Thursday, September 13, 2007
"Heroes" for Non-violence

Julie and I have spent the last couple of weeks watching through the entire first season of Heroes. I've always loved superhero stories, and the whole comic book genre works very well for the serialized television format in my opinion. The basic plot of Heroes is that a seemingly random group of people start to realize that they have mutant superpowers: flight, healing, super-strength, teleportation & time travel, mind-reading, etc. Through a series of odd circumstances they begin to cross paths and discover that the world is in grave danger - New York City will be destroyed by a nuclear explosion five weeks in the future. The whole season is a working out of whether these Heroes will be able to avert this disaster in time, or whether the future is in fact written in stone and unchangeable.

One of the conflicts that emerges as the season progresses is that there is one group of "heroes" - an older generation actually - who knows that the explosion is coming but believe themselves to be powerless to stop it. They are convinced that this catastrophe is inevitable, and thus concern themselves with manipulating the aftermath to bring the best they can out of it. Their belief is that the deaths of all these people are necessary to bring about the "healing of the world". In contrast, a handful of new heroes are not willing to simply accept violence and destruction as the only way to bring peace and healing, and continue to work for a solution that doesn't involve the death of millions of people.

Julie was the one who made the connection between this theme in Heroes and a discussion we had last night with our church's Vision Team about non-violence and the way of peace. We were discussing Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, and his experiences in Iraq when he went with a Christian Peacemaker Team at the start of the war back in 2003, and the question arose of whether war and violence really are the only way to restrain evil and bring about peace, or whether creative, non-violent alternatives really could be found. At one point Shane points out that it is not that non-violent alternatives have been tried and found wanting, so much as simply never been tried. He also quotes an Iraqi doctor he met in the bombed out remains of a children's hospital (destroyed by our American bombs) who states "Violence is for those who have lost their imaginations." Violence is easy, but peacemaking requires the hard work of creativity and imagination.

Besides which, there is this myth of redemptive violence which believes that peace can ultimately be brought about through violence. The reason this is a myth however, is that in four millenia of recorded history, this has never proven true. Violence almost invariably breeds more violence and almost never brings lasting peace. And even in those circumstances where peace does result, one has to look at the cost of war and violence and ask, "was the price worth it?"

Of course, on the other hand, it is easy to raise all kinds of "what if" scenarios to justify why violence is sometimes necessary: what if a murderer is threatening your family? what about stopping evil, genocidal dictators? what about simple self-defense (whether on the individual or national scale)? And the truth is these are difficult questions and not to be simply written off. Personally I think there may be instances where violence is unavoidable and necessary. And yet, I think we must always approach it as a last resort and as a great tragedy. It should never be easy to kill another human being, even if it is for a greater good.

Interestingly this attitude was expressed in Heroes as well. At one point Hiro Nakamura, the time-traveling good guy, jumps forward in time five years to meet his future self. His future self is a bad-ass samurai who has fought many battles and killed many opponents in his quest to retroactively stop the bomb that destroys New York. However, when the younger Hiro returns to his own time, he has difficulty simply killing the evil villain responsible for the bomb in cold blood. His friend, Ando, tries to encourage him by saying "Future Hiro would have had no problem killing the bad guys." Younger Hiro's response to this is extremely interesting, especially in light of his prior admiration for his future self. He says "I don't want to become like future Hiro. He seems to have forgotten that it should never be easy to kill someone, even the bad guy."

In the end, younger Hiro does kill the bad guy, and yet it humanizes both him and the bad guy to know that it was done with great regret and reluctance, and only after having given the villain a chance to repent and seek forgiveness. Perhaps violence is sometimes a necessary last resort, but a true hero will always first seek a better way.


posted by Mike Clawson at 9:23 PM | Permalink |


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