Monday, August 1, 2011

Who Are You on the Inside? The Humanity of Batman Begins

For those of you who couldn't join us on Sunday evening, we watched Christopher Nolan's 2005 series reboot Batman Begins.  Two themes that jumped out were the difference between who you are on the inside and what you do on the outside, and an ethical question about doing evil to stop evil.  Here are some relevant clips:

In this clip, Rachel (Katie Holmes) accuses Bruce (Christian Bale) of being too busy being a billionaire playboy to care about the welfare of Gotham City.  Little does she know, he's Batman, fighting to save Gotham by night.  She's doing what we all do: judging the man by his actions (or, at least, what she knows of them).  This way of judging was put forward by Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics.  A man acts in good ways and bad.  If his good deeds outweigh his evil deeds, then he is good.  Pretty standard stuff.  But the Bible says something quite different:  "The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).  Jesus also called the Pharisees "white washed tombs," claiming that though they were beautiful on the outside, inside they contained only death (Matthew 23:27).  It seems, then, that the Bible would dispute Rachel's claim that it doesn't matter who you are on the inside.  Jesus said quite clearly that it doesn't matter what you do on the's the content of your heart that counts.

In this clip, Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and Ducard (Liam Neeson) try to convince Bruce that killing a murderer is morally justified.  They're making the argument that things that look evil on the surface are not evil if they are to a good purpose.  The theological word for this is "casuistry," or more simply, self-justification.  Bruce argues for a more "legalistic" morality, a code in which killing is killing no matter who the victim is.  Obviously, this example is heightened and dramaticized, but don't we make decisions like this every day?  The lies we tell "for the greater good," for instance?  The urge to self-justify is a very human one; it's just not a Christian one.  Christ came to save us while we were helpless...that is, unjustified (Romans 5:6-8).  In fact, he says, the helpless and unjustified are the only ones he came for!  The others have no need of him.

Batman Begins seems to be in support of the Dawes/Aristotle method of judging a man but behind Jesus Christ's demolition of casuistry.  Where do you come down?

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