By Michael J. Klassen
In the movie The Invention Of Lying, Mark Bellison (played by Ricky Gervais) lives in a world where everyone tells the truth.
In Bellison’s world, no heaven exists. When people die, they pass into an eternity of nothingness. But while trying to comfort his mother in her dying moments, Bellison assuages her fears by making up a story about what will happen next.
He describes a “better place,” a world of perfect love and happiness, where she will be surrounded by her family and friends. Relieved, his mother dies in peace. But in that moment, he discovers that he doesn’t need to tell the truth.
Not so ironically, the “better place” sounds an awful lot like modern Christianity. And in the movie, the faith that Bellison describes is a lie.
The Movie Takes A Swing At Christianity
When the movie was released, Christians were incensed. Interestingly enough, in real life Ricky Gervais proclaims himself an avowed atheist. In 2008 he was named an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and two years later he wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal defending his lack of faith.
While explaining to his dying mother that a better place awaits her after she dies, her doctor and nurses are standing behind him, listening. Astonished that they had never heard about this better place, they begin telling their friends.
Bellison soon becomes a worldwide sensation. People gather outside his home begging to know more. Meanwhile, Bellison agonizes inside, fashioning a new faith that everyone will believe. Slowly he inscribes the tenets on the back of two pizza boxes.
A few hours later, he steps outside and announces, “Everything you need to know is written on these pizza boxes.”
Then, like Moses, he stands before an enthusiastic crowd to explain the ten beliefs on his list. You can watch the video clip by clicking here:
1. There is a man in the sky who controls everything.
2. When you die, you don’t disappear into an eternity of nothingness. Instead, you go to a really great place.
3. In that place, everyone will get a mansion.
4. When you die, all the people you love will be there.
5. When you die, there will be free ice cream for everyone, all day and all night, whatever flavors you can think of.
6. If you do bad things, you won’t get to go to this great place when you die. Bad things include rape, murder, or punching someone. You get three chances.
Numbers 7 and 8 don’t aren’t explained in the movie.
9. The man in the sky who controls everything decides if you go to the good place or the bad place. He also decides who lives and who dies.
10. Even if the man in the sky does bad things to you, he makes up for it with an eternity of good stuff after you die.
Is The Premise A Lie?
Amidst the overwhelming criticism by people of faith—most notably Christians—the movie failed miserably in the box office, grossing only $18.4 million despite a clever manuscript and an all-star cast featuring Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Tina Fey.
So was it a lie? Is it?
In the scene where he announces the “Ten Commandments,”, the crowd insists that Bellison carefully explain Rule Number 6: “If you do bad things, you won’t get to go to this great place when you die.”
For two hours, he clarifies what can prevent people from going to the good place. Finally, he explains that “bad things” boil down to our intentions: hurting people on purpose, stealing on purpose, murdering people on purpose.
Was Bellison’s explanation a lie?
Yes! A thousand times “Yes!”
The Invention Of Lying offers a glimpse of how secular people view the Christian faith. Good people do good things. Bad people do bad things. If we do enough good things, we go to heaven—and beware that we don’t exceed the limit of committing three bad things.
The religion that the movie rejects is based on being a good person. We earn our way to heaven.
If that’s true, though, then Jesus came to earth in vain. The Bible rejects that particular religion as well. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8 tells us.
As the movie attests, differentiating good people from bad people isn’t easy. How do you determine what makes a good person good enough to go to heaven or bad enough to go to “the bad place”?
The Bible makes the difference abundantly clear: there isn’t one. In our heart of hearts, we’re all bad people deserving of the bad place. We cannot be good enough to earn a mansion in heaven. That’s why our heavenly father sent his only son Jesus to earth. All we can do is accept his offer of forgiveness for our sin. Then he gives us eternal life so we can go to “the good place.”
Christmas Isn’t About Being Good
This Sunday marks the first Sunday of Advent on the Christian church calendar. The word “Advent” means “beginning.” While Christmas day is the culmination of Advent, the weeks beforehand, starting with this Sunday, help us reflect on the true meaning of our faith.
Our faith rests solely on the greatest gift of all–a gift we can neither earn nor deserve: Jesus Christ.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s working hard this Christmas season at trying to avoid being sucked into the consumerism vortex.