Is there an analogy between Totems in the movie Inception and the sacraments?
If you have seen Inception, then you know that Totems are an important part of the story line. Per the movie:
A Totem is an object that exists in the real world in order to ground oneself not only in reality, but also in the dream world. A Totem has a specially modified weight, balance, or feel in the real world but in a dream of someone who does not know it well, the characteristics of the totem will very likely be off. In order to protect its integrity, only the totem’s owner should ever handle it. That way, the owner is able to tell if he is in his own dream or someone else’s. In the owner’s own dream world, the totem will feel correct. Any ordinary object which has been in some way modified to affect its balance, weight, or feel will work as a totem (Source).
The importance of Totems to the characters in Inception cannot be overstated. These objects of substance and weight, give concrete assurances of reality. They assure Dom that he is not a projection of someone else’s dream.
Compare and contrast “totems” with Calvin’s thoughts on sacraments.*
It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that [a sacrament] is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men. Here is another briefer definition; one may call it a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him.” Calvin. IV.14.1, page 1277.
Sacraments are “totems” given by God which assure us of the reality of the Gospel. As Sinclair Ferguson wrote (in reference to Calvin):
[God] provides the visible words of baptism and the Lord’s supper where Christ puts his grace on display in order to bring us to a more assured communion with him through the Spirit’s work and our responding faith (p. 205, emphasis mine). (As quoted in this post).
Think of it this way. There are times when we feel that reality is “sloping.” We wonder if anything is real. And, at such moments we run to the table to bite into and taste the Gospel. We remember that Christ’s body was broken, his blood shed. Or, we see the water splashing down over the face of a brother or sister and are reminded of new birth. The sacraments are vital aids that sustain the faithful.
Of course, sacraments do not bestow grace in and of themselves, even as in Inception, totems don’t make reality happen. Rather, the sacraments are a grace which assures the person holding them in his hand of reality.
But, they are more than just memory devices. They bring us into the presence of Christ in a particular way. At this point, the analogy breaks down, as illustrations and analogies always do.
The perfectionist in me wants to refine this even more. But, it is a blog – -not a book. For more on the sacraments, see this post.
What do you think? Do you see the parallel?
*I am comfortable using either the word "sacrament" or "ordinance." For a discussion of the use of these terms, see Grudem’s systematic theology.