Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams, Free for CAPC Members
This book is great short read on the trustworthiness of the Gospels, and perhaps a good read to share as Advent turns our culture’s attention to these same documents.
Warning: The following piece contains spoilers for the film.
Many of us attend summer blockbuster movies for one of several reasons: to laugh, to be impressed by cutting-edge special effects, to experience a fast-paced thrill ride, or simply to sit in an air-conditioned room for a few hours—or possibly all of the above. Usually, we do not walk into a theater in the middle of July expecting to be confronted by the cycle of sin and prejudice in the human condition.
Caesar’s impulse to extend unconditional trust to a fellow ape was the natural result of his own act of exclusion.While the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes contains many summer-blockbuster tropes—the special effects are incredible, the action set-pieces are staggering, and the conflict is palpable—the unsuspecting audience also gets hit with some serious social commentary.
At its core, Dawn is about trust. Will the apes trust their human neighbors to coexist peacefully as they seek to establish a society? Will the humans trust the nearby apes as they seek to preserve what is left of their own crumbling society? Tenuous relationships between certain simian and human individuals are established, as the humans need access to parts of land that the apes occupy. Slowly and reluctantly, the apes grant them this access, with the understanding that the humans’ interests are entirely peaceful. Not surprisingly, the trust these characters work so hard to build is eventually shattered. The viewer watches as the protagonist, an ape named Caesar, encounters this loss of trust, an experience he apparently has not dealt with before. Caesar then comes to a conclusion that prophetically challenges our all-too-human tendency to exclude those who are unlike us. Referring to his second-in-command, another ape named Koba, Caesar has this revelation:
I chose to trust [Koba] because he is an ape. I think ape is better than human. I see now how alike we are.
In his masterful work Exclusion and Embrace, the prominent theologian Miroslav Volf has extensively critiqued what he sees as the human tendency to exclude the “other.” Volf contends that the act of exclusion occurs when an individual is unwilling to “depart from one’s own culture,” and since the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation to all people, followers of Jesus do not have the option of remaining insulated within their own cultures. Only after exiting one’s own comfortable cultural space and seeking to understand and make room for the other can the beautiful and reconciliatory act of “embrace” occur. Ultimately, the act of embracing the other results in an enriched self-identity, and the cycle can begin anew.
Dawn does not shy away from showing what might happen if apes were to become more like humans, and this is what stuck with me the most after viewing the film. Caesar’s impulse to extend unconditional trust to a fellow ape was the natural result of his own act of exclusion, his assumption that power, greed, and prejudice could only affect humans and therefore could not affect his own species. This assumption was built on a foundation of arrogance, simply that “us” is superior to “them.”
Honest audience members cannot walk away from Dawn without some level of discomfort, knowing that the exact same arrogance dwells inside us. Honest Christians know that this arrogance is the result of sin, of fractured relationships that were once whole, and that the human cycle of prejudice, violence, and resentment is built on our remarkable ability to exclude without embrace.
This is the power of storytelling, that even in the midst of the summer blockbuster season I can be reminded that neither I myself nor my family, my community, nor my ethnicity are immune to the destructive impact of exclusion—we dearly need the healing act of embrace, embodied perfectly in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
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