Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Spiderman 3 Gospel?

This is from the Pyromaniacs Blog

The Gospel in Spider-Man 3
by Dan Phillips

It isn't there.
What this is. This will be a spoiler-free reflection on some themes from the gargantuan smash movie Spider-Man 3. If you abhor spoilers as much as I, you can read safely, as I've fuzzed and vagued everything up sufficiently to discuss without ruination.

Background. I read Spider-Man comics from the start, and enjoyed them. I enjoyed the poorly-animated cartoon series less, and eventually just traveled away from comics. So I'm no expert on the Spider-Man "canon" since the late '60's, probably.

I liked the first movie, but I loved the second. I found it actually a very decent drama, whose protagonist just happened to be a super-hero. It had heart, comedy, action, conflict, pathos — very difficult to believe that the same man behind The Evil Dead (—not recommended!) helmed these movies.

But above all, it had Tobey Maguire, a fine actor who puts a believable, likable, fully-dimensional human being in the spandex suit. Some actors can't do justice to the words written for them; Maguire's face and body-language are so expressive, the words are almost more for our benefit. It didn't hurt that the supporting cast, both friend and foe, has always been equally strong.

Each movie has also had a moral center, such as the theme that "with great power comes great responsibility."

Spider-Man 3. This third movie in the franchise is no exception. In fact, it does a good bit of moralizing, while serving up all the other elements as well. Director Sam Raimi works wonderfully well with his talented actors to make very believable personal moments amid the heart-pounding action. But it's the moralizing that you and I will pause to consider.

This movie has themes of the folly of pride, of the agony of prioritizing, of the dangers of popularity; of vengeance, sin, forgiveness, and even arguably redemption. It features an American flag and a cross, at critical moments.

From a Christian perspective, what's not to love?

There certainly is a lot to like, and the enthusiastic reviewer for Christian Spotlight (warning: spoilers) says "As far as morals go, that is the strongest thing about 'Spider-Man 3' and all of the films in this series." She sees one of the main character embodying Romans 12:21 — "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." She gives the movie a moral rating of "Better than average," and with that I wouldn't disagree.

You feel a "but" coming, don't you? Here it is:

But the morals are groundless, and thus the forgiveness is man-centered and meaningless.

Before someone says (as someone always must say) the obvious, let me do it first: it isn't a Christian movie. Duh! Thanks! I agree! (A thousand pairs of hands move back from the keyboard, disappointed.)

Indeed, my expectations of Hollywood (I started to type "Hollowwood") are such that I'm plenty happy when a movie's morals are in any way Christianward. From that perspective, there is a lot to like in all three Spider-Man movies.

But get this:

At a pivotal moment, one major character intones words to this effect: "First, you must do the hardest thing. You must forgive yourself."

Ah. And there it all is, in a nutshell.

All of the "crimes" and "sins" in these movies are sins against man in the eyes of man. Which means they are not sins at all. (Douglas Wilson, whose greatest fan I've admittedly not been, makes this point wonderfully well in the opening of his debate with Christopher Hitchens.) No right and wrong, no sin. No sin, no forgiveness. No forgiveness, no hope. No hope, no purpose. Man the measure of all things = man the destroyer of all things.

And so while Spider-Man borrows heavily from Christian themes and imagery, it leaves out the central facet: it leaves out the Gospel. It leaves out the infinite-personal God who, as D. A. Carson says it so well, "is always the wronged Party in every sin."

It is just as plain and as true as that: if there is no God, there can be no sin, really. There can only be behavior that this group of people doesn't like... although that group of people actually likes it very much. So who's to say what is right and wrong?

We need to have our collective faces slapped by the starkness of David's outrageous confession, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4a).

What! God only? The title of the psalm tells us that David was writing on the occasion of Nathan nailing him over his sin against Uriah, with Bathsheba. What of Uriah, then, for one? What of Bathsheba, sinned against as surely as sinned with? What of the nation? What of the child? God only? Madness!

"Madness" in the eyes of the man-centered, to be sure. But if there is no God, if there is no transcendent Law of God, then there is no sin. All we have is evolution playing itself out. We have one powerful collection of molecules using another collection of molecules to the loss of an inferior collection of molecules. There can be no basis for anything meaningful. Vanity, vapor, meaninglessness. Chasing after wind. No sin.

And certainly no forgiveness, and certainly no redemption.

But this is the world. It desperately wants what Christianity has to offer — but finds the price too high.

"Price?" you say. "But... say, you aren't going wobbly on sola gratia, are you, Phillips?"

Never. Never! The price is not an exchange. It is a consequence. If there is a real God of a god, such as the God of the Bible, then there is only one God. And if there is only one God, then it can't be me. Admit that He is God, and I of necessity admit that I am not.

And this, the abnegation of delusions of deity, the world will not have. The world bought the lying line in the Garden (Genesis 3:5), and it has been buying it — and selling it! — ever since. It is hopelessly tangled and snared in a web of its own weaving.

Yet here is the grand, tragic irony: it is only a real God of a god who can damn sin as sin, and sinners as sinners. It is only a real God of a god who can devise such a plan as the Plan of Redemption that finds its consummation in Jesus Christ. It is only a real God of a god who can pay the price justice demands to secure the forgiveness that grace and mercy would offer (Romans 3:19-26).

So, you see, my objection isn't so much against Spider-Man 3 which, as movies go, is a very good, fun movie.

My real objection is against the world, that shrinks in horror from the genuine Gospel of God, offering in its place the cheap, plastic, imitation, non-gospel that is the best it can provide.

And its best is so poor!

Conclusion: Spider-Man 3 is a fun, expertly-done movie. It contains a nice bit of moralizing. It preaches an appalling sermon.