“Mr. Church”: How Plausibility Structures Work

Plausibility is a word we don’t often hear in church (ever?), but the concept plays a crucial role in helping us keep our kids Christian. A familiar word, it is defined thus: having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable. One of the basic premises of my book is that most people reject the Christian faith, or drift away from it, not because they’ve studied all the evidence, worked through the logic of it, and come to a conclusion, but because it doesn’t seem real to them.  It is not plausible to them. If we add structure to the word, we get a building, a structure, of belief in our minds such that certain things seem real and credible to us, and others don’t. The culture we inhabit contributes to that conceptual edifice.

One of the most powerful reality-generating phenomenon ever created by reality-generating creatures is Hollywood, not the city in southern California, but the industry of entertainment. It would be impossible to overstate Hollywood’s influence on the worldview of the American people, and if we’re not careful, our kids. But unlike some Christians who fear Hollywood’s influence, I believe Hollywood offers Christians innumerable opportunities to solidify the faith of their children.

I took advantage of one such opportunity when I recently watched the movie Mr. Church with my wife and 14 year-old son. The concise plot from IMDB (and spoiler alert):

“Mr. Church” tells the story of a unique friendship that develops when a little girl and her dying mother retain the services of a talented cook – Henry Joseph Church. What begins as a six month arrangement instead spans into fifteen years and creates a family bond that lasts forever.

Not only does the mother die, but so does Mr. Church. Yet despite this constant reminder of mortality, no one in the movie seems the least bit inclined to bring up what God may have to do with it. I don’t know if there is any intended irony of the cook’s last name being Church, but an actual church never makes a showing in the movie.

Those watching “Mr. Church” uncritically (which Christians should never do) and for simple enjoyment, would come away from it seeing the idea of life without God as completely plausible. You can enjoy it, shed some tears, find much of it deeply moving and profound, and have the notion of God being a complete irrelevancy to life embedded a bit more deeply in your subconscious. If you are not careful. This is one way plausibility structures come to frame reality for us. It is done subtly and without intention, and in due course done over and over again a reality without God becomes more and more plausible to us. But in our house we never watch anything uncritically.

After the movie ended, I asked my son a simple question. Don’t you think something so painful, so sad, so apparently wrong like death would elicit some kind of question like, WHY IS THERE DEATH!!! We all HATE death. We are all afraid of death. Death mocks us at every turn, especialy as we age and this sack of bones succumbs to entropy and decay. Yet many people treat death as if it were from Disney’s “Central Casting,” just part of the circle of life. The writers of Mr. Church would like us to think so.

In my next post I’ll show how death lends credibility to the Christian faith, while making atheism/materialism less credible.