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Dark Knight: "Best of the Decade?"

December 31st, 2008 | 5 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

It's out on video.

So it's time to re-visit the box-office smash hit and semi-intellectual 2nd installment of the Batman trilogy.

Craig Detweiller (of Reel Spirituality Institute for the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary) offers an insightful analysis of the relationship between the film and the past decade of war on terror.


Is it necessary for a hero's goodness that he be in line with the governing authorities?

Although in most movies and novels, the answer to this question is obviously No. But think of a favorite person or an important mentor or an admired gaurdian: Are they cowboys or are are they so successful, in part, because they know how to fit into the established community of authority without compromising their values -- indeed, because the values of the established authorities are also admirable and good? Why is it that our most fascinating and important American heroes, unlike Arthur, unlike unlike Hector, unlike Socrates, are almost invariably "against the system," "Lone rangers," loose cannons?

Do all American literary heroes reflect our national conscience that our country was formed by a revolution against the governing authority of England?

Think of Superman, whose name is derived (as far as I know) from the Nietzschean ideal of one who does what he wills because he has the strength to do so (as over against one who does what is "right" defined by a society of the weak and resentful).

Think of Spiderman, who is always in trouble with the law (and the press)

Think of perhaps the earliest distinctly American mythology after Lewis and Clark, the mythology of the cowboy. Most, if not all, cowboys are defined by their uneasy and almost accidental collaborationwith "the Law" or else their outright opposition to the existing sheriff.

Are we still working out the consequences of that decision within our national and individual consciences?

In a traditional Christian worldview, the proper attitude towards the civil authority is analogous to the proper attitude towards the religious authority: both ultimately rest in God. There is a radical trust of the institution of human government, if not a blind faith in the individual men and women occupying the office. No one is more familiar with the danger of the omnicompetent state than the Roman Christians of the first three centuries. Yet the Apostles still demanded political fidelity as a fundamental tenet of the heavenly faith delivered by Christ.

The Apostle Paul says, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

The Apostle Peter says, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."

Is this something the revolutionaries struggled with? Clearly. See the Political Sermons. But how much was this internal resistance to resisting the King motivated by a commitment to obeying apostolic injunctions and how much lay in a commitment to the Natural Law?

In a post-Christian society, where submission to (civil) authority is a fundamental part of being a good person, will revolution become more and more morally defensible?

We can't have it both ways. If the authority of government is derived from the just consent of the governed, then either throwing off unjust authority (leaving the definition aside for the moment) is good or it is not. If it is good, then the American revolt against England was good, but so should be the Souths revolt against the North, or the Blue states revolt against the Red. If it is not good, and we ought to remain a more perfect union, then we oughtn't have thrown off the "just government" of England.

Perhaps you will say that King George's greivances were too great to be suffered. But too great according to whom? Who decides when "enough is enough"? In a traditional Christian system, then nothing is too much. The government may kill us all, but we continue to return good for evil and pray for the emperor and honor the president. In a non-Christian system that still clings to Natural Law as divinely ordained, then the greivances must be rather extreme, sustained, and widespread. The Law must be clearly transgressed.

But in a non-Christian system that throws off Natural Law, finally, as the last vestige of a Judeo-Christian slave morality, what offense would be too small? Wouldn't mere distaste be justifiable cause for revolt -- or, as they would say it, for withdrawing one's consent to be governed?