This is a post that is ultimately about living up to the ideals we espouse, but before we get there, let me tell you about several shows that I have watched that only in reflection did I see a common theme: specifically, two movies, one Internet TV series, and an email.
Despite my penchant for watching and reading history, science fiction, and fantasy, all the stories are really commentaries about the time in which they were produced. I might throw in a few more cards into this “hand.”
The first card I will play is the movie Anthropoid. It’s the story of the Czech resistance’s assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich during the Second World War. It’s a gripping tale of how far they went, not only to kill their target, but also how hard they fought back when the authorities came after them.
The second card I will play is the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, which tells the tale of how Princess Leia ultimately got the plans for the Death Star at the beginning of the first Star Wars movie. Without ruining the story, let me just say a great deal of sacrifice occurs in to get those plans from the Empire by the Resistance.
The third card I will play is the alternate history/scifi story on Amazon Prime of Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. It’s now in its second season and basically sets up what the world might be like if the Axis had won the Second World War. The tale is set in the early 1960s of such a world. What makes it scifi is that the man in the high castle in the story is a man who obtains films of our reality, and key characters get to see them. What would it mean to them to see a world where the Allies won as the Axis powers fight against Resistance fighters and against each other?
A fourth card was an email forwarded to me, by a Presbyterian elder, in which a WW2 veteran says, “They say that you can’t bomb an ideology into submission. Well, we did. We firebombed the Japanese and Germans and dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, and they submitted.” There was more in the email, but that was the thrust of it. It argued that if we want to win this war on terrorism, ultimately, we have to be ruthless.
So, what is this deck of cards that culture has dealt and I have been pondering? First, I think all of these stories are showing up in pop culture because of a growing sense that the people who are standing for freedom and diversity are no longer necessarily “the powers that be.” Now, mind you, most of these stories were developed long before the presidential election, and I am not pointing toward that, but I think, overall, people are sensing a growing push-back in our society against values we thought were the default in our culture. And so, what does it mean to be fighting against power? In these stories, the “good guys” are not the powerful ones.
In all of these shows, the basic message is that the good guys have to fight fire with fire. In Anthropoid the resistance fighters kill far more than just one Nazi official. In Rogue One, a resistance fighter kills someone who helped them in case that informant gave away his position. They also kill Imperial Forces with wild abandon. In The Man in the High Castle, a key part of the second season action is a Resistance plan to bomb and kill everyone in an Axis headquarters building (officers, secretarial workers, visitors, etc.). All of this corresponds with the email from our real history. The WW2 vet posited the idea that the good guys simply need to resort to being ruthless, perhaps more ruthless than the bad guys in order to win.
So far, the cards line up, except when we throw in one more card: This is not what the Bible teaches us. Specifically, it’s not what Jesus taught us.
God was not about overcoming evil with force and fear. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jesus came so that the world might be reconciled to God. Christ taught us that we are to seek out and save the lost and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus even prayed for people crucifying him! Can we care, not just for the good guys, but for the bad guys too?
And let me throw in one more secular card:
I would argue that the better angels of our society, even in our history, did not believe in resorting to being as bad (or worse) than our enemies. In the military, we subscribe to the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), which means we are not, ethically, to engage in some behaviors against our enemies (even if they would do the same to us in a heartbeat). Those actions are illegal and stand against the values of our society.
As we move forward, Christians have to go back to the words of Christ and try to live by them. I also think Americans, and our allies, have to stand up anew for the ideals upon which democracy has long been based. We need to protect the minority, and to stand up for what we believe is ethically correct. While we resist the efforts of those who would work against these ideals, we are not trying to destroy our opponents. We want them to see and accept a better way. In the long run, reconciled relationships are what matters.
I am not naive. I know some people will take a long time to come to this way of thinking. Some may never come to think this way. Some people simply never will affirm diversity, do not believe in democracy, and are opposed to freedom in general. I would not be in the military if I thought we can just be nice to people and educate and advocate for change alone. But force, when it is used, is at best a holding action. Ultimately, we fail if force is what causes change. It’s like a building without a foundation. It will fail in the end. We need for people not only to do what is right but to believe in what is right.
The best part of World War 2 was how it ended – with us helping to rebuild our former enemies’ countries and helping them to see that dispatching whole swaths of their people was wrong. The best part of Star Wars was when Luke didn’t strike down Darth Vader, but got him back to being who he was meant to be. The best part of The Man in the High Castle is when the central heroine realizes that she has to fight against the Resistance at one point to do what is right.
If we engage in the tactics of our enemies, how, in the end, are we different from them? I fear we feel, at our core, that what Jesus taught is all fine and good during good times, but that we need to cast it aside when we see fit. When we do this, are we really Christians? As Americans, does the Constitution really mean anything to us, if we are ready to cast it aside when we don’t like the people it protects? If we cast it aside, does America really stand for what we say it does? We need to keep our integrity as we move forward in an uneasy age where power may shift away from the ideas of Christ.
What do you think?
To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.