Cain and Abel: A Modern Retelling

batman-joker-deadThroughout the Batman mythos, the greatest rivalry is between Batman and the Joker. From the time of his origin, the Joker has this perverse brotherly relationship with Batman. From the beginning (Joker’s one bad day), Batman and the Joker have been continuously entangled with one another, sharing a remarkable amount of habits and traits. Their relationship, when properly understood, can be likened to a modernized tale of Cain and Abel.

The Cain and Abel type relationship between Batman and the Joker is an interesting concept, but something that adds to the depth of the theory even more, there are times at which discerning which represents Cain and which represents Abel. The vast majority of the time, the Joker is Cain, having jealous fits of rage, killing, stealing, cheating, etc. A great part of this is because he is jealous of his righteous “brother” in the same way Cain was of Abel (Gen. 4:5). But what’s interesting is when the Joker succeeds at getting Batman to sin, effectively showing him that he is not that far removed from being Cain just like the Joker. There is no clearer example of this than in the end of The Killing Joke, in which the Joker is trying to prove to Batman that all it takes to be just as crazy as him is one bad day. Batman has been hunting down the Joker who has (just in the past day alone) paralyzed one of his closest friends for life, and tortured another to the brink of insanity. In the end of the story, Batman has apprehended the Joker, and the two are simply standing with one another, waiting for the police to come. The Joker decided to kill time by telling Batman a joke about two mental patients attempting to escape an insane asylum, and Batman begins to laugh. A small chuckle, at first, but the chuckle eventually develops into a full blown laugh, even bordering on a maniacal cackle. The Joker has broken the Batman. Another instance of the Joker getting Batman to break his rules comes in A Death In The Family when Batman is hunting down the Joker following the murder of Jason Todd. Though the Joker ultimately comes out alive, Batman clearly breaks his rule against killing, and is obviously trying to kill the Joker in response to Robin’s murder at his hands, and there are other instances of similar events happening between the two of them (The Dark Knight Returns, for example). What we see on the other side is that the Joker (as Cain) doesn’t want to kill Batman so long as Batman plays the role of Abel, but he wants to show Batman that the two of them are morally separated simply by (although I doubt the writers of Batman understand it this way) common grace. Abel is not Abel by some great moral substance of his own, but rather by the grace of God, and we see this clearly in this example from Batman and the Joker.

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Another parallel which can be drawn between the brotherly enmity between Batman and the Joker is that of their origins. We know that Cain and Abel were born following the fall and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24-4:2). In the same way, both Batman and the Joker are born out of extreme tragedy. Those moderately familiar with the Batman universe know that Bruce Wayne became Batman following the death of his parents, after vowing to avenge their deaths. What’s not quite as well known is the origin of the Joker. Prior to becoming the Joker, he was a rather normal, reasonably healthy man. He had a steady job, he had a wife and a child on the way, and he dabbled in standup comedy (which he was absolutely awful at).

His descent into being Cain came when he attempted to stage a robbery at a chemical plant in order to support his wife and child during some tough financial times, which can be paralleled to Cain’s offering up an unworthy sacrifice due to his perceived lack of resources. Without going on too long about the story, the Joker eventually falls into a vat of acid which changes the color of his skin, stretches his face, and leads to chemical imbalances in his brain, completely transitioning him into the Joker. He is marked, much in the same way Cain was following his sins against his brother. Both he and Batman come from tragic falls from grace, the difference is in their response. Batman turns to honest labors for the good of Gotham City, and attempts to make the world a better place, while the Joker turns to a life of crime and chaos, attempting to make others feel the same pain that he felt, and ultimately to drive anyone who crosses his path as insane as himself.

Batman and the Joker represent a perverse version of Cain and Abel. Their brotherly relationship, born out of similar life circumstances, and possessing strikingly similar personalities (despite one being far more righteous than the other) provides an excellent and artistic representation of Cain and Abel in modern literature and film. Theirs is far from the only representation of Cain and Abel in recent literature (East of Eden being another, and perhaps the best) but when their relationship is viewed in this light, simple comics and superhero films become significantly more interesting and meaningful than they otherwise would have been.

Bibliography:

Miller, Frank, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. New York, New York: DC Comics, 2002.

Moore, Alan. Batman: The Killing Joke. deluxe ed. Batman. New York: DC Comics, ©2008.

Rocksteady Studios. “Batman: Arkham City” (PS3 Game). Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, October 18, 2011.

