Movies & Theology: The Dark Knight Rises – Thoughts on Faith, Idolatry and Redemption

A journal entry exploring the themes of faith, idolatry and redemption in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. This film has  a lot of faith references coming from it and that is what I want to explore.

 “In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there

            Ezekiel 8:1 NIV

“But anyone with a hierarchy of values has placed something at its apex, and whatever that is is the god he serves. The Old and New Testaments call such gods idols and provide sufficient reason for affirming that the systems that give them allegiance are religions

                                         Herbert Schlossberg Idols for Destruction p5.  


Last week I spent a good chunk of time researching and reading about child sex abuse, and some other stuff that was not pleasant. Plus I am working on a post about CJ Mahaney and am listening to some of his sermons. The Deebs have a full staff! I just have me, myself and I! But I once said that I would rather have a catheter the size of a garden hose inserted than listen to another John Piper sermon. Well…while I never listened to CJ Mahaney that analogy applies to him as well. So I wanted to take a break from listening to some of his stuff and do something on the fly. I wanted to explore some theological themes in the movie The Dark Knight Rises. First here is the trailer:

First thing I have to say is that the Dark Knight movies has a lot of Biblical themes just dripping from the plots and characters. The Dark Knight Rises is one of those movies I wish CS Lewis could watch and offer his thoughts on. Some of the many themes that can be touched on include Prodigal Son, the trinity, Batman could be looked at as being Jesus, and on and on it goes. There are three ideas that stand out for me from this film that I would like to explore. Those three ideas are faith, idolatry and redemption. One more point…while some of these thoughts I had myself I noticed some were written about on these blogs here, here and here. So I just want to let you know how I read these in the process of journaling about this film.

Before I get into this further let me explain the plot so I can explore the themes afterward. In the previous movie The Dark Knight Gotham had descended into darkness due to the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) and the city was in chaos. It really brought out the theme of evil in that franchise of Batman. Against all this many people, including Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Christian Bale) had their faith and trust in the District Attorney of Gotham Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart). However, the Joker is able to push Dent over the edge and he snaps. He embraces crime and earns the nickname “Two Face”. In the closing scene he has the Police Commissioner Jim Gordon’s (played by Gary Oldman) family hostage and Batman intervenes and Harvey Dent is killed. Here is the problem…only a few people to include Batman and Jim Gordon and his family know the story of what happened to Harvey Dent. So its decided to be kept secret and Batman decides to absorb the blow and live a life on the run. Gotham has a hero in the legend of Harvey Dent and the city of Gotham passes the Dent Act which results in many criminals being sent to prison and being denied parole. 8 years later is when the movie The Dark Knight Rises picks up. Crime has been nearly eradicated however the guilt of covering up Harvey Dent’s crime weighs on James Gordon. He plans to resign but doesn’t give his speech. Batman has disappeared and Brcue Wayne has become a recluse. The Cat Burglar Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway) commits a crime against Bruce Wayne in her effort to erase her record. She wants a new start. Bane (played by Tom Hardy) appears on the scene and captures Jim Gordon. He escapes and is found by John Blake (who is going to become Robin). Wayne enterprises is unprofitable and Bane attacks the Gotham Stock Exchange and in the process bankrupts Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Michael Caine) is concerned that Bruce has not moved on from being Batman. In an effort to correct him he resigns betraying Bruce Wayne in the process. Wayne Enterprises in time falls under the influence of Bane through Miranda Tate (played by Marion Cotillard). And Selina betrays Bruce Wayne walking him into a trap handing him over to Bane. (Think Selina as being like Judas hint, hint…) Bane reveals his plan to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham. Wayne is sent to a prison where it will be virtually impossible for him to escape. The only person who escaped is the child to be Ra’s al Ghul who Wayne believes is Bane. He is proven to be wrong. Bane plunges the city into chaos by destroying the police force, murdering the mayor, and converting a nuclear core into a nuclear weapon this holding the city hostage from the world. Using James Gordon’s speech he reveals the cover up of Harvey Dent’s crime and instigates a revolution. There is no law in Gotham except mob rule during this time. In time Bruce Wayne escapes from prison and redeems himself. Batman returns to Gotham and he seeks help from Selina, Gordon, Tate, and Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) to stop the nuclear bomb from detonating. Tate betrays Batman and is the child of Ra’s al Ghul and it appears that Batman sacrifices his life by hauling the bomb over the ocean where it detonates. Gotham is saved, and Batman is presumed to be dead. Things are tided up in and its learned that Batman survived.

