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.

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