Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Batman and Christ

Again and again, I have noticed how popular culture gives us the messiah we want. The latest Batman movie, the Dark Knight, shows us another glimpse at that messiah. Batman fights the demons that threaten civilized society. In this case, Batman must challenge the Joker who represents nihilism and the dark nature which lies just beneath the surface of civilization.

Batman simply understood is a messiah figure. He is a savior who mercilessly destroys the forces of evil through intelligence, brawn and superior firepower. Where the police, National Guard, and average citizens cannot defeat the bad guys, a figure from above saves the day with an arsenal from Wayne Industries.

Note that this messiah is not a Christ figure. In fact, Batman is the messiah that we have always wanted. Unlike the Jesus who died at the hands of the occupying Roman forces, the messiah that we desire would kick those Roman bastards out of the Holy Land.

What is exciting about this new movie is that the Joker forces Batman to explore the darker side of his nature. What is the difference between Batman and the Joker? Both utilize violence effectively. Both have faces which are hidden. Both stand outside of societal norms. One is a defender, and the other a destroyer. Again and again, the Joker attempts to provoke Batman to reveal that the difference is ever so slight.

Batman sees the danger himself. That’s why he “believes in Harvey Dent.” Batman wants to empower Harvey, the District Attorney, to be the hero who plays by the rules. Likewise, near the end of the movie, there is a moral dilemma of using incredible power to locate the Joker. Batman puts the power in the hands of another to protect himself from temptation. Even Batman realizes that he must be careful less he becomes what he fights. That’s the problem with our worldly messiahs. The defender again and again becomes the destroyer.

Jesus Christ suggests another way. When facing the principalities and powers, he refuses to fight by their rules. In fact, he dies as a criminal on a cross charged with blasphemy and sedition. What he did makes no sense to us. It certainly is not the stuff of a summer blockbuster hit. As Paul writes, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Somehow through that very act of sacrifice and suffering, Christ becomes triumphant. As Paul also states,

[Jesus Christ], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Jesus accepts the burden of our sins to succeed over them. He pays the price because only he can. Jesus triumphs over the principalities and powers precisely because he is not seduced by them. Joker’s temptation is to play the game. Once you play, you have already lost.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dark Knight and Joker

I saw the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. It was incredible. It actually transcended the genre of superhero movie. Clearly, Heath Ledger’s Joker is the star of the movie and is the movie’s most intriguing character. Jack Nicholson’s 1989 portrayal of the Joker was funny and macabre. This new Joker is twisted, dark and nihilistic.

The movie plays on the tension between civilization and barbarism. It basically accepts a psychology in which human beings are inherently sinful. Society establishes structures and procedures which keep our sinful nature in check. Without the veneer of civilization, our lives, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, are “nasty, brutish, and short.” One of the ironies of civilized life is that controlled violence (in the form of police, the military, or a superhero) keeps the barbaric forces at bay.

The Joker sees the inherent contradiction and concludes that civilization is simply a sick joke. We wear a painted face with a smile that hides the dark truth about our nature. He spends the rest of the movie chipping away at the fa├žade. He goads the District Attorney, the police, and Batman to show their true colors. Standing in front of a burning pile of money, the Joker states, “This town deserves a better class of criminals, and I’m going to give it to ‘em.” Even the criminal who is motivated by greed is inferior to the one who realizes that civil society is farce. After all, the money desired by the petty criminal is in fact a product of civilization. As Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, observes, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. He can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The Dark Knight explores the same issues that many war movies, police dramas, and even some westerns take up. How can the civilizing forces of violence fight the bad guys without becoming the bad guys themselves?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Funnies: Garfield Minus Garfield

Check out Garfield Minus Garfield. Someone had the bright idea of removing Garfield from every Garfield comic. The result is a disturbing look at the pitiful soul of Jon Arbuckle.

Okay, I guess it shows my warped sense of humor.

Newsletter: Time Travel

If you could travel through time, where and when would you go?

This is one of those questions families might ponder on a multi-state car trip after the i-pod batteries die. The question has been the source of some great stories by authors as diverse as H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and even Charles Dickens. The idea of zipping away in a time machine presents exciting possibilities. For some, time travel might mean going back to interact with figures from the past like Abraham Lincoln or your great-grandmother. Others want a chance to fix past mistakes. A few even want to escape into some utopian future.

In a sense, however, the premise is wrong. All of us are time travelers. We are traveling forward in time one second, one hour, and one day at a time. Time is a precious commodity, and sometimes we try to hoard it. Nevertheless, no matter what we try, we cannot stop its relentless march. Instead of saving time, we must learn to invest it. We invest it in families, friends, and the community of faith. We invest time in the people God calls us to love--the children, the poor, and the infirm. The time we have should be met with courage. As Mordecai told his cousin Esther, "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

Since you are traveling through time, where and when will you go?