Starlin, Jim, and Marv Wolfman. Batman: A Death in the Family. New York: DC Comics, ©2011.

 

 

A Response to ‘Why Libertarianism Is Immoral’

This piece is a  response to Michael Beauharnois’ post, Why Libertarianism Is Immoral. In his post, Michael lays out four reasons why libertarianism is a dangerous and immoral political theory for Christians to hold.

The first objection of the piece to libertarianism is that “Feeding people once or twice a week is not a ministry”. The piece goes on to explain that in order to help the poor, we not only need to give them food, clothing, and shelter, but we also need to train them to become productive members of society on their own. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on helping the poor not only through immediately charitable works, and more long-term through helping them into a stable financial position, The piece goes on though, claiming that “When all people focus on is money, such as what the libertarian economic worldview suggests, it should not come as a shock when the poor start asking for free money”. This is not the case at all. Libertarianism is a moral theory first, and an economic one second. The axiom on which all of libertarianism rests is not “capitalism and profits above all else” but instead is the non-agression principle, that any and all initiation of force is illegitimate. The only time violence is justified is in response to direct attack upon person or property. It is certainly true that the vast majority of libertarians are committed to the Austrian school of economics, but this does not mean that the system is in any way a Randian egoist economic system, where all anyone cares about is their own immediate self-interest and happiness.

Michael also objects to large corporations such as McDonalds and others for not paying their workers enough, using bad ingredients in their food, and generally being big corporate bad guys. He says that he does this to show that not all government regulation is a bad thing. However, this does not undo the libertarian philosophy in any way. The freedom philosophy does not leave anyone helpless to do anything against businesses which they don’t like, in fact it does quite the opposite. In a free society a man is free to take his business elsewhere if he dislikes a business, and provided he does not use slander or libel, he is free to use ostracism to push the business which he dislikes into practices more in line with his values.

The second objection is that libertarians “do not understand how human nature REALLY works”. He says that libertarians “view capitalism as some form of a god” and he claims that laissez-faire capitalism was responsible for the great depression, and that the depression was not solved until WWII kicked production up in the country. This is not the case at all, however. Each major crash of the market, up to and since the great depression has been directly caused by a boom and bust cycle created by easy money and credit lent out by the state. The author goes on to claim that one of the major ideas of libertarianism is that of private property and ownership, which is absolutely true. His error comes when he claims that George W. Bush is the poster-boy of the idea of private property rights. However, this is far from the case. Bush oversaw two major busts in the American economy, and in both instances turned towards Keynesian interventionism. Under Bush, annual federal spending increased by over $1.1 trillion during his tenure and an additional $1 trillion in 2009. Even as a percentage of GDP, federal spending increased from 18.5 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2008 (Hoover, Bush And Great Depressions). The author claims that the great depression of 2008 was caused primarily by libertarian philosophy and economic ideas. This could not be further from the case, as the Bush administration was one of the most meddlesome in the market economy in the history of the United States. 

In the same objection, the author goes on to lampoon trickle down economics. There is no major reason to object to his dislike of this system, but trickle down economics are the opposite of libertarianism, dependent upon government intervention and crony capitalism more than they are on genuine free market interaction.

The next objection is that “libertarians do not understand what a ‘free market’ really is” This is, of course, ludicrous, Even more ludicrous is the claim that the market, left to its own devices, would become a series of oligarchies and monopolies. This gets into an area then where the author fails to grasp both human nature and what government truly is. First, government is nothing if not a monopoly on the legal use of force. Government exists by maintaining the claim to be the final arbiter of all conflict in a given geographical location, and it maintains this claim by means of force and nothing but force. If it did not, it would not be government.

If we are worried about monopolies, we should be concerned about state monopolies. In a free society, if and when a given company gains a massive share (or even all of) the market, they may very well begin to raise their prices in response to their lack of competition, but if people choose freely to pay those prices, no wrong has been done, no force initiated. More likely though, a competitor will emerge to offer the same service at a lower price, thereby bringing balance and harmony back into the market. With government, when a government gets out of control, there is nothing to stop it but government, and has been shown time and again throughout history, when a government is responsible for limiting itself, it doesn’t. The author goes on to claim that Monsanto suing small-time farmers is an example of libertarianism, but this could not be further from the truth. Using the force of the state (or any other force) to extract your neighbor’s property is not libertarianism, it is theft, plain and simple.

