Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iron Man

"We cannot remain silent in the face of such danger. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith."
- The Challenge of Peace (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

In the midst of the two major wars our nation is currently engaged in, we seem to forget the fact that behind the military personnel are weapons manufacturers supplying the ammunition to the troops to both sides of the battle.

It's this profound awareness that fuels the first summer superhero blockbuster of 2008, Iron Man.

The central character of the film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is the incredibly wealthy industrialist behind the advance weapons systems corporation, Stark International. During a mission to Afghanistan to sell the military there his new "Jericho" missle system (a Biblical reference to the annihilation and invasion of Jericho by Moses' successor Joshua), Stark is himself captured by Afghan terrorists who also happen to own Stark International weapons and plan to use them on the Afghan locals and American soldiers.

It is this humbling experience that transforms Tony Stark from an industrialist to a humanitarian. After escaping his captivity with an indestructable iron suit, Stark returns to America a literal "superhero" determined to end his company's involvement in the arms business.

Through a conversion experience, Stark was able to see how his own ingenuity turned against him and his conscience. He saw firsthand the horrors that military weapons can cause, and resolves that it will never happen again under his watch.

"We are the first generation since Genesis with the power to virtually destroy God's creation." This sad reality was put forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1983 in their statement to the American people entitled The Challenge of Peace. They reminded us: "We cannot remain silent in the face of such danger. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith."

It took a traumatic event in the deserts of Afghanistan to convince the fictional billionare Tony Stark of this. What will it take to convince our elected officials? And perhaps even more importantly, what it will take to convince the American voter?

In an age of nuclear weapons, suicide bombers, and terrorism, it seems the more we fight for the sake of "peace," the farther we move away from that ideal of peace. Does it not seem contrary to the gospel of Jesus that, to secure peace, we must kill and destroy? Does it not seem oxymoranic to fight those who kill out of vengence with a equal sense of vengence?

Living in his own age of terror and oppression in the First Century, Jesus told his disciples to put down their weapons, for "all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." (Matt. 26:52) In his time and in our time, weapons and warfare are the worst parts of our human nature. While our military technology has evolved over the centuries, the basic premise of war is still as barbaric as ever. When we kill each other for oil, land, or vengence, we show the universe that the human race in 2008 is really no different than the human race who emerged from the caves thousands of years ago. Jesus tried to tell us this in the gospels, but did we ever really listen to him?

But we can be "superheroes" like Iron Man if we reject war and weapons, turning our swords into ploughshares, as Isaiah envisioned the future. At the ballot box, in our local communities, or through our faith communities, we can make a difference.

As the bishops said in The Challenge of Peace: "We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus... Respecting our freedom, He does not solve our problems, but sustains us as we take responsibility for His work of creation and try to shape it in the ways of the Kingdom."

SIDE NOTE: I find it an inspired coincidence of the Holy Spirit that Iron Man, a movie that challenges its audience to become peacemakers, was released one day prior to the 25th anniversary of The Challenge of Peace, which was approved by the American Catholic bishops in Chicago, Illinois, on May 3, 1983.

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