One of the things I find most interesting about acting as an art form is that though it can be used to do great good, it is, at base, a lie. When I dress up and go out on stage to tell a story, no matter how important the story I am setting out to portray, no matter how admirable the character (cf. Dickon), I am in truth pretending to be someone I’m not — lying about my identity.
But one strange truth about the whole process is that the more you pour into that lie — the more you behave and move and think as though you were that character, the more you pretend as though the stage environment was not only the natural environment but the sole environment — the better the show. In effect, the more you lie about yourself, the more you tell the truth about the story.
In a (very loose!) sense, Christianity calls us similarly to lie about ourselves. I wrote previously about bravado (warning: the post contains swearing) and quoted C.S. Lewis as saying that “all mortals turn into the thing they are pretending to be.” Romans 13 tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as though we were dressing up to be him. Colossians calls us to “put to death, therefore belongs to your earthly nature.” What other nature do we have but Christ’s in us? If I die to myself, my options are to stay dead (unpreferable) or to rise to life as something else, something besides what I was. What option have we but as “a little Christ,” as Lewis says?
Why is this even important? Why not just go along being ourselves? The answer is the same for Christianity as it is for Hamlet: the story is too important for our pride. Don’t we say things like “she’s perfect for the role of Ophelia” because of her ability to make Ophelia seem real, and not herself? Would any of us attend a show (besides [title of show]) where the actors on stage referred to themselves by their real names and not their characters’ names? Is not the story of Christ’s redemption of humanity infinitely more important than the story of some Danish prince? In both stagecraft and Christianity, the goal is to tell the story as truthfully as possible — which in both cases amounts to doing our best to pretend.
I will end with another C.S. Lewis quote on the nature of at least the Christianity half of the above concept of pretending. I wish I could put the whole chapter, but since that would probably amount to copyright infringement, I will just put the last paragraph of a chapter in Mere Christianity:
I have been talking as if it were we who did everything. In reality of course, it is God who does everything. We, at most, allow it to be done to us. In a sense you might even say it is God who does the pretending. The three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centred, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says ‘Let us pretend that this is nto a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact it is not. Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality.’ God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands besides you to turn you into one. I daresay this idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But, is it so strange really? Is not that how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they were ‘almost human’: that is why they become ‘almost human’ in the end.