Being a spiritual director I am challenged and am challenging myself to find these stress points and attempting to lower their effect on all of us. If not able to do this in our day to day work and family situations then I don’t believe we will be effective in helping ourselves or anyone else out of the traps within the system. That is why I posted here – why throw up to all the harmful dysfunctionalities of ourselves, viewed through the most blatant of society, when we have the opportunity to constructively bring healing and/or reconciliation?

    • Kevin Miller

      For me, the concept of a God who sends people to eternal torment or separation or who annihilates the “wicked” is a significant stressor on the system. So yes, my work is definitely directed toward minimizing such sources of negative energy. Unfortunately, sometimes that means dragging some rather ugly things into the light to expose them for what they really are. As you’ll see in the film though (I keep forgetting you haven’t seen the film), it doesn’t stop there. Rather, we are all brought to a point of accountability and humility.

  • http://aramis3massketeers.blogspot.com/ David Nybakke

    I go back to Becker (and Girard, Alison and others) who have come to the conclusion that we need to bring a new language partner into the discussion as our conventional partners like psychology and philosophy keep us separate from one another (granted, some separateness is needed).

    “I know all this is more or less obvious, but it puts our discussion on the proper plane; it teaches us one great lesson — a pill that for modern man may be the bitterest of all to swallow — namely, that we seem to be unable to approach the problem of human evil from the side of psychology.” – Ernest Becker


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