The last main objection in the piece is “A Refusal to Own up to the Damage You Have Done Has Caused an Opposite Reaction.” The claim is that some people have become so disillusioned with libertarian philosophy that they now accept communism or various forms of collectivist systems. This does not undo libertarianism in any way. People rejecting a philosophy does not make a philosophy bad, and people misunderstanding a philosophy and massively over-correcting in the opposite direction is no fault of the philosophy either. It may be, that like the author of the original piece, these people grossly misunderstand libertarian theory, and that’s a sad thing, but it is not the undoing of the philosophy. Even Jesus’ teaching was rejected, and people killed him for it, but that does not mean that what Jesus taught was wrong. What makes a philosophy good or bad is whether or not it aligns with reality, and the freedom philosophy aligns with both the testimony of nature regarding private property and personal rights, as well as the testimony of scripture.

In his conclusion, the author claims that he is in favor of peaceful means to correcting the problems which he attributes to libertarianism, but he then turns right around and claims that the peaceful means necessary to correct the faults of the freedom philosophy is the state, an agent not of peace, but strictly of force. This is grossly inconsistent and shows the author’s lack of understanding as to what is peaceful (free trade), and what is not (government intervention). As mentioned above, there are myriad ways to deal with businesses whose practices we dislike in a free society, but when it comes to the state, there are no options, only violence.

Libertarianism is a system which advocates the free and voluntary interaction of all peoples, and rejects as immoral the initiation of force in all forms, nothing more, nothing less. This is grounded in the belief that a man has a right to his own body, as well as to his property. Libertarianism does not advocate crony capitalism, it does not advocate the down-trodding of the poor, and it does not advocate the use of force except for as a response to the initiation of force. This philosophy is in line both with the plain teaching of scripture, and natural revelation. The theory is not immoral, but rather reflects the peaceful nature of human interaction which Christ requires of us.

Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 7

Based on the information contained in the preceding parts of this series, we can come to the following conclusion: The dogma of purgatory stands in complete opposition to the scriptures, to the message of the gospel, and significantly diminishes the meaning of the atoning work of Christ. It is built on a shaky foundation of eisegesis, poorly documented church tradition (largely because of the actual lack of teaching on the subject in the history of the church, particularly in the patristic period), and wild fantasies regarding the intermediate state which in no way are supported by the whole plain teaching of scripture on the afterlife. We can see the beginnings of the dogma were shaky at best, and if Rome wished to maintain any sort of compelling argument in favor of purgatory, it likely would have been in their best interests to leave things that way.

While St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas provided far more detailed and developed doctrines of purgatory than their predecessors, they ultimately did the Roman Catholic Church a great disservice by shining a far brighter light on the details of the dogma. This light caused the blemishes, already somewhat visible to be even more apparent for all to see. We can see that Rome did not care for this in their attempts to return to a more vague version of the dogma through the councils of Florence and Trent, but the damage was already irreparably done. In modernity, although it is still a dogma maintained by the church, it is something that seems to be far more hidden in the soteriology of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether this is a good thing or not is difficult to say, but it does show us how little weight the doctrine actually carries, which is something to be thankful for. On the other hand, the atoning work of Christ continues to bear all the weight of the sins of His people, and directs the glory for that work to the Triune God. This is the true doctrine of salvation of the church.

 

 

Selected Series Bibliography:

 

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. publication place: publisher, publication year. Accessed July 26, 2014. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/7001.htm . Web.

 

Augustine. The City of God Against the Pagans. Translated by R W. Dyson. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

 

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. new ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996. Print.

 

Hannah, Edward, Purgatory in the Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1911). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm. Web.

 

Kirsch, J.P. (1912). Council of Trent. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15030c.htm. Web.

 

Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Print.

 

McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. 2nd ed. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.

 

Neale, J. M., ed. The History of the Council of Florence. publication place: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007. Print.

 

Venema, Cornelis P. The Promise of the Future. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.

Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 6

In last week’s post, we examined the lack of textual basis for the dogma of purgatory. This lack of textual basis, however, does not even cover all the problems with the dogma. The dogma of purgatory, as a whole, is unchristian, and wholly opposed to the message of the gospel. Rome has made the mistake of trying to affirm one important portion of scripture (the just judgment of God), and pushed it far past what it was ever supposed to mean, in a weak attempt to make sense of how God can be just and still justify those who have sinned. It entirely shifts the focus of the gospel (God providing salvific righteousness for sinners through the atoning work of Christ) from God’s grace to the sinner’s work, both in this life and in the intermediate state. It takes away from the perfectness of the work of Christ, and even makes him out to be a liar (after all “It is finished!” doesn’t mean a whole lot when there is still work to be done). God most certainly does call sinners just and righteous because they are truly just and righteous, but not through any work of penance of theirs, nor of any moral perfection which is ontologically inherent to them. The means by which God calls sinners just and righteous is the imputed righteousness of Christ, granted to all those who have been regenerated to new life by the Spirit, not by some ontological transformation of their moral being over the course of their life and death.

