Friday, July 20, 2012

Fictional Violence vs. Real Life Tragedy

How do we enjoy The Dark Knight Rises after the shooting in Aurora?

It’s an open question. I don’t have an answer, only gut reactions from watching the movie less than a day after 12 people were killed and 50 wounded by a psycho. Last night, James Holmes turned the premiere of TDKR into a massacre when he walked into a theatre and started shooting during one of the movie’s many gunfire scenes. At first, people outside couldn’t distinguish between the real gunfire and the movie; some inside thought the gun sounded like “popping balloons.”

For me, I couldn’t enjoy it. TDKR is a technically great movie; the plot is engaging, the acting incredible, and the world building extraordinary. But it is also an incredibly dark film, and the violence not only explicit but casual. Because of the extreme realism, each death is visceral and painful. With Aurora still fresh in my mind, it was too real.

I watched the theatre hallway during the shooting scenes. I was jumped once a few years ago, and now I’m paranoid enough that I can all too easily picture random acts of violence. Between the realism, Aurora, and my own experience, watching TDKR was an extremely uncomfortable experience.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for a movie like this. I’m not even saying it’s too violent. But I am saying that watching the movie after a real life tragedy felt more than a little tone-deaf, and I couldn’t put an appropriate distance between what was fiction and what could be only too real. I didn’t need Bain as a symbol of evil; I already had that in Holmes.

I’m open to other interpretations. It may be that in a few years I would enjoy the film for what it is, a great work of fiction. Maybe I just need the time to inure me to what the fictional deaths would be in reality. Maybe TDKR is a peacetime movie, and it’s good that many people have little enough experience with violence that the movie doesn’t bother them. But right now I can’t do it.

Does anyone else have other thoughts?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Private Charity vs. Social Sharing

I think that we Christians have the wrong idea about what charity is supposed to be.

Take “Obamacare;” one of the main reasons given for opposing it, is that it puts a legal mandate on charity. We believe that we should take care of the poor and the sick, but many people feel that this is something that should be done freely on a personal level. We can’t, or shouldn’t, mandate people through taxes to take care of others.

This makes a lot of sense. We are born with free will, and charity should be freely given. But it sets up a false dichotomy that hurts us as Christians: it says that there are rich, and there are poor, and those who have should give to those who do not have. This is not Christianity.

In today’s second reading, Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.

As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.”

As Christians, we strive not just for the relief of the poor, but for equality with them. Private charity, where we give to the poor from our abundance, does not embrace equality but sustains injustice, because we give a little but keep a lot. Private charity relies on the dichotomy between rich and poor, but justice seeks to abolish it.

There are many things wrong with Obamacare. How much it will cost is unclear, it includes the unjust HHS Mandate, and it gives tacit support to abortion providers. And we should fight those things. But it is, in its idea, a profoundly Christian attempt to bring justice to charity. It seeks to make all citizens equal, who will all share health care in their abundance, and share health care in their need. Charity should not be the rich burdened by the poor, but an exchange of giving and receiving among brethren. Whether it’s realized or not, our current system burdens the “rich,” because we still provide care to the poor through emergency rooms and free clinics. Sharing health care like Obamacare intends seeks to ease the burden by having everyone share the cost.

The pinnacle of Christianity is not charity. It is solidarity, where barriers are broken down between believers. The Acts of the Apostles describe early believers holding “all things in common.” What Jesus taught was not charity, but social sharing. Our God is the God of life, and of justice, and we should embrace those things that embrace both life and justice.