Decoding the MacGuffin

This week, our staff member, Dante Stack, released a 3-part webinar entitled “Interpreting & Contextualizing Storytelling”. The main goal of the webinar was to explore the impact that storytelling and story structure has on our worldview.

We each come to create our own worldviews based on an amalgamation of our experiences and knowledge. While we’d all like to assert that our own worldview is the most accurate, truthful, factually-representative construct possible, we can’t deny that what we watch, read, and experience helps chisel-down the mental image we have of the world.

One of the story elements that Dante repeatedly harps on in the webinar is the screenwriting concept of the “MacGuffin”. Famed film director Alfred Hitchcock is commonly credited with popularizing the term. He once defined the MacGuffin as ‘the thing that spies care about that the audience doesn’t.’ Describing the origins of the term at a lecture at Columbia University in 1939, Hitchcock said,

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’ And the other answers, ‘Oh, that’s a MacGuffin’. The first one asks, ‘What’s a MacGuffin?’ ‘Well,’ the other man says, ‘it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’ and the other one answers, ‘Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!’ So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.

What does the MacGuffin have to do with Christian worldview formation? Lots!

MacGuffins are the things that characters care about more than anything else in the world. 9 times out of 10, they shouldn’t! In other words, MacGuffins are idols.

What do Christians make MacGuffins of in our modern culture? Lots!

Anything that takes our focus off of Jesus of Nazareth can be a MacGuffin/idol, even good things. At 2020’s Base Camp, longtime Faith Ascent speaker and supporter, Dr. Swamidass, spoke to our Climbers about diversity in the church.

Dr. Swamidass’ emphasis wasn’t on racial or ethnic diversity, but ideological diversity. Christians come in all forms and sizes. Different denominations emphasize different aspects of Christian tradition. Sometimes our differences are a big deal and we need to talk about it. But while debate and disagreement is healthy, each of us needs to be vigilant. We need to keep Jesus our focus. He alone is worthy of our worship. The apostle John, in his 1st letter to the church, after having assured his church family of their assured hope of salvation in Jesus, ends his letter with the shortest of sentiments: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

Little children, keep yourselves from idols

1 John 5:21

MacGuffins are everywhere. Many movies put them right in the middle of their titles: The Maltese Falcon, The DaVinci Code, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Bourne Identity, The Pink Panther… (and on and on).

We need to stay vigilant, and ask ourselves on a daily basis: am I keeping my focus on Jesus, or am I hunting down a stone to keep lions out of Scotland?