Thoughts on Faith

To kick this discussion off I want to explore one theme that stands out in the movie. And it can be looked at from so many differing angles. That theme is faith, but before I get going into this I would like to ask…what does the scripture say about faith? For starters we are reminded that faith is proof of things hoped for yet not seen, and we also have examples of faith in what is referred to as the “Hero’s Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11:1-6). You also have Jesus being described as the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Faith is also a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and is driven by love, joy and belief. (1 Peter 1:8-9) Also faith is grown through tests which results in perseverance. (James 1:2-4)

In The Dark Knight Rises you can see how faith in action from differing sides. You can see how faith is misapplied toward the late Harvey Dent. You can see the faith that Bruce had in Alfred Pennyworth, and even how Alfred betrays Bruce Wayne. The scene at the end where he stands in front of his grave marker and talks about how he has failed him is stinging for me. You have Bruce who deals with setbacks and struggles with his faith. Then you have the city of Gotham which needs faith, it needs saving from Bane – a man who I would suggest represents pure evil. Then you have the character of Selina who struggles with anger and betrays Bruce Wayne…not once but twice. She first sells his fingerprints which is used against him, and then he is delivered to Bane. In Selina I see both the individuals of Judas and Peter. Like anyone who makes a horrific betrayal she has a choice  (Another plug for my journal entry on the Theology of Betrayal) as to who she will become. Who does she chose in the end? In the course of time she choose to be like Peter. Look at this clip below

This is the first time Bruce is interacting with Selina after being betrayed twice. Do you see how Bruce interacts with her? He still believes in her. This I believe could represent how the Lord believes in us. Even with our sin, our mistakes, mishaps, failures, and beyond the Lord still uses us. I find that to be amazing. The spiritual potential in many people is amazing. And that’s why I don’t discount people. That’s why I am praying for Andrew White so much. Its why I believe that people outside the faith are much closer to the Lord than many Christians will believe or accept.

Thoughts on Idolatry

Next watch this clip from the The Dark Knigt Rises and lets discuss….

What is idolatry? Merriam-Webster defines idolatry as the worship of a picture or an object as a God. In the Old Testament that meant the worship of pagan deities. When I think of idolatry I think of the worship of the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai in Exodus 32. Israel I would suggest was called to worship God. It was what it was created for and it was that reason alone why idolatry was such a pervasive threat. The major problem with idolatry, I would suggest is that it robs the Lord of glory which is his alone (Isaiah 42:8). Idols which become a substitute for God have many problems in itself. They have no power to save, (Isaiah 45:20) and when people called upon idols they could not be saved (2 Chronicles 25:15) Plus idols have no life to them and mean nothing. (Psalm 106:28) Idols are crated by human hands and not to be feared since they can’t do any good. (Jeremiah 10:5) According to scripture whoever worships idols is both foolish (Jeremiah 10:8) and deceived (Isaiah 44:20).  In the New Testament idolatry keeps coming up as a sin being mentioned frequently. For example its mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,Galatians 5:20, and 1 Peter 4:3. Whereas in the Old Testament I get the feeling the idols were worshipping statues and things of the like, in the New Testament idols becomes a matter of the heart and include things like gluttony, pride, greed, sexual sin, and materialism for starters. If you have not read it can I recommend you read my journal entry on gluttony. The real risk with idolatry I would suggest is that it can be dangerous and mislead people, and that in the end you can think you are worshipping God when in the end we are not. (Exodus 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:28-30)

So in The Dark Knight Rises here is the issue. The city of Gotham had an idol in the name of Harvey Dent. People were sent to prison and denied parole under The Dent Act. The problem is that the idol is a false as many acts are done in the name of Harvey Dent and in the end much of it turns out to be a lie. In front of the prison that became a symbol of oppression (On a side note as a guy who studied European history…is this a Bastille reference? I’m inclined to say yes…) Bain reads the letter of Jim Gordon publically revealing the lie that exists. And the idol…which in this case is the reputation of a law abiding district attorney is destroyed.

