Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wanna Be a Revolutionary? Be Orthodox



In “V for Vendetta,” we get the impression that being a revolutionary is on par with being a terrorist. Now, perhaps we could push all sense of decency and morality to the point where we could conceive the elimination of an entire government as proper, if that the government had become both powerful and evil. Perhaps we could imagine a scenario where refusing to play by “moral” rules of the day was the best way to overthrow those who are powerful and immoral. But actually, the ideas behind “V” strike me as immature and reactionary. I don’t find that our culture needs revolutionaries to overthrow governments as much as revolutionaries who define morality in a traditional and orthodox way, and then have the audacity to tell other people about it.

There are those who speak about morality as though it were a fleeting notion, a personal preference, or even a thing of the past. “Old” morality is just that: old. New morality must be put in its place. (A fun examination of this may be found in the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series by Alexander McCall Smith, where the protagonist laments the loss of the “old Botswana morality”.) For Hollywood types and self-described philosophers, the “old” standard-bearers of morality seem to be the bad guys. The Church (my area of interest) is particularly lamented, because of its stodginess and irrelevancy. For example, between “V” and the terrible “Ultraviolet,” I’ve noticed that the cross has become a harbinger of the abuse of power more than any actual statement of the Christian faith. It is placed on buildings to signal the evil manipulation of power, nothing sacred or honorable.

Of course, this is nothing new; the Church has been accused of promoting an outdated moral model since the Reformation, certainly the Enlightenment. But it strikes me how boring these accusations still are. The government’s slogan in the movie (“Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith”) displays an immature and propagandistic view the filmmakers have of religion. These are the types of stereotypes that are spoken by people who do not know of the gentle urgings of a life of faith, and castigate it from afar, with great fear and an utter lack of moral courage.

But as it turns out, historic revolutionaries against totalitarianism were exactly what “V” says the dictators are: people of faith. Consider the thousands of martyrs who, over 2,000 years have stood in the way of oppressive governments! It starts with the Holy Innocents who died at the hands of King Herod immediately following the birth of Jesus. We have the apostles in the Roman Empire at the hands of Nero, the victims of the counter-Reformation and Thirty Years War and the pastors who opposed Nazism and Communism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has garnered a lot of attention n the last 2 decades as the Lutheran pastor and theologian who was one of the first to speak against Hitler (in 1936) who went on to attempt to assassinate him in July, 1944. Bonhoeffer was later hanged at the Flossenbuerg concentration camp. And these orthodox and faithful revolutionaries are by no means limited to the Christian sect, though its understanding of human freedom, private property and the sanctity of life tend to make it an ideal ideology for anti-totalitarianism. (That being said, the churches cooperated with Hitler too early and too often, naïve and outfoxed, and should have resisted earlier.)

It is interesting to me that the very values that the hero in “V” is fighting for have come from a generally theistic, if not specifically Judeo-Christian worldview. The hero’s slogan (“The people should not fear their government; the government should fear their people”) comes from an understanding of sin, power and morality straight out of the Bible (and other sacred texts.) Yet, the bad guy is the one with the cross imagery.

Yes, Hitler used veiled spiritual language and the swastika is a historically religious symbol. Hitler spoke of a god having favor on the German people and favoring their destinies. But did he ever speak of Germany following the example of Jesus Christ? Was that name ever used, or only the vague language of a god? To insinuate in any way that Hitler had real Christian aims is grossly unsupported and intellectually dishonest. Yet, “V” seems to be saying that exactly, and in the process comparing contemporary governments with the Nazi regime. (I wonder if this is also a veiled critique of the faith of President Bush?) Regardless, the historic revolutionaries throughout time have more often than not been people of an orthodox faith, a faith that if proclaimed in social circles today is seen as more of an affront to freedom than any renegade in a mask.