“What does it do for you?”
To be fair to Philip, the service does look pretty boring. Thus, it is understandable why he has lost interest. Attending worship services week after week should never be a dull meaningless ritual simply to maintain perfect attendance. But Philip’s issue with church is deeper.
Philip’s view of religion is reflected in his question to Elizabeth: “What does it do for you?” In the clip above, he says that from now on, he will spend the church hour “doing something useful.” Philip sees life in terms of accomplishments. Church is pointless because it does not accomplish anything. It may offer peace and time for reflection, but there are other means of achieving that. Philip undoubtedly speaks for many churchgoers, as well as those looking in from the outside, who simply don’t “get” religion. What is its purpose? What does it do?
The moon landing, however . . . now that is a great accomplishment to Philip. It offers the excitement and purpose that a dull, boring church does not. Philip is glued to his television and radio all day, staying up all hours of the night, just for the latest news about the voyage into outer space. Hearing a newscaster discuss the amazing accomplishment brings tears to Philip’s eyes. The moon landing—human achievement—has become Philip’s religion.
Men of (in)Action
Meanwhile, Philip gets a request from the new Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods. Because Woods recognizes that even clergy suffer from midlife crises, he wishes for a place where priests can meet to recharge and reflect, to talk and to think. An unimpressed Philip responds, “You don’t raise your game by talking or thinking. You raise your game through action.” We see Philip’s attitude towards life again, that true meaning comes through doing, through action. While utterly dismissive of Woods’ idea, Philip still offers his approval.
Upon Woods’ invitation, Philip begrudgingly attends the group. The clergymen present note how church attendance is dwindling, that the public is uninterested in church. Their “spiritual needs [are] being met elsewhere,” as one man notes. Is this true of our churches as well? Are we discussing relevant topics, helping to meet peoples’ true needs, or are we just expecting churchgoers to attend out of loyalty? We all have needs and struggles, and we will seek for them to be met somewhere. Shouldn’t that happen within a Christian community?
When Woods asks the men for an example of where peoples’ needs are being met, Philip responds, “The moon.” Woods acknowledges that millions of people have been enthralled by the moon landing, finding community and purpose through this event—community and purpose which used to be found at church. Eventually, an irate Philip unleashes on the group, calling their discussion “pretentious, self-piteous nonsense.” He tells the men that they need to get into the world and “do something.” Their lack of action is why they are so lost. Philip claims that every man has within him the desire to make a mark, and that we are defined by action. Philip again points to the astronauts of the moon landing as men who actually achieved something.
Philip’s main problem is that he has accepted a faith/action dichotomy, believing that one is either a person of action or a person of faith. But when God created Adam and Eve, he commanded them to steward the earth and to take dominion over it (Genesis 1:28). In other words, to take action in God’s world, bringing out creation’s abundance. Philip’s obsession—the moon voyage—required not only the fortitude of the men within the shuttle, but also the science and technology that made it possible. One must wonder if Philip knew how many great contributors to science and mathematics were motivated by their faith in a Creator, such as Pascal, Newton, and Boyle. They were men whose faith drove their actions, which led to great discoveries and accomplishments.
Once the astronauts return to earth, they embark on a world tour, which includes a visit to Buckingham Palace. Philip secures fifteen minutes alone with them to bask in the presence of these great men and to discuss their achievement. He expects them to answer his great desire for meaning and purpose, to offer some profound wisdom and advice; but they utterly disappoint him. The men suffer from common colds, just like everyone else. They are merely ordinary men. After the meeting, Philip tells Elizabeth, “They delivered as astronauts, but they disappointed as human beings.”
This encounter causes Philip to realize that his view of life is completely wrong. He placed his faith in the religion of achievement. In this way, Philip represents all of us. Yes, even Prince Philip, who is married to the Queen of England and living the royal life—which so many of us covet—is just like the rest of us. He felt unfulfilled in life. He greatly desired meaning and purpose. And like so many of us, he looked for it in the wrong places.
Thus sobered, Philip returns to Woods’ group, to the men he had previously disparaged and humiliated. But this time he is humbled and apologetic. He recognizes that he, too, is in a crisis. Philip admits that he has lost his faith, and is nothing without it. He says he is empty and lonely, and the answer to his emptiness is not in science, ingenuity, or human accomplishment. The answer is finding faith. Philip apologizes to Woods and tells the men they have his respect and admiration, as the ability to admit that you are lost and in need of help is true courage.
The Religion of Achievement
Like Philip, we sometimes watch others and envy their lives—from royals and astronauts, to celebrities and athletes. We place our faith in the religion of achievement and success. In doing so, we are constantly searching for the next thing, and we are never satisfied. But as Philip learned, “doing” and “action” cannot ultimately fulfill our deepest human needs. Great achievements and technological advancements are wonderful things, but they are not the only thing. We can be both people of action and people of faith, thus acquiring the full, abundant life that God desires for us.
Philip discovered that we are sustained by our faith in our Creator. Creation exists as a pointer to the Creator behind it all. As the psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Our problem is that we have traded our worship of the Creator for worship of creation (Romams 1:25). Philip revered the men who landed on the moon instead of the God who created the moon. And as he also learned, humans will always disappoint you at some point.
True meaning does not come simply from success or accomplishments—it comes through living a life of faith in our Creator. It does not come through being strong, but by recognizing our weaknesses and leaning on God for strength. As Paul said, God’s grace is enough for us, and his power is made all the more evident in our weakness. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Once we realize this, then we are free to serve the world through both faith and action. Once we acknowledge our weakness and place our trust in God, we are empowered to take action in God’s world.
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