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I’ve seen the Batman movie – twice.

First, let me echo the cautionary words I have read elsewhere – this is NOT a movie for children. It’s PG-13 for a reason and I would not for a moment consider taking a child less than 13 to see it.

Several reviewers (notably, Sam Thielman in World Magazine) have noted the startling, disturbing, and powerful performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Thielman observes that he’s not playing the Joker, “He’s playing Satan. Ledger flicks his tongue like a snake, tempts people to kill one another, and is gleefully sloppy with bullets, bombs, and knives. Everyone else plays gangland archetypes; Ledger’s Joker has escaped to the movies from Milton, or C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.”

If the Joker is Satan, then Batman is … ? No, he’s not Jesus. And yet, there are some striking details in the way Batman is portrayed which one does not expect to find in a comic book super-hero.

Batman is the hero, but the script does not ask us to admire him because he’s stronger, wiser, faster, or has better gadgets. Instead, the writers, (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer) portray Batman as the vigilante who longs for the day when he is no longer needed. Batman is not Jesus, but he is the anti-Joker. This concept is explicitly played with in several scenes.

The Joker has no political agenda, no long-term goals. That, indeed, is one of the things that makes him so terrifying, and so dangerous. The Joker in fact, has no identity. No fingerprint matches, no DNA matches, no ID, no labels in his clothes. His only demand is that Batman should unmask himself. Alfred rebukes Bruce Wayne, who thinks the Joker is just another criminal, with the observation that “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

It is this acknowledgement – that there is real evil in the world – that is part of what makes The Dark Knight a different kind of movie.

The other part is that Batman triumphs, not because he’s stronger, but because he’s willing to deny himself. He’s willing to be the outcast. He’s willing to be rejected by the citizens of Gotham, if that’s what it takes to protect Gotham. He’s willing to be blamed for things he didn’t do, if it will preserve hope.

The Joker strives desperately to prove that everyone, in the end, is as evil as he is. That he’s not mad, he’s just “ahead of the curve.” He tempts, toys, and manipulates everyone – and proves, over and over again, that they can be corrupted – but he fails to corrupt Batman. It is Batman’s rejection of the temptation of the Joker that makes him the victor. And there are some surprising heroes in other places, as well.

Most of the movie is loud and violent, and there are sections of dialogue that are maddeningly difficult to hear (especially the final voice-over). But they are worth listening to. Alfred (Michael Cain) and Lucius (Morgan Freeman) are the wise men in Bruce Wayne’s life. They give him good advice. But in the end, Batman must find the strength of character alone to resist the Joker.

The movie satisfies, because Batman decides to be the Hero that Gotham needs – even though he must pay a terrible personal cost.

Lots of people are going to see this movie. It represents a tremendous opportunity to talk about issues of great significance. Leadership, integrity, service, self-denial, the reality of evil and the importance of self-sacrifice are all themes that are touched on. There have not been many movies that raised those issues, and so I commend the film-makers.

But don’t take the kids.

A group of humans experience natural disasters. They conclude that “the gods must be angry.” They also conclude that regaining the favor of the gods requires a sacrifice.

This logic is as old as recorded human history. It is a recurring and defining pattern of human behavior. It does not offer any conclusive proof about the existence of the gods, but there seems to be overwhelming proof of man’s need for the explanatory story of the gods behavior.

To put it another way, man (on overwhelming evidence across many places and many times) appears to be wired for a belief in the gods. I’m at a bit of a loss to conceive of an evolutionary advantage for this belief, but then, since I’m not a “believer” in the gods of evolution, this is not personally troubling.

But most moderns are quite proud of their “sophisticated” accomplishments and view with some disdain the “primitive” ideas of ancient (and not so ancient) cultures. Especially their quick resort to supernatural explanations for natural disasters and their rush to propitiate the gods.

I would submit to you, however, that most moderns are wired the same way as all other humans, and though they may dress up their underlying fear that, “the gods must be angry” with moden vocabularly and sophistication, they are living the functional equivalent of the egyptians babylonians canaanites, mayas, aztecs, and others.

For moderns, the “angry god” is gaia, mother earth. Our sins are as black as carbon and must be paid for. Mother Earth demands a sacrifice or she will destroy us all.

Torrential rains in NYC? Humans are at fault.

Earthquake in Utah? again, its us evil humans (of course those in the SUV’s are the most guilty)

Bridge collapse in Minneapolis? Again, forgive us gaia, we have sinned.

C.S.Lewis once observed that, “every age gets the science that it wants.”

The 20th century wants to believe that the evils that befall us are the fault of the capitalist sinners of advanced western economies.

The truth is, we really DO feel guilty. Because we really ARE guilty. But its not our carbon footprint that is the problem. It is our rebellion against the one true GOD. Our selfish hearts have chosen rebellion and disobedience. And we know we have sinned. We feel guilty because we ARE guilty. But buying carbon credits will not fix the problem.

God does not want a mechanical transaction to clear up the ledger books. God wants us to lay down our arms, turn around, and enter into a relationship with him. He does not call us to keep a set of rules. He wants a relationship with us.

And that relationship begins with an acknowledgement of the man, Christ Jesus. Fully God and fully man. The incarnation of God, who makes it possible to have that restored relationship with God.

Don’t trade your birthright for a mess of carbon credits. It is not gaia who needs to be propitiated. It is not gaia who will save us.

It is God himself, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to come to Him.

 - Rob Shearer
    Director, Schaeffer Study Center

 have in common?

paris peterson michael oj 

They all functioned, serially, as the objects of the obsessive compulsive focus of the popular, ravenous, continuous-coverage, media circus that is CNN-MSNBC-FOX.

For a while, I joked that their real purpose was to be (each in turn), the canary in the coal mine. For those not familiar with the concept, in the days before there was sensitive safety equipment to monitor the safety of the air in a coal mine, miners would keep a canary at key locations. Canaries are very sensitive to changes in the oxygen level and to the presence of methane. A canary will succumb to the presence of methane (a reduction in the oxygen content) long before it becomes dangerous to the minors. So, the canary in the coal mine was a safety device. If the canary was still sitting on his perch, the air was still safe.

While the Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ dramas were going on, they were the canaries in the coal mine. If you got off of an airplane, or wandered into a restaurant or hotel lobby, a glance at the TV screen would tell you instantly whether anything really newsworthy had happened anywere in the world. If Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ were on the screen, you were safe. Nothing bad or significant had happened anywhere.

However, if Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ were NOT on the screen, then they’d been pre-empted by something that really was important.

There’s an old wry, cynical observation that runs thus: “Isn’t it amazing, how every day, just enough stuff happens to fill up the newspaper?”

Now you know just how much attention to pay to the obsessions of CNN-MSNBC-FOX.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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