I used to watch a little wrestling growing up, as plenty of kids did back in the day. Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, the Junk Yard Dog, the Von Erich’s—all characters of my childhood. I had friends in high school who put in their own unsanctioned Royal Rumble, which resulted in several minor injuries and one hospital visit.
When I was at the 2000 Republican National Convention, more people wanted their picture with The Rock than Steve Young. Now the Rock is a movie star—so it’s safe to say wrestling still has some fans.
In the age of the Internet, some of the inside information and practices of wrestling have been exposed outside the industry. Perhaps the most interesting piece to me is kayfabe. Kayfabe is the idea of maintaining the image that staged events are real—staying in character, even out of the ring. It drives all of the alliances, betrayals, and grudge matches that drive the story lines.
Pop culture’s most notable exposure to kayfabe was years ago via Andy Kaufman, whose whole life was seemingly lived in kayfabe. His famous feud with wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler eventually included a physical fight on the Letterman show, and the kayfabe element was only acknowledged years after his death.
Kayfabe also requires its audience to suspend disbelief. The desire to be part of the crowd can certainly help drive this. Our desire to belong leads us to want to be ‘in on the joke,’ even if the joke is at our expense.
Politics, of course, has always required its own version of kayfabe, both from politicians and voters. Pretending my candidate didn’t hold an opposite position to their current one, ignoring that their actions don’t match their promises—we are often asked to suspend our disbelief and go along with the performance to be part of the team.
I think most Christians have heard some version of the criticism that we believe in a ‘pretend’ story. An ancient book, an invisible God, a resurrected king—how could we believe such a thing? I recently read a version of that argument from an author online, who in the very next paragraph fully embraced the kayfabe of his preferred political candidate.
Christians should be out in front of the line, pointing out the inconsistencies and deceptions of politics and politicians across the spectrum. Not to attack our opponents (which is almost always why I do it), or to show how much smarter we are, but to expose the performance for what it is – to get past the performance and talk about truth.
I think of these things, then feel hopelessly naive—that this would be unilateral disarmament; that I won’t be part of the group anymore. And so like Peter in the Garden, I fall back to the way of the world and swing my sword at every perceived threat.
Christ does not engage in kayfabe—he never asks us to suspend disbelief. Instead, he calls on us to confess and confront it. Merely going along with the crowd and putting doubts out of mind will not do for him. Like the father in Mark 9, we are to ask for help with our unbelief and he will provide.