Finally, setting aside the soteriological issues with the doctrine, there are also issues of ecclesiology which it brings up. It is certainly true that Christ has given the keys of the kingdom over to the rulers of the church (Matthew 16), but not in such a way as to allow this form of administration to go on. When Christ gave the keys to the kingdom over to Peter and the church which was built on the foundation of the Apostles, he gave the keys in such a way that the church could recognize that which was bound in heaven, not in such a way that it could alter it, particularly for monetary gain. Neither the church nor the pope has the power to change where the souls of those who have died reside, be it in heaven, hell or purgatory. While the doctrine of purgatory may not have been used for the sake of financial gain by the Roman Catholic Church for its entire history, it would be a serious disservice to the study of the subject to not point out the amount of financial gain as well as power that Rome was able to exploit from this dogma. Whether or not theologians of the church who believed in this doctrine had ulterior motives for it, we can see that it was grossly misused, not simply as an errant doctrine, but as a tool by which the church maintained power and financial welfare which they otherwise would not have had. The administration of the church is a serious matter, and abuse or misuse of the power of the offices of authority within it is not to be taken likely. Teachers incur stricter judgment, and teachers with the authority of offices in the church (bishop, priest, pope, etc.) also face this same judgment. The power which they are granted by Christ is one of service, not one of domination, and the dogma of purgatory is unfortunately used as a tool for domination by the church, particularly in the centuries closer to the protestant reformation.

 

Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 5

Having looked at the tradition and development of the doctrine of purgatory, the texts commonly used in favor must be examined. Historically there are three main passages which have been used to support the dogma of purgatory: 2 Maccabees 12:43-45, Matthew 12:32, and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. We should start by looking at 2 Maccabees, even though this text is non-canonical, it is important to engage Rome on their own turf. the text does seem to support some idea of offerings being made for the dead, in order that they may be released from their sin. Ignoring the issues this would cause in understanding the work and words of Christ (“It is finished” seems to make it rather clear that the sacrificial work of Christ was a once for all redemptive-historical event), this text does not support the Roman Catholic dogma as it has been built up in their history. Cornelius Venema helpfully points out that the sins for which Judas was making sacrifice included mortal sins such as idolatry, which his prayers and offerings could not help to atone for in the purgatory created in the minds of Roman Catholic theologians. It is clear, even from this non-canonical text that Roman Catholic dogma has performed some rather forced exegesis on the text. The fact that this non-canonical text with a rather forced reading is the strongest support of the dogma of purgatory is rather damning evidence.

The second text, Matthew 12:32 is the famous passage regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The text states that “whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, in this age or in the age to come”. Now, the age to come certainly indicates that there will be both reward and punishment following death. However, we can see that this text does not offer any substantial support to the concept of purgatory. This text simply makes it clear that the judgement and punishment rightly due to those who commit this sin will continue on past their earthly life, just like every other sin which is not forgiven to an unrepentant sinner. As with the passage in 2 Maccabees, there is a massive argument and subsequent dogma being built off of a very small amount of textual support. This is a clear case of applying the Texas sharpshooter fallacy to the text. There is a tiny bit of data which supports or correlates to a tiny portion of the dogma itself (in this case correlating to the idea of sins being forgiven after death), which is then teased out into an argument which would require a mountain of support to overcome the rest of the testament of scripture regarding the nature of justification; As well as the subsequent benefits of being in the covenant of grace at death. There is one more important point made by Venema as well related to this text. He points out that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come. The age to come (in this text, and others) does not refer to the intermediate state, but the age immediately surrounding and following the second advent of Christ, and can therefore not coincide with the intermediate state following death but preceding Christ’s return.

The last substantial text which Roman Catholic theologians appeal to in support of the dogma of purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. This passage depicts fires of judgment which will reveal and test the works of righteousness. Each man’s work will be revealed by fire, according to this text, and the fire will test the quality of the work. Roman Catholic dogma argues that the fire which this text describes is a literal fire through which the souls of the dead in Christ will pass in order to be cleansed. Similar to Matthew 12:32, we can see a mistake regarding the time which this passage refers to. This passage clearly refers to the present trials and tribulations which believers face in this life, rather than a testing by fire in the intermediate state. Looking at these three primary texts used by Roman Catholic theologians to support the dogma of purgatory, we can see that they are largely devoid of any support of the doctrine, that they are at best tiny portions of biblical text in isolation from the testament of scripture, and that even ripped out of their true context, they still do not lend support to the doctrine of purgatory as Rome has laid it out.

