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Batman’s actions speak louder than Bruce Wayne’s words

I just went to see ‘Batman Begins’ yesterday. Two things jumped out at me.

First, at the risk of sounding the pompous boor (too late – I just used “pompous boor”), the Socratic struggle to determine whether it was better to live a good or an evil life was well presented and explored.

From what I recall, Socrates mind experiment, was set up with two characters. A good man and an evil man. In order to make the experiment fair, each individual was represented as the highest expression of their respective nobility or depravity. Therefore all of the initial advantage was given to the evil person – his deceit and lies made him look completely noble and true (one who is truly evil takes all the advantage). The good man began with no advantage, in most peoples eyes he looked evil.

The book runs through many scenarios and situations before eventually affirming the decisions of the good man.

In the movie, Bruce (and his alter-ego Batman) must confront his own struggle in this regard. He must determine whether Justice can devolve into Revenge – if they are one and the same – or if we need Mercy to fully realise our humanity.

He begins this struggle after a confrontation with the crime boss who killed his family, he runs to somewhere in Asia (Tibet?) to get to know the criminal mind. Thrown into jail as a common criminal, he attempts to learn about evil firsthand. Later, he returns as the Billionaire playboy. On the surface he is shallow, conceited, a member of the status quo, yet at night he fights crime! His shallow nature a mask to hide and protect his noble nature.

The good man looks evil, while the evil men (politicians, doctors, and judges) look good. We yearn for the truly good and noble to prevail Guess who wins out? Guess who you cheer for? This is fundamental and important myth-making at its finest. Transferring and popularizing what we know as right and true into the heart of our culture.

Socrates / Batman -To-may-to / To-mah-to.


Secondly, the line, It is not who you are down deep inside that matters, but what you do… struck a chord. All too often, I hear people involved in a certain action or behaviour and explain it away as, “this is not the real me”. I have heard it as a cop-out for the churched, misusing Paul’s “what I wish to do, I do not – and what I do not wish to do, I do.” The unspoken assumption is that this is somehow okay. We all have struggles because we are not perfect. Of course we all sin, have struggles, fail, and God is gracious enough to forgive. Yet that does not ever excuse our action, in essence what we do is who we are, much more so than what we believe is who we are.

Stated belief (or in many cases, parroted truisms), are not the same as actual and true beliefs. True belief is always acted on, conversely, your actions reveal your true beliefs far more than your stated convictions. James tends to ramble on about this thought for his whole brilliant letter to the early church. In Finding Faith, MClaren gives a great illustration. If a man at the bar is crying in his beer about loving his family, stating so, does not make it so. Yes he may have strong feelings, yet those maudlin emotions are not reality. Love is not simply an emotion. It is action. True love pulls him off of the stool and home once again. (Yes I understand that addiction issues are more complex than this – but it does help illustrate the point)

A quote I have been using recently comes to mind. In a conversation between a Catholic priest and a Rabbi, the Rabbi says, The problem with you Christians is that you think that what you believe matters most – once you believe right, then you will do right actions. As Jews we think that what you do matters most- we do not really care what you believe, we are concerned about what you do.

Of course this thought can quickly get swallowed up in the argument that people can do things out of ulterior motivation, or works-based salvation – but I think that there may be some truth here. If we look at someone’s actions over a lifetime, we will see a pattern. Godliness or selfishness will be revealed. We find out true and real belief as opposed to stated conviction. I suppose the deeper question is how to determine what you believe, and our actions perhaps reflect that more accurately than words. What you believe does matter, but saying your believe may not.

The classic comments of Jesus to the Pharisees provide a great example of this line of reasoning. In essence, the perceived holiest people of their time, the Pharisees had the right thoughts, this led to the right actions of obedience to the law. As Jesus worded it, “You clean the outside of the bowl, but the inside is full of rot. You look great, but your real actions mean that your parents starve.” Often the Pharisees are judged in performing good works, yet in essence Jesus is saying that they were unfortunately not performing good works, they were performing holy works, rather than truly good works. They were performing spiritual looking actions, based on superior and right thoughts towards the law. Jesus makes a value judgement, right thoughts or right actions, which is more correct?

It is not who you are down deep inside that matters, but what you do

Anyways. All in all, philosophizin’ aside, I thought it a great flick, lots of explosions, cool gadgets, fire breathing horses, bad guys getting beat down, and Ninjas! Yes, a little dark, not for younger kids, but even this non-reader of comic books found it very satisfying.

August 30, 2005

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