Last month we featured Man of Steel for our moral dilemma dialogue. We figured this month, since they’ll soon be staring side-by-side, we would give Batman some time in the spotlight as we examine a particular dilemma presented in The Dark Knight.
[WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD!!]
Directed by Christopher Nolan in 2008, The Dark Knight has a number of moral scenarios in it that would be interesting to analyze. Do you drop the Joker from the skyscraper? Do you push the button to blow up the other boat and save yourself? What we’d like to examine for this moral dilemma dialogue comes at the end of the film, once Harvey Dent has taken on the persona of Two-Face. Dent was to be the “savior” of the city and finally stand up to organized crime. Bruce Wayne was even counting on him to make Batman irrelevant. Yet, as we all witness, Dent takes a nose-dive into crazy-town and off’s a handful of bad, or at least crooked, individuals.
The final scene finds Dent and Batman having fallen from about 4 stories. Dent dies from the fall. He had already killed five people and whatever hope of prosecuting countless other criminals had just died with him and his reputation. Batman decides however to keep this truth a secret. Batman says, “They can never know. I killed those people.” Detective Gordon naturally objects to this plan, exclaiming that that’s not who Batman is! Batman responds, “That’s what I can be… I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be. Sometimes truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Batman and Gordon decide to protect the truth with a lie. A lie they both believe is better for everyone than the consequences of the truth. But, was that the right and morally correct thing to do? Was this lie justified, or do Gordon and Batman now have the same blood on their hands that Dent does? That is the dilemma we’ll be discussing.
For this dilemma, Gene and Logan will each be taking opposite sides, but they’ll both try to make their case using God’s Word. Logan will argue that the lie was wrong, Gene will argue that they made the right decision. Neither of them may actually hold these positions in reality, but they’ll do their best to represent each side fairly. When it’s all said and done, it’s up to you to decide who uses scripture accurately and makes the best case for their position.
I think this issue is best tackled in two phases. First, we need to determine what God’s word says about lying. Is it absolutely against it, are there special circumstances, etc. Second, apply that knowledge to the situation we find ourselves in with The Dark Knight.
First things first; the Bible and lying. It should come as no surprise to anyone with a cursory knowledge of scripture that lying is frowned upon in the Bible. In fact, there’s a little more than frowning going on here. Paul includes lying with other sins such as murdering, kidnapping and homosexuality (1 Tim. 1:9,10). Revelation 21:8 says that liars, among others, will “be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Finally, in giving the law to Moses, God said “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” (Lev. 19:11). So the Bible is absolutely against lying, in all cases, right? Not so fast!
Consider the story of Rahab the Harlot, found in Joshua, ch. 2. When the Jews were coming out of Egypt into the land they were promised, Joshua decided to send two spies to see about the land. They came to Jericho, to the house of Rahab. The King of Jericho heard that men came in to spy out the land and he sent troops to Rahab’s house. She lied, saying the men had come to her home but had left. In reality, she was hiding them in the stalks of her roof. Rahab lied to her very king to protect these men. So obviously, according to the verses already cited, she’s going to hell right? Hold on a minute… James says she was justified by her works of lying (James 2:25) and the Hebrew writer says she acted in faith and gained approval by it (Hebrews 11:31,39). What’s up with that? She lied! Clearly there are some other circumstances to consider when it comes to lying. I believe that based on the example of Rahab, we find that lying is not an absolute sin, it is an objective one. In other words, if by my lying a righteous deed is accomplished, my lie not counted against me. Please note, this is not the same as moral relativism. That would be saying that it’s okay for me to lie, but not you, regardless of the situation. Instead, moral objectivism considers the circumstances, not the person, and this is precisely what the story of Rahab teaches us.
Now part two; were Gordon and Batman justified by their lie? To answer that let’s consider the consequences of the truth. As Gordon had already stated, all the criminals awaiting trial whom Dent brought in would go free on account of Dent’s tarnished reputation. Is that right? No, they should still be tried based on the evidence of their guilt, but our system allows for the weak reputation of a witness or prosecutor to ruin an otherwise solid case. That’s just the reality of it. The criminals would have gone free and justice would be non-existent. The lie they told however, rightly corrects an inherent flaw in the system to serve justice where it needs to be served. The burden of keeping the lie a secret is a righteous one when weighed against the consequences of being truthful. Batman and Gordon made the right decision.
People make rationalizations for lies all the time. Some of them are obviously wrong like “It kept me out of trouble” or “I wanted your attention.” Others, however, are less obvious. But because they are less obvious in their deceptive motivations, does that make them any more permissible?
Gordon and Batman’s lie at the end of The Dark Knight seems very reasonable to the outsider. After all, if they hadn’t lied, The Dent Act may not have happened, the criminals Dent locked up would probably be released, and they’d be right back to square one. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? It also sounds a bit like playing God.
Proverbs 26:27-28: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” You might say “But they didn’t hate their victims! They were acting for the good of the people!” Were they? They might have believed that they were, but that doesn’t mean that what they did was for the good of the people of Gotham. It’s much like “He that spareth the rod hateth his son.” It doesn’t mean that if you don’t discipline your son that you loathe him the way you loathe an enemy, but that you aren’t acting in his best interests. In that sense, you do not love him. In the same way, if you hide the truth and deceive with lies, you aren’t acting in the best interest of your brother.
As this passage gives the analogy of the pit, so do Batman and Gordon fall into the pit in the next film. I won’t say any more than that for those of you who haven’t seen it, but this passage is very prophetic as it pertains to this scenario.
“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “What about Rahab? She lied and God blessed her!” Does that mean that God approves of the lie? Rahab was God-fearing, but she did not have the law. She knew nothing about God other than the fact that He was powerful, so she did the best that she could in her scenario. As Acts 17:30 points out, God in times past overlooked ignorance, like He did in Rahab’s case. Now that we have seen God through His son Jesus and have been told the will of God through the Holy Spirit, God expects all men everywhere to repent. That includes repenting of the things God hates, one of which is a lying tongue according to Proverbs 6.
Incidentally, the first thing mentioned in the Proverbs 6 list is a “haughty look,” denoting pride. Pride is exactly what Batman and Gordon were portraying when they made this up. Sure, Batman took the fall, and there is some selflessness and morality to that, but that’s not all there is to it. Inherent in their actions is the attitude “I know what this people needs more than they know what they need.” Isn’t that pride? Isn’t that haughtiness? Isn’t that arrogance? Presuming that you are the exception and that in your unique circumstance it’s okay with God if you do the very thing that he hates is playing God. Even Batman is not an exception to the rule.
Here is where you come in! Put yourself in Gordan or Batman’s shoes; would you lie to protect Dent’s reputation? Would you lay the blame of murder at the feet of an innocent, masked man? Do you hold truth above all else? Did Gene and Logan fairly represent each side? Did one or both misuse scripture in attempt to justify their position? Tell us what you think, let’s get a dialogue going! To jog your memory, here is the final scene from The Dark Knight.