Saturday, July 31, 2010

REF: Batman Dark Knight (Response to Audrey)

This is a lengthy reply I gave to a Facebook friend's note on the movie "Batman: Dark Knight". It is an example of how I tie the arts into the spiritual and ecclesial. I put Audrey's final response in not to pat myself on the back, but to show how the conversation ended. It is long, so this is not for the faint of heart. For the rest of you - enjoy!

Audrey: “When Batman Dark Night ended, there was something so unsatisfying left in my soul that I decided to write my own sequel [note: not included here]. Batman's last words were ‘sometimes the world doesn't need the truth. Sometimes, what the world needs is a lie.’ I sat there thinking to myself: ‘Wait, the world needs another lie? No Thank you Batman. You suck for speaking the words the devil whispers in my ear daily.’ ... Ok, so we left off with Batman running from the police and the people for crimes he didn't commit, not the same as Jesus suffering for crimes He didn't commit. Why? Because Jesus said the ‘Truth shall set you free.’ Not ‘I'm going to lie about what kind of a man Harvey Dent was because the world needs to think he is good.’ Big difference yo ...

Wade: Hi Audrey,

Sorry for the delay in responding. It’s the Christmas season, after all!

Now, I must issue one caveat: I can hardly give a sufficient answer, because I did not (yet) watch the movie. That will make it impossible for me to place it in the proper context. All I have to go on is the plot outline found at Wikipedia, which is hardly enough. However, I wanted to respond nonetheless.

I would have to disagree with your take on Batman’s final words. He said, “sometimes the world doesn't need the truth. Sometimes, what the world needs is a lie."

A. First of all, you say Batman is not a type of Christ here because Batman lies about what kind of a man Harvey Dent is so that the world will think he is good, whereas Christ speaks the Truth that sets us free. You call this a “big difference – yo”.

B. You also said you disagreed because there are already too many lies in the world, and that the Devil continually lies to you. I would agree that lies are a bad thing, they are too common, and that the Devil uses them against us

However, I would not tie that in with what Batman said, nor do I agree with your assessments, and for the following reasons:

1. Batman does not “lie”, does he? From what I understand, he rather allows a lie to be believed. Keep in mind that “it may sometimes be permitted to discreetly and prudently attenuate or disguise the truth by an equivocal statement”, and that “it is not always advisable to tell the whole truth” (St. Francis de Sales, “Intro to the Devout Life”, pg. 234).

2. Now, does Christ do any different than Batman when false charges were brought against him? When “false witnesses came forward” (Matt 26:60) and gave “false testimony” (Matt 26:59) regarding what He said about the Temple, the Bible tells us what Jesus’s response was to the charges: “Jesus was silent”. (Matt 26:62). Yes, he did eventually speak, but that is only because the high priest said, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ”. (Matt 26:63) Such an abjuration, which the high priest had the authority to give, not only put the person under oath but also required Him to respond. Jesus had to then speak to the charges. Notice He does not deny the charges, however. Rather, He simply goes on to incriminate Himself. So, in other words, Christ allows the false accusations, the “lies”, to stand, to go unchallenged, and to be believed.

3. That is also one reason why I agree with Batman when he says that the world sometimes needs a lie instead of the truth. Without that lie, Christ would have never been crucified, and we would still be unsaved.

4. I think you ended up speaking to all this when you spoke about the vision given to Pope Leo XIII. You spoke about how “God agreed to this [giving the Devil power over the 20th Century] believe it or not so that a greater good would come from it”. God bringing good out of evil – the secondary theme (the primary theme being love) of Scripture and Church history. Is lying not an evil? Is it not, in fact, the Devil’s modus operandi? Our Lord calls him “a liar and the father of lies” and a murderer
(John 7:44) because he killed Adam and Eve spiritually – and did so through what else but a series of three lies. (Gen 3:1-5) And that is how he leads us to spiritual death. And that is how he led Jesus Christ to death.

5. a. But God brings good out of evil, just like he brings good and truth from lies. That is why I agree with Batman: because I believe the world sometimes needs a lie, because without the lie, sometimes we will never find the truth, and without evil, sometimes we will never arrive at the good.

b. Where would the Church be today without the Protestant Reformation? We would still have Popes with four mistresses and seven illegitimate children (Alexander VI), wealthy nobles in charge of all the different dioceses of Ohio and Pennsylvania – having purchased the offices of bishops in all those dioceses at a price, priests living openly with women and fathering children, itinerant theologians getting rich of the selling of indulgences, etc. It took heresy and schism (and a threat to the Church’s coffers) to finally light a fire under the butts of the Roman Curia to get serious about Church reform, after over 700 years of such abuses as I just outlined. The examples from Scripture and Church history can be multiplied – as many times over as there are books in the Bible, or chapters in the books on Church history. It is a recurring theme.

