Barbie and Our Purpose

February 25th, 2024 / No Comments

Tripp Fuller and I have written a book called God After Deconstruction. It will be available in April 2024.

Among the issues we discuss is how to think about purpose after the traditional God is deconstructed. Here’s an excerpt from the book, which builds on the Barbie movie.

What Was I Made For?

In the blockbuster movie Barbie, we find the world-renown doll and diverse friends in roles their maker has chosen. The toys dance and sing, party, and live according to the determinations of their manufacturer, Mattel.

In a moment of questioning, however, Barbie ponders life beyond what has been decided for her. She wonders what the real world might be like. So she visits Weird Barbie and is presented with a choice: go “back to the way your life was” or “know the truth about the universe.”

At first, Barbie chooses what’s safe and familiar: Barbie Land. “I’m not Adventure Barbie,” she explains, “I’m Stereotypical Barbie.”

With a little coaxing, she opts to learn the truth. So she departs Barbie Land for an adventure. To her delight, Barbie finds the real world thrilling; her newfound autonomy gives joy. But this liberation raises questions about who she is, the customs of her past, and the desires of her friends, especially Ken. Barbie realizes that the restrictions of the status quo, especially patriarchy, cause harm.

Near the end of the movie, Barbie talks with corporate leaders at Mattel. In a conversation with a CEO, Barbie admits to being confused: “I’m not really sure where I belong anymore.” Billie Eilish expresses this angst beautifully in the Grammy Award-winning song written for the movie: “What Was I Made For?”

Barbie then interacts with Ruth, the woman who originally imagined her as a doll for her daughter. “I want to be part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that’s made,” Barbie says, “I want to be the one imagining, not the idea itself.”

“You don’t need my permission,” Ruth replies.

“But you’re The Creator,” says Barbie. “You control me.”

“Ha!” says Ruth. “I can’t control you any more than I could control my own daughter!”

God’s Role in Purpose and Meaning

After the God of traditional theology is deconstructed, questions arise: What is our purpose? Does life have meaning? What’s the point?

The God of traditional theology is like the patriarchy at Mattel… but even more controlling. This deity predetermines the actions of all, so we’re dolls playing predestined roles. Rather than agents with autonomy, we dance and sing, enjoy and suffer, bleed and die according to our Maker’s will.

When God is imagined as one who foreordains and/or foreknows, questions about purpose and meaning have simple answers. Life’s purpose is whatever God determines, and it means whatever God decides. When God is in control, it all makes sense…

at least at first.

Like Barbie, however, we who deconstruct begin to imagine life outside systems that confine us. We realize we make free actual choices, and our lives matter. So we embark on an adventure to discover a world beyond what’s expected. We grow.

Once we — like Barbie — recognize our autonomy, it becomes difficult to imagine a controlling God. When we suffer needlessly or encounter evil in the world, we begin to doubt God has a pre-selected blueprint. Unjust systems make us wonder about an omnipotent God’s purposes; pointless pain causes us to question whether life has ultimate meaning. We encounter the restrictions of controlling systems and the restricting gods required to manage them.

The Barbie movie answers these questions by saying the purpose of life is in the living of it. The movie’s last moments show Barbie imagining experiences of various types. The message seems to be that we find meaning in whatever happens. That has a measure of truth, but isn’t there something more?

How might we think about God, purpose, and meaning after traditional theology?

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