Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Light of the World- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


It's a new year, and I've decided to start fresh. New attitude, new motivations, new professional pursuits. I'm going to be writing more regularly, and hopefully you'll be reading more regularly as well!

My wife and I recently watched Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and I came away impressed
that a Victorian-era “mystery” could provoke thought in light of current events. Political unrest, impending war, and conspiracy threaten the European continent. At the center is the mysterious Professor Moriarty, arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes (if you ever read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books). Holmes and Moriarty engage in a chess game (metaphorically and literally) of global importance. If Moriarty wins, global war on “an industrial level,” as he puts it, will ensue. If Holmes wins, the plot will be thwarted and, presumably, good will triumph over evil.

The storytelling is entertaining- as a good story should be- yet causes (or should) the viewer to think about the underlying theme of the film. In much the same way the Biblical book of Jonah tells an entertaining story about a man who was swallowed by a fish because he tried to avoid God's call for him to preach to Gentiles as a way to provoke theological discussion about the possibility of salvation outside of Israel; A Game of Shadows tells an entertaining story about a detective chasing a sociopath bent on global destruction to provoke thought and discussion about the war(s) we fight in our modern world. I found it interestingly coincidental that the film was released during Advent, when we Catholics spend time preparing for the coming of Christ in time and at the end of time. Our liturgical readings during the weeks of Advent focus on the prophets (mainly Isaiah) who foretold a coming Messiah who would bring peace to the Jewish people.

“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men”- those words from the song we sing at Christmas express our human desire to live in peace. Yet we continue to wage war in the Middle East; consider the future of war with North Korea; engage in “class warfare” at home; peace is far from achievable as things stand right now. I think the question posed in A Game of Shadows is: Why? Why is it impossible to attain peace? Why must we continually develop new and more “impressive” ways to kill each other? Why is it so important to make sure no one crosses the imaginary line separating our countries? Why does one culture have to be dominant over another?

The answer to all of these questions could be simply answered with: selfishness. That answer is insufficient though, because it fails to explain how groups of men with a seemingly singular mission can set aside their selfishness and work together to wreak havoc on the world. On one side of the globe men are fighting to push their ideology on others. On the other side of the globe men are fighting back in the name of “peace.” “Fighting for peace” is such an oxymoronic statement that it should be struck from our vernacular! What we really should seek to do is live for peace.

In A Game of Shadows, Moriarty declares that his intent in manufacturing weapons is for “war on an industrial scale... I will create the supply, they will create the demand.” He is interested in selling weapons to anyone with the means to purchase them, regardless of the side they choose. Our current war(s) are on the same scale. If you don't believe that, watch Future Weapons on Discovery! A 60 minute block of programming dedicated to showcasing the future of killing each other! Our society should feel proud of such an accomplishment! (that was sarcasm in case you missed it)

We live in a country that has been enduring a great economic crisis for the past decade or so. Our government spends more money than it makes and solves the problem by borrowing from another country to remain solvent. When that fails, the government raises the “debt ceiling.” When some in Congress call for a balanced budget and seek to slash funding for unnecessary programs they are laughed at and mocked for their ideas. So, while our country is falling apart and our government is in such massive debt that America could be “foreclosed” on, Congress passed a $660,000,000,000 defense bill that the President signed. So, we can't pay our bills, we have homeless and hungry people in America, and we found $660 billion for tanks, guns, bombs, planes, ships, and other killing machines? It is interesting to me that we still call it “defense” when we're the ones going on offense lately!

Ah, Moriarty must be proud! I know the film is fictional, but it still has application in reality. As I spent more time after watching A Game of Shadows thinking about the theme of war on an “industrial scale,” I recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah, They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is. 2:4). As I read the words over and over and thought about what they mean, this is what I came up with:

    1) Things can be used for good or evil, but it is up to us to determine their cause. Iron can be forged into a sword or a farm implement. The same piece of iron can be destined for the field of battle or the field of crops. Either way, we shape the iron in a way that will best suit its intended purpose and then we sharpen it in order to complete its task. When we determine what our desired outcome is, we force the metal to bend to our will. Think about this: that piece of iron can be used to cut down or build up. We can either use it to kill each other or feed each other.

    2) What a radical call to peace this Scripture is! Think about the selflessness it requires. “Nor shall they train for war again” is a call to cease finding new ways to kill each other and start finding ways to get along. What would happen if we just quit making weapons? Maybe the reason we have so much discord and strife on our planet is because we wouldn't want our weapons and militaries to go to waste. It's almost as if we look for excuses to go to war instead of looking for ways to live in peace.

I wonder if peace is attainable in this life or if we'll have to wait for the next? One thing's for sure- if we keep pursuing new methods of destruction peace will never be possible. Maybe peace on a global scale is an impossible pursuit, but what if we all tried to live more peacefully in our communities? I'd settle for a peaceful neighborhood!

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