c. Here is another lie: when Nero had Rome set on fire, he blamed the Christians. What began was the first of ten violent persecutions against the Christians – each one of them fuelled by lies. But what did Tertullian say about that? “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. ... The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, 50). [If you read the whole excerpt, you will see a good explanation of the principal spoken of earlier, namely, how it is that God sometimes needs the lie and evil to bring about the truth and good]. How was the Roman Empire Converted? Through the bold witness of Christians. The pagans saw them going eagerly to their deaths, and said, “Wow, if they love this Jesus so much that they are willing to die for him, I want to believe in this Jesus too!”. It’s like in the “Love Comes Softly” series, when the farmhands were invited but declined the little “church service” the farm’s owners had every Sunday in their house. After the couple went inside, the one farmhand said to the other, “if believing the way they do makes them be the way they are, I think that’s something I might want to get in on”. Anyway, without the lies, there are no martyrdoms, no conversion of the Roman Empire, and Europe remains pagan to this day (well, one could argue it is pagan again, but I digress . . .)

6. a. It is the same with lies: we sometimes need the lies in order to discover the truth or convince others of it. A common theme in the writings of the Church Fathers is that heresies are necessary, so that the Church can come to a fuller understanding of the truth. (John 16:13). For instance, the Church did not really figure out the Trinitarian mystery (and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Communion of Life and Love – how central has that become to us now?!) until Arius started preaching and spreading his heresies. No, it took four heresies and four ecumenical councils for us to really find out who Christ and His Father were.

b. Keep in mind what a heresy is, now. A heresy is a false belief, a “lie”, inspired by none other than Satan. And yet, God uses this to bring about the truth. The Church has arrived at a deeper understanding of the truth primarily through doctrinal controversies and heresies. Thus, heresies are what help the Church most profoundly to arrive at the “development of doctrine”. So, St. Augustine says: “Those who err in belief do but serve to bring out more clearly the soundness of those who believe rightly. For there are many things which lay hidden in the Scriptures, and when heretics were cut off they vexed the Church of God with disputes; then the hidden things were brought to light, and the will of God was made known." (St. Augustine on the 54th Psalm, No. 22.) and “It often happens that when it becomes necessary to defend certain points of Catholic doctrine against the insidious attacks of heretics they are more carefully studied, they become more clearly understood, they are more earnestly indicated; and so the very questions raised by heretics give occasion to a more thorough knowledge of the subject in question." [De Civitate Dei, Lib. 16, Cap. ii., No. 1.] You see, Augustine himself says that God has providentially allowed heretical “lies” so that we can understand better the Scriptures! “O happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam, which won for us so great a Redeemer”, could be rephrased: “O happy sin, o necessary lie of Satan, which won for us so great a Truth”.

7. a. There is another reason we sometimes need “a lie”. Because Colonel Nathan Jessep from “A Few Good Men” was right: sometimes some of us can’t handle the truth.

b. I think back here to the Simpsons episode, where Lisa discovered that Jebediah Springfield the town hero was in reality Hans Sprungfeld, a murderous pirate. She was going to expose the secret, but had second thoughts. Her explanation was that “the myth of Jebediah has value too”, but I think part of the value the myth had was that if the truth came out and destroyed the myth, the people would have become disillusioned, and lost faith in not only the town and its institutions, but perhaps in humanity in general. For some, it does not take much. I remember Jimbo Jones saying to someone who let him down, “I don’t believe in nothing no more – now I’m going to become a lawyer”. You see how horrible that can be! But seriously, Lisa could handle the truth – most of the townspeople could not.

c. The Fathers of the Church also speak about how we need to slowly impart the truth, just as a baby has to be weaned, because if you try to give a baby too much too soon, it will either spit it up or even choke. Sometimes, it is better for people to believe a lie for the meantime than to have the truth crammed down their throats. For instance, I know about someone who, although famous and popular in the Church, is a phoney, a fake. But it would not be good for them if I was to tell them everything I knew. When they say to me, “isn’t he great?”, my response is, “his teaching is fabulous”. It is not that I ignore the problem – I have written him personally and have addressed this with his superior. But I fear that if I was to tell my friends all what I know, they might lose their faith. Remember the sexual abuse crisis? It is said that five percent of ex-Catholics or lapsed Catholics explain that the scandal of the sexual abuse crisis was the main factor which (perhaps finally) prompted them to leave. I want to avoid that, without, of course, keeping them from the fact that sometimes people in the Church are not as they appear, nor does “orthodoxy” always accompany a good Christian life.

Okay, I could write more about this, but I think that is enough for now.

Audrey: Thank you for the many things to think about....You always do you research...I don't.

But throughout the movie, Batman kept saying over and over again, you cannot use a bad means so that good will come from it. He said this to 2face. Doesn't Batman then contradict this at the end of the movie by doing exactly what He originally said was unacceptable?

And the priest scandals in our diocese, the head hanchos in the Church covered up and kept quiet the evils some of the priests were doing because they didn't want more scandal, they didn't want people to leave the Church. This infuriated some people who ended up leaving the Church because the Bishops kept things hidden. You lose trust in the people who keep things hidden from you. Is that right? Just a little hidden truth never hurt anybody? I don't think that's true.

