Do not worry! There are no spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises in this post. And while the most recent Christopher Nolan Batman movies are just that – movies (still with plenty of violence, although thankfully not as gratuitous as other movies) – perhaps Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman are a better example of a Christian attitude toward violence than we may first realize. I am not claiming he is the best example, but he may be a more suited (ha…get it?) example than we might initially give him credit for. In the United States, we live in a culture and society that is seeking more entertainment through violence (perhaps that violence has flowed over into our attitudes, where it seems that most cannot even hold a respectful conversation anymore). Wondering if this is true? Look at how well the first movie of The Hunger Games did in theaters. The ironic thing is that I am not so sure most people understood one of the points of that story was that having an actual “Hunger Games” is not a good thing.
Concerning physical violence in our entertainment, it is a dangerous and slippery road. Do we have long before people within the United States try to sanction games similar to that of the “Hunger Games” or of Rome and the Coliseum, where gladiators fought to the death, and people were slaughtered for the entertainment of the citizens? These were not fictional people that died; actual human beings died, killed without mercy. Life disappeared from the earth and was destroyed for the amusement of the masses. One may say, “We recognize the sanctity of life, no matter who it is, so surely it wouldn’t happen.” But then the lines get blurred all too quickly when someday a producer, in the pursuit of making money after people have been desensitized to the fictional violence that is portrayed in the movies, comes up with the idea to have a “Survivor”-like game where convicted criminals must fight to their death. Will you then still say, “We recognize the sanctity of life, no matter who it is?” With the speed society is moving today, I am afraid that the day we return to the gladiatorial death games of the Roman Coliseum may be sooner than we think. I hope I am wrong in that assumption; I hope that day never returns.
In Batman Begins, when the criminal is presented to face his death at the hands of Bruce Wayne in the training center of the “League of Shadows,” which was perhaps, in the perspective of the world’s eye-for-an-eye lex talionis version of justice, rightly deserved, Bruce Wayne refused to kill the man. His words were, “I’m no executioner.” In The Dark Knight, not even Batman let the Joker fall to his death. In The Dark Knight Rises, not even Batman…. (That’s right, I said no spoilers.)
As representatives of the Church, we must learn to be sincere in saying, “We do not need to tolerate a culture of violence anymore, no matter where it is or what it looks like or whom the violence is directed towards. Instead we, as the Church, will take seriously Christ’s commandment to show love to all.”
The true test of love is whether we can have an attitude of love toward those we disagree with, do not like, or even those who are considered enemies. Yes, I just wrote the word enemies. In American culture, it is incredibly difficult to show Godly, life-giving and life-upholding love towards enemies; having an attitude of Christian love does not mean the destruction of their lives. Enough blood has been shed in this world through people’s selfish manipulations of truth. Life anywhere in the world is a gift of God, and one would think that a Christian would learn to respect that. Stanley Hauerwas, the Christian ethicist, said a statement along the lines of “There is nothing worth killing for, but there are things worth dying for.”
Christians are not called to represent the world’s justice of lex talionis, but we are called to represent the kingdom of God through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Primarily we are called to love our neighbors and enemies; that love includes demonstrating peace. However, that peace and love for an enemy may come at a price, and that price may be our own lives. It is a difficult call Christ has given us; this is perhaps the most singularly difficult and challenging aspect of the gospel – to be ready to give one’s life, even for an enemy, in the pursuit of demonstrating God’s love. We are called to show love, and even when death may be the imminent cost of that love, we are nevertheless still called to be faithful to God’s message. Selflessness, not selfishness, regarding our own lives, is something we must be prepared for. There is no room for unrepentant selfishness in the kingdom of God; let that be a gut-check for us all.
The good news is that even death is not the end nor in vain when it happens in love, but that there is a resurrection that will come in a newly restored creation; ultimately love will conquer evil, even though we may not see it today.
Many times it may appear that evil does conquer love; remember, God calls us to be faithful to the message of love for all, no matter what the circumstances are. I urge you – do not give up hope. However, I do want to share one instance where we have seen the results of love conquering evil, although that love came at the cost of death. Many of you may already be familiar with this true story; I highly recommend reading Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot and End of the Spear by Steve Saint.
In 1955, five missionaries sought to bring the word of God to a notoriously violent indigenous tribe in the Amazon. In fact, according to the accounts of many of the indigenous people themselves, this group was on the verge of killing themselves into extinction. Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Jim Elliot finally made contact with this group; in January 1956, all five of these men were killed by the people they sought to demonstrate love to. But even with a rifle in the missionaries’ airplane to use for food, it was never used for self-defense. These men had one goal – to demonstrate Christ’s love. They had no desire to kill anyone; the cost was their lives. Their act was selfless; they were faithful to God’s message of love to the very end.
Yet despite the evil that took place, love overcame. Because of their family’s strong love, a love which was faithful to Christ’s call to love even an enemy, their families were able to forgive the people who had killed these five men. They ended up fulfilling Nate’s, Roger’s, Ed’s, Pete’s, and Jim’s call to minister to this group, living with the Auca tribe, and changing their attitudes from hate, violence, and vengeance, to Godly love. Lives were changed and evil was overcome by holy love. There was no eye-for-an-eye lex talionis justice here, only mercy, forgiveness, and love. Love prevailed; and in the face of evil and violence, the only thing that will ever overcome these horrors and change lives is love.
Christ died for those who sinned against God; Christ even died for his enemies, the people sinning against him. To love someone, even an enemy, to the point of death – is that not the same love that Christ asks of us in John 15:12: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you? Forget Bruce Wayne and Batman for a moment, let us look to Christ as our model! So I ask us, as Christians in the United States, what has happened to that most basic call to love one another, to love our enemies and the people we disagree with? Please prove me wrong that it has not entirely disappeared.
Perhaps it is not physical violence, but maybe it is an attitude of violence and a language of hate that is present in our lives. In response to the recent comments made by the head of Chick-Fil-A, there has been ugly hate speech spewed out by both sides, whether one agrees or disagrees with what the man said regarding marriage. Where is, at a minimum, the attitude of loving conversation in our society? Whether we agree or disagree with someone, does not the least person simply deserve to be treated with love, whether in your eyes that person happens to be the head of Chick-Fil-A or the openly gay man or woman down the street?
Attitudes of anger, hate, and violence are horribly rampant in Congress and politics today; where is the attitude of loving conversation? Have we forgotten how to show a simple love and respect to someone, whether we agree with someone’s politics or not?
Violence, whether it is in our actions, our words, or our attitudes, is not the way of Christ; love is the way of Christ. Destruction of life and violent attitudes are not things we should simply accept; if our on-screen, fictional hero of Batman did not even want to kill people, why are we so quick to condone the destruction of life, whether in entertainment or in reality, and even if that violence may simply be the hate and anger that seems to be running so unbridled through society today?
Instead, be the Church of love that God has called us to be.