Mike Banning, Moana, and Tick Borne Illness — Sweating Out the Lie of Redemptive Violence

First things first. Always check for ticks.

If you don’t, you may up spending the Fourth of July as I did, traveling… from the bed to the couch and back again.

Silver lining — there was no traffic.

Another silver lining — my Netflix binging felt totally justified. The not so silver lining is that the lining of the couch was soaked with my sweat, and no matter how I sat on that thing, you just can’t get comfortable when you’re fighting off a tick borne illness (honestly, it was the most uncomfortable and straight-up painful thing I’ve ever experienced).

One of the pieces I consumed (and it was a piece o.s.) was London Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart. I tend to be a pretty choosy Netflix viewer. My time is valuable, so I’m not going to waste it on crap (as I find myself still searching through the queue 36 minutes later…). But after being bit by that tiny devil, it seemed to me I had all the time in the world, and thus, I could justify shutting off the brain and taking in some straight-up car chase, machine guns, and helicopter crashing action.

And that is what I got, and so much more. London Has Fallen is an hour and 20 minutes of action with 10 minutes of story on both ends. Basically, there is a plot to assassinate all the Western World leaders at the funeral of the UK Prime Minister, and Mike Banning (Butler) is the Secret Service Agent who must get the President (Eckhart) to safety while killing as many terrorists as possible. What I also got is that the myth of redemptive violence and the scapegoat mechanism is still so powerfully present in our popular culture.

Maybe it was the naivete of my Masters of Divinity educated brain and my progressive urban center lifestyle that made me think that our popular culture and Hollywood in particular had moved fully into creating characters that are nuanced (maybe it was those 36 minutes filtering the queue…). London Has Fallen blew that idea (and the President of France) out of the water.

This was the most racist, anti-Muslim, and reeking of American Exceptionalism film I have ever seen. Here’s two quotes to give you an idea:

“Why don’t you boys pack up your sh*t and head back to F*ckheadistan or wherever it is you’re from.” — said the fifth grader on the playground, or was it Mike Banning?

And this one:

“You know what you assholes don’t get? We’re not a f*cking building! We’re not a f*cking flag! We’re not just one man! Assholes like you have been trying to kill us for a long f*cking time. But you know what? A thousand years from now, we’ll still f*cking be here!” — said Hitler and the US alt-right, or was it Mike Banning?

But what should I have expected?

I guess just a little bit of nuance. Just a little depth, any depth, to the story and the characters… I mean, seriously, Mike Banning holding his baby at the end after killing every person who appeared to be of Middle-Eastern descent? I wonder how he would have protected me from my Algerian neighbors when they brought over treats during Ramadan? Probably a grenade — there would have been filo dough and honey everywhere.

Again, what should I have expected? I guess I was just surprised, and jarred, by the degree of ignorance and hate for Muslims in this story. It was disgusting, boring, and problematic.

My primary identity is that of human being, and I’m also a Lutheran pastor, but it’s moments like the one I experienced after the last Muslim body was blown up by a drone strike and the credits rolled that I want to shed my Christian identity and join the Secular Humanists (actually, it’d probably be the Buddhists).

If there is anything that needs to blow up it’s the myth of redemptive violence and the scapegoat mechanism that is at the heart of much of the popular Christian story in America. We have to stop taking our guilt, disappointments, and flaws — all that stuff inside and those choices we make that we are ashamed of — and projecting it on another (i.e., White American Christians need to stop making Muslims the “bad guys” and own up to our own failure to live the gospel of love for neighbor.).

Jesus (that Middle Eastern man who Mike Banning would have shot through the skull) told this story about sheep and goats:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ …
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’… Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” — Matthew 25:31–46 NET

It’s time to stop pretending that we’re the sheep and whoever the “those people” of the day (currently, Muslims) are the goats. The truth is we are always the sheep and the goat. They both exist inside each of us. The question is, as the Cherokee legend of Two Wolves goes, which one are we feeding?

I am the good guy. I am the bad guy. Martin Luther wrote that we are “simul justus et peccator” (i.e., we are simultaneously saint and sinner). Luther himself, who is getting plenty of press on this 500 years since the Reformation, was a hardcore anti-Semite (Jews were the “goats” of his time and culture).

It’s past time to get honest. The human being is always the bad guy and the good in one body.

Most of the people who would read this probably share the same disgust for London Has Fallen as I do — we tend to preach to our choirs. But the truth is, the disease of the lie of redemptive violence comes from thoughts and stories that are so tiny, we don’t know we’ve been bitten by them.

Those of us who continue to cling to the lie that the bad guy is somewhere out there and other, I almost wish upon you the same tick borne illness I got, and when you find yourself in front of the TV in a pool of your own sweat, choose to watch Moana. There you will find nuance and truth — the way to take care of the monster that lives in each and every human being is through love, not violence.

It’s stories like Moana, and their rejection of the scapegoat mechanism, that may prove to be the antibiotic that cure us all of the lie of redemptive violence that so ails us.

So happy belated Fourth of July from someone who isn’t celebrating bombs bursting in air but the bursting of the lie of redemptive violence through the power of honesty and love.

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