Tarantino and Romans 16:19

I’m not entirely comfortable admitting that I watched Inglourious Basterds. First of all, because of the title. Second, because our pastor just gave a sermon on Romans 16:19 – “Be innocent in what is evil.”

But after watching it, I can attest that the title of the movie is entirely fitting. As masterfully done as the movie is, it shows a world with absolutely no glory. Well, except for revenge which is absolutely glorified. Characteristic of Tarantino, it is grueling, gruesome and downright depressing. But I gleaned from it two truths:
1. Ultimate evil deserves ultimate judgment.
2. Humanity is entirely depraved – no part of it has escaped.

As solid as those truths may be, the movie also tells two very blatant lies:
1. There is no hope and no room for redemption.
2. Revenge is the only and the ultimate response.

First, let’s consider the truths  –

Do the truths in the movie make it worth consuming?
We don’t have to look far to see those truths. We don’t have to look outside of Scripture or even the church body to see those truths in actions. Those aren’t truths that we need to seek out and these aren’t truths that we want to be immersed in. Those are the truths that haunt us.

But aren’t those truths worth acknowledging?
Absolutely – otherwise the Bible’s counter to the lies that the movie tells would be insignificant.
To be more specific: Tarantino recognizes the truth of depravity and sees revenge as the answer. The Bible shows the truth of depravity to give redemption as the answer. Without understanding depravity, without seeing the need for judgment, there would be no place for redemption and no need for Christ. We must acknowledge the often-harsh truths that none of us can escape depravity and that all of us deserve judgment or we will neglect hope and lose the sweetness of Christ.

But back to the first question – does the need to acknowledge those truths give us a reason to consume them in the form of entertainment?

Not alone. In Tarantino’s case, I would say absolutely not. I found the movie intriguing, thought-provoking, but far from edifying.
What can you say about an artifact that acknowledges the reality that the Bible reveals but denies the Bible’s response to that reality?
The truths the movie revealed were not truths I needed a movie to remind me of. My own heart tells me those truths. Beyond that, any worth in those truths was negated by the lies that followed. And a half-truth is not a truth. To see the reality of things around us is not outstanding (we are depraved/depravity deserves judgment.) We all can and should do that. It is how we respond to the reality of things around us that show who we are and what we stand for.  And revenge, as fulfilling as it may temporarily feel, is far from glorious or glorifying.

This movie is just one instance of many that raise such questions – where do we draw the line? How do we apply Romans 16:19? How are we really supposed to be innocent in what is evil? Isn’t that ignorance and doesn’t that make us weak? And shouldn’t we just glean the good wherever we can since we live in a fallen world where we can never entirely escape the evil?

What do you do as an English major at a public university when you are required to read Waiting for Godot to hear the worldview that we are all just waiting for a “god” who will never show?

Can that fit under the category of wise enlightenment? Awareness of our culture so we can more effectively reach them and even be on guard against it ourselves?
Or is there a point that we shouldn’t waste our time reading that material, as long as we know it exists?
Where should the line be drawn between acknowledging and consuming? What would allow or disallow us to go beyond acknowledging and still maintain our conscience? Does there have to be a redeeming factor? If that’s the case, Tarantino falls short. While revealing truth, it ultimately overrides truth by reacting to it with lies. But it also sparked insight and what has been productive thought for me. Is that redemption enough?

I think for too long I have fallen on the liberal side of Romans 16:19, minimizing what it says to justify my own felt-need and downright desire to fulfill curiosity, to know what it is the world is talking about, to not be seen as ignorant, to not fall short of artistic standards because I have limited experience and understanding. And I’ve been raised rather conservatively…

Especially in today’s media – is there a certain amount of “bad” that can be overlooked for the sake of the “good”? Is “bad” okay as long as it reveals a good message? On the other hand, is a bad message permissible as long as it is clean? Is this all just a trap for legalism and a discussion that should be avoided entirely?

I know I have my own -albeit vague and blurry- convictions on the matter, but I don’t know that I have ever thought through my position or theory. I bet it would be worthwhile to do so. Thanks Tarantino for the prompt.

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