Everyone loves a winner. Or hates a winner. It depends how he or she won.
Ashley Thomas, a researcher in cognitive development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, has found that even very young children have a predilection for winners. When she was a graduate student at University of California, Irvine, Thomas devised a way to determine whether children, ages 21 months to 31 months, would show a preference for high- or low-ranking individuals.
In a series of seven experiments, the toddlers watched a puppet show featuring two nondescript puppets (one a red rectangle, the other a yellow oval, each with an eye and a straight line for a mouth) trying to cross the stage but getting in each other’s way. In each case, one of the puppets yielded to the other, granting it the right of way. At the conclusion of the puppet show, the twenty-three toddlers who participated were given the opportunity to reach for one of the puppets. Twenty chose the puppet who “won.”
By repeating the experiment so that each of the puppets won, and by using different obstacles to be circumvented, Thomas was able to show that toddlers expressed an overwhelming preference for the winner, whichever puppet that might be. However, when the successful puppet achieved its goal by violence – knocking the other puppet down – the children overwhelmingly preferred the losing puppet.
The results seem conclusive: even very young children prefer high-status individuals (winners) to low-status individuals (losers) as long as the winner achieved his high-status fairly. This preference for winners seems to be built right into human nature.
Advertisers appeal to this instinctive preference for winners. It is no accident the actors who sell us everything from cars to personal care items and cleaning supplies are presented as winners. They’re attractive, possess markers of affluence (expensive clothes, jewelry, and cars) and are often surrounded by lower-status admirers. The hidden appeal is: buy our product and you too can be a winner.
People not only love winners, they love to celebrate winners. Writers understand this dynamic and employ it to create an emotional response in their readers. The Star Trek franchise wrote a standing ovation for their lead characters into the ending of Star Trek IV. It was apparently so popular with audiences that they did so in subsequent movies again and again. People love to celebrate winners.
So, from a theological perspective, why does the Church not celebrate Jesus’s victory more frequently and with more gusto? Why are there so few standing ovations for the Son of God? The Dante scholar and popular novelist Dorothy Sayers rightly complained of Christians who “muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”
Not even toddlers will show a preference for that nondescript imitation of Jesus. The New Testament portrays him in a very different light. He is “the Captain of Salvation,” the “pioneer of the faith,” “the Glorious Savior,” “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End” and the “Savior of the world,” who has been given “the name above all names.”
The Book of Revelation celebrates his victory. Chapter five even features a Star Trek-like standing ovation—on steroids. Angels and heavenly authorities sing his praises, and every creature across the universe responds with exuberant praise. Upon his victory, in chapter 19, another roar of praise goes up, and continues on and on. It booms like Niagara, explodes like peals of thunder. The armies of heaven are seen following Jesus, and he is declared “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Here is a hero of the highest order, the ultimate victor. And he comes to this place not by violence but through personal sacrifice. He is worthy of “praise and honor and glory and power,” because he has earned this homage as the “Lamb who was slain,” rather than the bully who got his way. He is not a fitting household pet for pious old ladies, but the hero of the Church and the Savior of the World.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/1/2018