So in a theological sense what does this mean? Well I would suggest that evangelical Christianity is dripping with idols…here are some of them. Family values, avoiding sin, growth, pastors, authority, church discipline, youth programs, youth, Jonathan Edwards, gifts of the spirit, Calvinism, etc… You get my point. In time I would like to explore many of those idols in detail. I would like to go on record of saying that I believe parts of evangelicalism has more idols than in Roman Catholicism. But in many cases the idol that is most disturbing to me and needlessly divisive is that of celebrity pastors. In the future I would like to write an essay about the problems of celebrity pastors. And this is where I would like to address a number of factors. For those of you reading this who were involved in Sovereign Grace Ministries I would like to propose that you were given a false idol in the name of CJ Mahaney. He was held up as the poster boy, the example, etc… He often talked about humility and idols of the heart. Idolatry became so much of a factor that many people worshipped him. Its what Sovereign Grace Ministries trained people to do.  Why do I say that? I look at some of the ways people shaved their head in wanting to imitate him. It goes beyond that in the way that SGM pastors tried to imitate all the way down to the hand gestures. Next I would ask you consider that of Mark Driscoll. Here is another idol than many walked around propping up and holding high. I knew of several people whose faith I would suggest was dependent on Mark Drisocll. And like CJ Mahaney he had his groupies. There are pastors in the Acts 29 network who try and duplicate his mannerisms, his talk, and his clothing. It goes on but in this behavior it shows how people are wrapped up in a personality like Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney. They want to be like the idol they worship. In time both Mahaney and Driscoll came down. Those idols that people were worshipping came down hard. Idols do come down hard. It leaves me to wonder which is the next idol? Who will come crashing down next? Will it be John Piper? Mark Dever? Matt Chandler? Or someone else? My opposition to celebrity pastors is for many reasons, to include the following. Too many people walk around spitting out what John Piper or Matt Chandler says. For once I honestly wish some Christians can have an original thought and come to a conclusion based on doing the hard work themselves and thinking through an issue. To quote Matt Chandler or Mark Dever is foolish in many ways, and in the end people have their identity wrapped up in these celebrity pastors. Second in the case of celebrity pastors they are worshipped at levels unheard of I would suggest previously. And I say that being familiar with the history of Billy Graham’s crusades or Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. However I would suggest that the celebrity pastor has become an idol, a glorified golden calf to the Neo-Calvinist movement. Honestly in some circles with how some people treat John Piper alone I wonder if Piper was crucified at Calvary for the sins of mankind. That’s how much of an issue some of this has become.

One last point…if you watch the clip you see how the sin of James Gordon comes to the surface. Sin always comes to the surface. Why do so many evangelicals think they can cover up and hide sin? Why did Mark Driscoll or CJ Mahaney honestly think they can hide their sin? Sin comes to the surface it always does! Can I hide my sin? No! Can Matt Chandler hide his? No! What about Mark Dever? Can he hide his sin? No! Sin always comes to the surface its a matter of time. That’s just an accepted fact from scripture.

Thoughts on Redemption

Please watch this clip from The Dark Knight Rises. There is one theme in the Bible that plays out over and over. Its the theme of redemption. For example….Moses commits murder then he flees (Exodus 2) in timehe is redeemed. In the book of Ruth you have the story of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz and redemption is a reoccurring theme (Ruth 4). You have Saul of Tarsus. How many people died at his hands? Look at his legacy it is one of pain, and death. Then he has his experience on the road to Damascus and he goes to become the greatest missionary the Christian church ever had (Acts 9). Another beautiful story of redemption. On and on it goes….you have story of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, Peter, etc… The Bible is full of redemption. In The Dark Knight Rises I think the story of redemption is one of the most overt Christian themes in the movie. Selina as the Cat Burgler has redemption. So does Alfred Pennyworth, as well as Jim Gordon, and the city of Gotham I would suggest. In scripture people are redeemed when they embrace their problems, face them and work through them. Christians working through their problems can be the most beautiful aspect of the Christian faith. In this scene from The Dark Knight Rises you see this redemption taking place. On a side note I would also suggest that this scene can be a plug for sanctification which I believe occurs over the lifetime. But as Bruce Wayne is working at overcoming his fears, his doubts, the crowd is chanting “rise” and in one of the most pivotal moments Bruce Wayne/Batman escapes from prison. He is the second person to do so…and in the process he leaves a way out for others to escape by lowering a rope. When each of us…from myself to Andrew White, to my Pastor, to Dee Parsons, etc… make mistakes we all need redemption. I need redemption for the mistakes I will make. But I think the key to redemption is humility, being open to correction, and repenting. These are some of the things I learned in my faith crisis.

In closing I would like to end with this closing clip from The Dark Knight Rises. It I believe encompasses some of the themes I have written about above. John rises and in the process is becoming Robin. Selina rises and raises above from her state of crime…she has a clean state. You can almost claim she is a new creation. Alfred Pennyworth sees Bruce Wayne and realizes that he is redeemed by how Bruce acknowledges him. Bruce is redeemed from his past mistakes. James Gordon is also redeemed as well. I would sum it up like this from 1 Peter, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” People could not see the Batman and thought he was dead. Some saw and their faith was renewed. Others grew in love and found joy. So that is what I see…any differing takes or if I am off my rocker as always I invite correction.