I recently stumbled upon a documentary about the life and death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. I was unaware of his serious problems with drugs, alcohol, fornication and adultery, but at the same time was not overly surprised, given how things go in the entertainment world. Whenever I thought of Robin Williams I only thought of laughter and happiness with memories that hearken back to Happier Days….and whenever I see documentary like this I think about a distinctively human thing called “Fame”.
Desiring fame is one of those peculiar ways in which humans are different than animals, and it isn’t just a matter of spectrum. Just like “religion” and “the arts” and even wearing clothes, some things are uniquely human. Consider the animal closest to us; about 96% of a chimps DNA is genetically similar to ours, but they share 0% our religiousness, 0% of art & music and 0% of our clothes. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a 96% match in these areas, but if all we are is an evolved DNA code, I would expect a match greater than 0%. No primitive religious rituals or sacrifices to be found with apes, no primeval drum beats or structured dance, no basic cave drawings or banana sculptures, not so much as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and of course, no evidence of desiring “fame”.
Desires that are uniquely human can relate to the principle that every innate desire reveals the existence of its desired object. For example, hunger indicates the existence of food, thirst indicates the existence of water, and curiosity indicates truth or knowledge. Similarly, the desire for perfect unity, living forever and being remembered forever, indicate the real existence of such things, even the desire to worship something above nature points to the existence of something supernatural worthy of worship.
Fame allows one to be remembered after this life as a way to “live-on” indefinitely. We all want to be remembered and to remember others. It reminds me of a homily I once heard about an elderly man married for many years. He would regularly visit his wife in a nursing home. She had a severe case of advanced Alzheimer’s disease and she had no idea who he even was, but he would still come to see her anyway. Someone once said to the husband, “She doesn’t even remember you. Why do you bother to visit her so often?” The husband answered in angry protest…“Because I remember her!!”
Our desire for fame stems from the inborn desire for unity, connecting with others, wanting to be remembered, wanting to remember others and the desire for eternal life, but the logic of worldly fame rests on a fallacy. It is a very strange idea indeed that our fulfillment depends on the thoughts, opinions and applause of others, as if that were the only place we could find our true self. Endeavors in human happiness are wasted on trying to live-on in the imaginations of others when they can only be realized in being in union with God.
In the self-centered attempt to make a name for ourselves, we echo the sin of the Babel Tower Builders in Genesis 11:4. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name…” Instead of trying to make a name for ourselves, we should let God make our names great and “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). “…and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2)