It’s not the “what”, it’s the “why”

I’m currently reading “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon. The book is set in New York during the late 1930s and ’40s – the Golden Age of comic books – and the titular heroes of the novel are budding comic book creators.

In an early scene they are discussing a potential hero for their own story: Should he fly? Should he be super-strong? Should he be invisible? (A little hard to draw that one, perhaps, but anyway…) Various combinations of superpowers are discussed, until Clay, the writer, has a sudden moment of revelation:

It’s not the what, it’s the why.

The character will not be interesting because of what crazy super-power that they give him, or even because of how he uses that remarkable talent. Readers will be far more interested in why he chooses to act in that way. Why does Batman not just lounge about in his luxurious mansion, but instead go out at night and battle against the criminal underworld? Those are the questions that drive the story and the readers’ interest in the character.

As with art, so too with life.

All people have the capacity for selfishness and for self-sacrifice, for nobility and for malice, for good and for evil. But why do we choose to act in one way or another?

I believe that all people are created in God’s image, and I therefore strive to love them as children of God. I often fail, but that’s the why. If I take care of someone who’s sick, if I feed someone who’s hungry, if I donate my time and energy to trying to show others some of God’s love in action, that’s why I do it. Because I want to be obedient to the God who created me and gave me life.

What’s your “why”?

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Related posts:

Living a good and/or Christian life

The timidity of New Atheists

A theoretical faith

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4 thoughts on “It’s not the “what”, it’s the “why”

  1. First, it is good to hear that you are back in “the land of the living.” Being that I am re-reading “Mere Christianity” I am quite tempted to address this question with some of his words–however, that probably necessitates a multi-post series. Suffice it to say that one word you use in your final sentence is vitally important–that is the word “want.” When Christ brings life change, one of the things He transforms is the “want to.”

    • Thanks, Jeff – I was away for a couple of months getting married and visiting my far-flung family, but I’m back in action again now.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. I’m sorry I was distracted by how utterly terrifying this comic cover is.

    Look at it! There is some sap about to be operated on (or sexually assaulted) by a roomful of tentacled brain-aliens while a space princess looks on. He thinks his day can’t get any worse, and then a giant astronaut amazon appears, jet pack ablazing, clutching what appears to be an atomic bomb in one fist and blasting the space princess with her oversized ray-gun. Meanwhile while all this madness is happening, saucermen from mars are also launching an attack from a floating island.

    I don’t know about you, but I have to find out how this nightmare turns out!

    • Well, grab ahold of Planet Comics issue 71 from your local dealer and find out! (Not that I get kickbacks or anything…)

      The world of comic books is indeed a strange and frightening place.

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