Dark Knight Rises and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

*** SPOILER ALERT ****
There be spoilers below. If ya don’t want ’em, don’t read it. Still, I whited out as many spoilers as I could. Select the invisible text to see the missing words.

Dark Knight Rises was pretty epic, as movies go. I left the theater with dozens of thoughts tumbling around my mind, centrally this one: Could Bane and Natalia have been saved?

I pondered it over and over again. Where did things go wrong for Bane and Natalia? What was broken in them? How could it have been healed in a non-violent way? What could the common citizens of Gotham have done to show the evil Bane that they were now as he once was? If they had done it, would he have been saved? What was it that made Bruce Wayne a vigilante for “true justice?” Would Bruce’s story play out that way in the real world?

The Myth of Redemptive Violence has been around for a very, very long time. At its core is the idea that evil is located somewhere else, evildoers cannot be redeemed, and they must be destroyed / stopped at any cost. The myth itself is that evil looks like it reigns a while, but then at the end (spoiler alert for almost every movie ever) our brave single hero (or small team of heroes) digs deep within and finds, either within or without, the power to be mightier than those evildoers bent on the destruction of the world. Basically, good overcomes evil with Superior Firepower.

And that (spoilers) is exactly what happens in Dark Knight Rises.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, it depends on your worldview. As Christians, we follow a guy who defeated evil with good, a guy who, instead of killing his enemies, died for them. A guy who destroyed evil by letting evil crush him. We do not overcome by Superior Firepower, but by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.

Dark Knight Rises is a pretty legit action movie, with lots of crunchiness going on, including a barely-veiled reference to the Patriot Act and lots to think about regarding moving on past tragedy, as well as a fascinating perspective on what will make us happy / save us (true love / getting married). It’s optimistic and idealistic to the end… but I don’t think it goes far enough in its idealism.

Maybe we’re prone to believe this myth because this is the myth we’ve seen seem to play out for so long, and it’s worked out fantastically for us. Maybe it’s because having superior firepower is the only thing we’ve ever seen “defeat” evil. And maybe that’s because we live in America, where we’ve been “overcoming evil with Superior Firepower” since day one. Maybe if we lived under an oppressive system, we’d see things diferently.

Or maybe we’d just hang on to our Myth of Redemptive Violence and pray for Superior Firepower.

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Be Better.

As a culture, Americans aren’t very nice to ourselves. We have a million self-improvement classes, we go to school to get grades, and we measure our value by the numbers on our paycheck and 401k, the words that are or are not in front of and behind our names (PhD, President, etc). We judge ourselves by the cars we drive, or the cars that other people drive and we can’t, the houses we live in, the houses we don’t live in. The college we get accepted into, our GPA, how beautiful or handsome or rich our spouse is, how respected we are, or aren’t, or how famous we are. Or how our bodies look.

As Christians, we’re not much better. And we’re more committed to our self-improvement. No gym memberships for us, we go to church. We worry if we don’t spend an hour every day in devotions. (Some of us get so discouraged at being unable to spend an hour that we don’t even spend five minutes). We worry about our prayer life, then feel guilty about worrying because Jesus told us not to. We measure our value by whether we’re called, or (some of us) whether we speak in tongues, or tithe, or how much we tithe, or how much we volunteer. Whether we’re good people. Continue reading

Me vs Them

I hate “Us vs Them” Christians. You know the type: Every other denomination is going to hell in a handbasket, and they have a handle on the truth, and if only somebody would listen to them, the world would be a much better place. They go to small churches and have small minds and occupy small worlds where everybody is against them. They try to convert people to their way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

That’s the kind of church I grew up in.

Since then, I’ve matured. I’ve realized that us vs them Christianity is evil. I’ve finally gotten a handle on the truth, and if only they would listen to me, the world would be a much better place. I try to convert people to my way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

Oh dang. Continue reading

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

To Save a Life Review

To Save A Life didn’t suck.

That surprised me a lot. An awful lot. They took the usual Christian movie route but dodged all the potholes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re heading in the right direction. Finally. On the other hand, it cost twice what Fireproof cost and made 1/11th as much money (though it turned a profit nonetheless). To Save a Life was honest, truthful, and (in my opinion) not preachy. It was preachy when it was appropriate to be so, and selectively preachy at that.

CHRISTIAN MOVIE POTHOLES DODGED

Perfect Christians
Jake Taylor starts out as a non-Christian who becomes a Christian after he stops being a jerk.
The youth pastor doesn’t have all the answers
The senior pastor is a jerk, and his kid was “played by Satan” according to some fellow moviegoers.

Easy Evangelism
(From TVTropes) “Any story where a character is converted unnaturally easily to whatever the writer is trying to teach.”
Jake doesn’t become a Christian overnight. He’s just… exploring Christianity. It just so happens that he meets our lovely youth pastor, who tells him to “just visit church” and then manipulates him into coming: “It’s inconvenient for you to come to church? It’s inconvenient for me to pick up drunk kids from parties…” I approved of that moment. Continue reading

Communion

Lord, search me through and through
See the sin i hide from me and You
And make it clean; cleanse my heart.

Clean this house,
the smaller idols
and the bigger ones.

Medicine bites, wound cleaning stings
With hesitation, fearfully i
request that You remove
the splinters of sin
from this heart You first made holy.

Let the blood of Jesus wash me,
Let me not take it lightly. Continue reading

Reflections on the Holocaust

Not for the weak of stomach. Exit while you can. Written on a sheet of notebook paper and transcribed.

I’m sitting outside of chapel, They’re doing praise and worship inside, and I can’t go in. Not yet.

We just watched a holocaust video. For the first time, I cried over it. The inhumanity. This must have been what YHVH saw when He sent the flood. I can’t go into chapel. I need to process this.

God, You let the human race go on? After such inhumane, abominable atrocities? There are no words, no adjectives, to adequately describe the horror, the revolting… the camera pointed at a corpse on a man’s shoulders… and stayed on him, and so many others. To run the camera, and not point it away because the world needs to see it. Why? I don’t really even know. Because it’s true. Because it’s terrible. You want to cry out “NEVER AGAIN,” but it has ALREADY happened again. And somewhere in the world, it is probably happening now.

Thousands of dead
starved beyond recognition as humanity
tossed – unceremonious – into mass graves
calloused guards, uncaring citizens
bulldozers, and a sign:
__“Grave No. 3, No: 5000” on the grave.
Typhus, lice, starvation
Blood crying out from the ground
__Am I my brother’s keeper?
Human skin, cut off, and used
__as lampshades.
This is what Elie Wiesel saw.

Beware of lies that poison the soul
calling any less than human.
Auschwitz’ sign, a stark bleak warning:
“Do not repeat this desolation.”

Continue reading

Instructions for Living in the Empire

There are a few “fringe theologians” who disavow friendship with the United States of America. Some, like Shane Claiborne, refer to the USA as “Empire” and disavow it, trying to live “off the grid,” away from the realm of America. The idea that the church is this Kingdom of God that will never be destroyed or conquered, and that all other kingdoms will crumble into nothingness (Daniel 2:44) and that, as Christians, we should live away from it and wait for it to fall. It makes sense in some ways… which is why it’s such attractive heresy.

Last night, I was reading in Jeremiah 29 from The Message and found a few lines that were, at least for the moment, more fascinating than verse 11:

This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:

“Build houses and make yourselves at home.

Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.

Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.

Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.
Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, MSG, emphasis mine) Continue reading