For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Batman fan. One time—I must have been 4 or 5 years old—I entered a local Batman costume contest. Rumor had it that the real Batman would be there to determine the winner. It was a massive childhood disappointment. The moment I saw the “real” batman, I pegged him as a phony. He had nothing on Michael Keaton. I left angry at that charlatan and envious of another kid’s awesome utility belt.
Although Tim Burton’s Batman will always have a nostalgic place in my heart, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is as good as movies get. I like that they chose to emphasize the role of fear in the creation and maintenance of the Batman character. Batman is born out of Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats. He never quite loses the fear, but it becomes a healthy kind of fear, the kind that motivates action (Cf. Tom Morris on “The Purpose of Fear”). He uses this to create in criminals a different kind of fear, the kind that stifles and suppresses action.
But there is a certain tension inherent in that theme: it’s not obvious how to reconcile the concept of Batman as a fearsome character and the concept of Batman as a righteous character. A criminal can’t be deathly or desperately afraid of Batman if he knows Batman is not, as a matter of moral principle, an agent of death and mortal despair.
But do criminals need to know that Batman isn’t an agent of death and mortal despair? Perhaps not. All Batman needs to do is make them genuinely believe he is. Would such an act of deception be wrong? Again, perhaps not. Nazis forfeit their right to know the truth when they ask if you’re harboring Jews. Gotham’s criminals forfeit their right to know that Batman will not assume the divine role of taking a man’s life. And that’s a good, albeit terrifying, thing. The more a criminal fears Batman, the more deterred from criminal behavior he will be.
How much more should we fear the one who we know has the power of life and death in His hands, perfectly good though He is? But this is the healthy kind of fear—the kind that prompts action, or, in Biblical terms, is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is essentially action-oriented. A person is wise when he consistently knows and does the right thing. But a person becomes wise by first developing a healthy fear of a righteous judge, for such fear entails knowing something about the judge’s moral prescriptions, the consequences of failing to live up to them, and being motivated to act accordingly. And it is important to note that the life of wisdom begins with fear; it doesn’t dwell or end there. Eventually, love replaces fear as the motivation for obedience.
But the fool despises wisdom and, like Gotham’s criminal, dwells in the fear of the stifling kind, the fear of unknowing. They don’t know when or weather they’ll fall into the hands of an angry, righteous judge, but the prospect ought to cast a dark and terrifying shadow over their lives.
But amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the Kings and Queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it. For Mr. Beaver had warned them, “He’ll be coming and going,” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” –C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Harper, 1994), p. 182.
Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Ashton’s Consummate Gentleman. It has a robust and memorable flavor; it tastes a bit like how pine needles smell in the fall. Despite being a medium-bodied blend, one bowl was enough. The blend’s full description is on the label.