Wade: 1a. I think a distinction must be made between our committing evil in order to bring about a good and our permitting or allowing evil for a time. The Church Herself makes such a distinction. The reason the Church does the latter is because some things are out of Her control, and the only way She can sometimes eradicate the evil is to allow it to go on for a while. For instance, the Vatican has allowed the Modernists to get away with all kinds of spiritually destructive things for the last 45 years. Why? Because had She tried to stamp it out heavy-handedly, (a) there would have been a massive schism (in which the Church would have lost hundreds of millions of souls to a newly-created schismatic Modernist Church), and (b) modernism would continue to flourish well into the future. By allowing it to continue and treating the leaders of the movement with kid gloves, two things have happened: (a) we kept their children in the Church, and (b) we were thus able to present to them an orthodox Catholicism, so that the only Modernists left are old and the movement will soon die with them. The Church has learned from Her errors. In the 16th Century, had we exercised a similar patience, and allowed the Protestants to remain in the Church (instead of excommunicating Luther), we would have eventually won over the future generations. Every heresy that did not result in schism has died, while every heresy that ended in schism still lives - and also remains in a schismatic community. Anyway, that is sort of a tangent. Back to Batman . . .

b. It seems to me that Batman did not contradict himself (or maybe he did - I have not watched the movie). He said we cannot commit evil so that good might come out of it. What Batman ended up doing was not committing an evil, but allowing or permitting an evil. To my knowledge, Batman was already suspected of being guilty, without his coming out and saying "hey, I'm the one who did it". The latter would be an example of a lie and the committing of evil, and if this is what he did, then yes, I agree, I would have to say that like you, I am not in favour of what Batman did.

c. However, even then I would not be so hard on Batman, which I will explain at the end of my next response, which was to your second paragraph:

First, sorry about my emotionally-fueled criticism of the 16th Century Roman Curia - the one thing that gets me most upset in this world is scandal in the Church. Then again, I am not without guilt when it comes to hypocrisy.

2a. With that said, the main problem with the bishops in the abuse crisis was not that they covered things up - the biggest thing was that they shuffled child molesting priests from parish to parish and allowed them the opportunity to victimize more children. What the bishops should have done was when they found out a priest molested a child, they should have turned him into the police and defrocked him immediately.

b. Should they have also made it public that these priests molested children? I don't know. In the ideal world where the Church was as She should be, yes, the bishops should have come out and said "Fr. So and So has been charged with abusing one of our Catholic children, and he has been defrocked". The problem is this: the Church is an all-too human institution replete with structural and systemic deficiencies that have corrupted Her. These defects have been been handed down to us, and we have to act and function within that damaged and dysfunctional institution and do the best with the situation we find ourselves in. Vatican II tried to correct much of this, but most of it was never implemented (I have written a whole manuscript on this subject that I cannot even begin to get into).

3a. What I am getting at is this: If the Church was as She should be, few molestors would make it to ordination, the bishops would do the right thing no matter the cost, and the faith of the laity would be strong enough to handle all the cold hard truths the bishops are privy to. But, because Church leadership over the years has either created or allowed such anomalies to exist in our Church's structures, the waters get muddied. The choices are between bad and worse, and it is hard to know what the right thing to do is. That is the predicament Batman is in. He is caught between a rock and a hard place, and besides this, he has to make a split-second decision that really requires more deliberation. So he makes the best choice that is available to him (or so he believes) - and that choice is between bad and worse. His heart was certainly in the right place.

3b. It is a fallen world, and the Church is caught up in that.

4a. As for your last point, bishops keep things hidden because for one thing, the faith of people is weak. They should evangelize and catechise the people so as to make the people stronger in their faith. But (a) they sometimes don't know how to even do this; and (b) if they do, it sometimes requires effort and sacrifice, and some aren't willing to do that. The fact is, over the years, bishops have become rather "aloof" and self-serving, instead of Shepherds willing to lay down their lives for their sheep and becoming last and servant of all. Secondly, bishops also hide things sometimes because it is easier for them that way - easier in many ways, but I won't get into that.

4b. Yes, you are right. They should be more transparent and more accountable. But that is not the way they are, nor have they ever been. And they probably never will be. You have no doubt heard the story of how Napolean captured the Pope, and bragged to him that he was going to destroy the Church. The Pope responded, "our own priests and bishops have been trying to destroy the Church for over 1800 years, and we haven't been able to do so. Do you really think you're going to succeed?" My Church history professor at seminary taught us, "Every renewal movement in the Church started at the grassroots, and every period of decline in the Church started from the top-down". It is what it is - however unfortunate that may be.

Audrey: Wade your reasoning is astounding and the Wisdom is true. Thank you for the analogies. You never even saw the movie but your philosophy is sound. I will have to think about this for a while. Happy New Year.

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