 

Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 4

Following the work of Aquinas, the next major development in the doctrine of purgatory in the church came at the council of Florence, in 1439. The council of Florence is primarily known for the filioque controversy, but the doctrine of purgatory was also a central factor in the council. The doctrine of purgatory as taught by Rome was not the cause of the schism between the Greeks and Latins, but it certainly was an irritant, and it required a great deal of work for the two sides to come to terms on the doctrine. Rome maintained that this doctrine had been taught since the time of the apostles, but this was clearly untrue, given that any clear semblance of the doctrine did not appear until the time of Origen in the late second to early third centuries (also given that he was anathematized by an ecumenical council, it would be a hard sell for Rome to claim his teachings on this or any other subject as part of their tradition). The Greeks taught of only one eternal fire, that is, damnation, and maintained that there was only one type of bad works which was spoken of by Paul, that the only types of works were of virtue and perdition. While a true agreement may never have been reached between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, the council of Florence was a grounds at which the Roman Catholic church was finally able to put forth a substantial formula or statement regarding their beliefs on purgatory, drawing primarily from the second council of Lyons for their statement, particularly the words of the profession of faith made in the name of Michael VIII on the subject:

“But those who have died in a state of charity, truly repentant [for their sins] but before they have brought forth fruit worthy of repentance, their souls are purified after death by cleansing pains. The petitions of the living, the sacrifices of Masses [for example], prayers, almsdeeds and other pious services, such as the faithful are accustomed to do for one another according to the established custom of the Church, [these] are profitable to them, [i.e., the dead persons mentioned] for the lifting of these pains.”

 

From these words we are able to gather the major substance of the Roman Catholic dogma of purgatory, perhaps even more substantial in its theological content than the dogma which was finally confirmed by the council of Trent in 1563.

The end of the development of the doctrine of purgatory in the Roman Catholic Church came at the council of Trent, following the protestant reformation. While the reformation was started in response to the sale of indulgences for those in purgatory, the doctrine itself existed long before Rome ever attempted to capitalize on it, so it would be difficult to say that the reformation was caused by this single doctrine, although it did eventually reject it in favor of a biblical view of justification. The council of Trent was originally convened in 1546 and concluded in 1563, and was called as the Roman Catholic Church’s counter-reformational council, intended to reaffirm and further codify those doctrines rejected by the protestant reformers. Among other developments (such as codifying the canon with the apocryphal books included, reaffirming progressive justification, and papal primacy in interpreting the scriptures) Trent reaffirmed and finally dogmatized the doctrine of Purgatory. Rome effectively squelched any ongoing debate regarding purgatory, although they did not alleviate confusion regarding the particulars of the doctrine, with this statement:

Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful”

 

This statement brought the development of the doctrine of purgatory in the Roman Catholic Church to a close, although it by no means resolved the issues surrounding the doctrine. Trent effectively gave Rome a proper written statement regarding the doctrine, but it failed to properly explain the various details of the doctrine. In fact, Trent goes on further to try to squash inquiry or debate related to purgatory: “Further than this the definitions of the Church do not go, but the tradition of the Fathers and the Schoolmen must be consulted to explain the teachings of the councils, and to make clear the belief and the practices of the faithful.”

This portion of the statement of Trent makes it very clear that Rome is not terribly interested in properly defining or building their theological terms, so much as they are ensuring that they are heeded. It is beneficial for everyone that Rome at least created some written rule by which they maintain this doctrine, but the benefit derived is minimal. Rome made it clear with this statement that they were not only disinterested in dealing with purgatory and the surrounding soteriological and eschatological implications of the doctrine with the protestant reformers, but that they also had no interest in properly creating or defining one for themselves, or entertaining any form of internal debate. It was made clear by Trent that to go beyond the traditions of the fathers is both unsafe and not to be entertained. This is somewhat understandable, given the timing of the council, the last thing Rome wanted was to appear to be a party divided on matters of doctrine or polity. Even so, it was a failure to properly examine the doctrine for its worth, and a failure to reckon with any serious counter-arguments to the idea.