Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movies With Meaning: X-Men + Religious Division


photo from the X-Men Wikipedia 
The first X-Men movie begins with a scene from a Nazi Concentration Camp which sets the metaphor boldly in the air for the premise of the first movie and all the follow up films to come. The “mutants” are ostracized, alienated, and persecuted by the mainstream public. In return, a faction of the mutants decide to fight back, with violent measures, against their oppressors. Their nonviolent counterparts pay the price, being labeled as lumped in with the extremists who would murder the rest of the world to further their “righteous” cause.

Violence begets violence, hate begets hate, until many are dead and many others blinded by their rage. Sounds like every Holy War in the history of the world. Sounds like much of the history of Christianity and the present day issues in most of our religions worldwide.

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” And we are quickly headed to the edge of global blindness.

Especially moving to me is the most recent film “X-Men: First Class” which goes back to the origins of a friendship, a common “evil” enemy, where Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto) are together, fighting for good (I’ll be it still with some violence). Charles has a more idyllic background while Eric suffered through the Holocaust and loss of his beloved mother–the viscousness of Eric’s past has clearly shaped his present, as violent trauma often can.


The two young men’s philosophies begin to diverge and Charles tells his friend, “Killing Shaw [the token "evil" guy] will not bring you peace.”

To which Eric replies, “Peace was never an option.”

What a well put position for the difference between a peaceful resolve to stand up for one’s principles and a violent rage of “an eye for an eye.” The former follows the philosophic standpoint which is the landmark of Jesus and after him historical figures like Ghandi and Martin Luther King. The latter takes his beliefs in a violent misguided direction of equally brilliant minds who went the other way–one which always resonates with me is Che Guevara. His journals of youth are filled with humility and beauty, his later actions (whose impetus were his earlier life experiences) became mired and blinded by violent solutions.

I think Charles and Eric explain the conundrum perfectly–to look for peace outside you have to believe you can attain internal peace, or have an understanding that internal peace is intrinsic part of one’s faith philosophy. Charles believes in the potential to attain peace–inside and out. Eric doesn’t believe that peace is a possibility–he is only searching for power, control, and ego.

And so they end the movie with the line divided between two friends which will remain for the rest of their fictional lives: peace versus power.

What are we looking to attain from our current philosophies and religions? What do we see others striving for in their end-point of faith? Can we believe that internal peace is possible in this externally chaotic world? Can we turn the other cheek even when we are misunderstood and misrepresented by others in or out of our own faith group?

One of my favorite books by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without FanaticismHis message gets to the root of the metaphor in X-Men. We don’t have to agree but at least we have to be able to have the conversation, peaceably, about where we disagree and maybe, in having the conversation, we will learn something that grows our own faith journey and experience. If we shut-off, shut-down and repel anything that is not exactly like us then there is no chance for growth and a great chance for decimation.

We need more faith without fanaticism and I think that is what the message of God, the example of Jesus, and the moral of X-Men is telling us.

In the end of the X-Men: First Class film Eric/Magneto stares Shaw, the villain, in the eye and quite symbolically puts on his helmet (which will become the trademark Magneto-gear in the future), taking over the role as the villain and literally, shutting Charles out– and shutting out any potential for goodness in his heart, mind, and life.

A fight ensues and at the end of it, Charles is paralyzed and, so, Professor X is born.

Erik tells him, “I want you by my side. We want the same thing.”

“I’m sorry friend,” Charles replies, “but we do not.”

I love a good cinematic parable!

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